OG Q’taxians #2: Groceries.

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This was a weird chapter. It’s the first time I started using parts for some reason. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t necessary, but at the time I was going for shorter entries to the series. Unlike the 45 minute read I aim for now, the goal back then was around 30 minutes per entry. At the time, I was writing this on Wix and Wix offers you an estimated read time on your blog posts. I actually like this feature a lot and I might see if it’s possible here on WordPress, but I’m doing my best to drop out of the read-time limitations. I’d rather tell the story in however long it takes than restrict myself with any kind of limit be it read time or word count.
This chapter also kinda sorta paints Sylus as being a bit more of a jerk and say hello to OG Cassidy! Her story moves way too quickly in this version in my opinion. I actually plan on rewriting this arc into the current series, obviously taking tone and current characters into consideration.
PS: Sorry about the formatting, I’m lifting these directly from Patreon so the formatting isn’t 100% cohesive and doesn’t always translate cleanly. I’ll probably pass through at some point to fix it up, but for now, I hope you can enjoy it as it is!

Groceries

 Part 1

“We are out of milk…” Saari muttered as she looked into the refrigerator.
 
“WHAT?!” Daniel shrieked as he came down from his bedroom.
 
She lifted an empty carton out of the fridge.
 
“But… My cereal…” Daniel was genuinely upset.
 
Sylus came down into the kitchen.
 
“What’s going on?” he was bleary eyed and scratching his head and stomach simultaneously.
 
“We are out of milk,” Saari showed him the carton.
 
“Dad I want my cereal… It’s been a rough couple of days. I need some Chococrisps to cool my nerves. I think it’s only fair you get more milk. Like now,” Daniel stared his father down.
 
“I just woke up…” Sylus groaned.
 
“I will get the milk if you drive me to the store,” Saari chimed in.
 
Sylus grumbled as he ran his hand over his face. “Let me go get dressed,” he muttered as he wandered back up to his room.
 
“Get some ice cream, too, please?” Daniel whispered to Saari.
 
She smiled and nodded.
 
“How about some cookies or something too?”
 
“We can bake cookies, Daniel. We do not need to buy them,” She replied as she rummaged through the rest of the fridge.
 
“But it’s easier to buy them…”
 
“But it is not as rewarding, is it?” she looked around the refrigerator door at him.
 
“I guess not…”
 
“We need more meat for your father,” she stood up, her hand resting under her chin as she thought. “I need to make a list somehow… But…”
 
“Here,” Daniel got a pad of paper and wrote his name on it, “Can you read this?”
 
Saari turned to him. The horns allowed her to see in a strange way. They filtered what would be considered sight through the void. She knew she would never see the world as it truly was, but she could navigate it well enough. Reading had become a problem since she let Qalia. The only things she’d read before escaping to earth were ancient texts and those were written in the blood of voidsents so they translated just fine. But on earth? Pencils? Paper? She could rarely make any of it out. It was starting to get upsetting that the written word of her new home was something she’d never be able to read.
 
“It says ‘Daniel’. I can make it out because I am familiar with those symbols.”
 
“Hmm…” Daniel thought a moment, “Oh I know!”
 
He tore the sheet of paper off and started drawing something on the fresh page.
 
A black and white cat jumped up onto the kitchen counter.
 
“Not now Skitzel…” Daniel pushed the cat away. It watched him write a bit before finding the torn off piece of paper. It stepped on Daniel’s drawings with much intention in order to sit on said sheet of paper. Daniel glared at the cat.
 
“I think you are in the way, Mr. Skitzel,” Saari reached over and picked up the cat. Mr. Skitzel nuzzled up against Saari and began to purr.
 
“I like cats,” she smiled as she made her way into the living room.
 
Sylus returned wearing a slightly different suit from last night. Blue shirt this time. He glanced at Daniel drawing at the counter and then over to Saari sitting on the couch cuddling Mr. Skitzel. She was wearing the top half of her priestess robe over a pair of jeans. He couldn’t blame her. It was hot out. He stood at the bottom of the stairs in silence for a moment before anyone noticed him. Mr. Skitzel caught sight of him and hissed. Sylus hissed back, his eyes becoming elongated rather than round as he did so.
 
“Do not scare him!” Saari yelled as Mr. Skitzel scrambled off her lap, “You are lucky I am wearing pants!”
 
“He already hates me,” Sylus muttered as he straightened out his jacket.
 
Saari stood up to adjust his collar.
 
“What would I do without you?” he smiled.
 
She gave him a quick peck on the lips, “Most likely leave the house in a wrinkled shirt.”
 
He kissed her on the forehead.
 
“Here,” Daniel hopped down off the bar stool, “What does this look like to you?”
 
Saari took the sheet of paper from him. “They are drawings. Crude but I can make them out. I see a milk carton. A steak. A box of ice cream. And…” she looked down at him, “We will bake cookies. I will purchase the ingredients.”
 
“Should try m’gram’s recipe,” Sylus strained to say as he tied his tie.
 
“You have Grammy’s recipe book?” Daniel looked up at him in awe.
 
“I should. Unless yer mum took it.”
 
Daniel laughed, “She didn’t exactly have time to take anything. Bitch…”
 
“DANIEL!” Sylus shouted.
 
Daniel recoiled. Saari’s gaze shifted nervously between them.
 
“Daniel…” Sylus knelt down, “Don’t say things like that. You’re better than that. Please…”
 
Daniel’s eyes began to well up, “But everything she did… I-”
 
“Daniel…” Sylus breathed as he reached out for his son.
 
Daniel let him pull him into a hug.
 
“I hate her, Dad… I hate her so much…”
 
“Hate is a very strong word, Danny. It’s not good to hate…”
 
“But you hate her, too, don’t you?” Daniel sniffed, “Why did you let her get away…”
 
Sylus leaned back to look Daniel in the eyes.
 
“I try not to hate, Dan. It’s a terrible feeling. I know it hurts. I know that pain. Trust me I do…”
 
“Then why can’t I call her a bitch? She is one. I hate her!” Daniel stomped as his father pulled him in closer. “Dad…” he wept. He reached around his father’s neck and gripped his collar tightly, “Why did you have to go away…”
 
A cold wave of guilt filled Sylus’ entire body.
 
“I… I had to… I had to or you wouldn’t have had a home…”
 
“But you left me with her…” Daniel leaned back to face Sylus.
 
“Daniel…”
 
“Why did you leave me with her? FIVE TIMES!” Daniel yelled at the top of his lungs. Sylus pressed his head against his shoulder. He could feel his own tears coming on.
 
“DANIEL!” Saari yelled, “That is not fair and you know it! Your father did what he had to. You both suffered. Please…” Saari knelt down beside them, her tone calming yet remaining firm, “Please… Remember that you were both hurt very badly,” she ran her fingers through Daniel’s hair. He leaned back to look at her. “You were both mistreated, but it is time for you both to start healing. And you must do so together. You have a reason and a right to be angry, Daniel, but your father loves you. Do not direct your rage at the wrong person.”
 
“Daniel…” Sylus choked.
 
Daniel looked at his father again.
 
“It’s okay if you never forgive me, or blame me for everything. It really is. All I can do is apologize and promise you a better future…” Sylus forced a smile.
 
“Dad… I…” Daniel struggled to speak.
 
“It’s okay. Just know I love you. I always have and I always will. You’re my son,” his smile grew more earnest, “And that will never change.”
 
“Dad…” Daniel wrapped his arms tightly around his father’s neck. “I’m sorry…” he wept into Sylus’ shirt, “I’m so sorry…” his voice started to hitch, “She’s not coming back… is she?”
 
“I warned her what would happen if she ever did. I doubt she’d run that risk. She’s happy now. Without us…”
 
“She doesn’t deserve to be happy…” he grasped his father’s hair on the back of his head.
 
“Do we?” Sylus spoke quietly, just above a whisper.
 
“I-” Daniel looked up over Sylus’ shoulder. Mr. Skitzel was perched on the arm of the couch looking down at him. He seemed concerned. For a cat. “We do… right?”
 
“Right,” Sylus ran his fingers through Daniel’s hair.
 
“I love you, Dad… I’m… I’m really sorry…” Daniel sniffed as he pulled away.
 
“It’s okay, Dan. Just remember: She’s gone and we’re going to be happy. I know you can’t forget what she’s done to you, but you need to try to move on. You have your whole life ahead of you. You can’t carry that hatred with you everywhere,” Sylus wiped the tears from Daniel’s eyes.
 
“That’s what Dr. Karen says…”
 
“See? If someone with a degree says it, it must be true,” he chuckled lightly. Daniel laughed a little, too. “So what are we going to do now?”
 
“We’re going to work on getting better,” Daniel said confidently with a nod. “We’ll show her we can be happy without her just like she can be happy without us!”
 
Sylus’ smile grew almost uncontrollably. He leaned in and kissed his son on the forehead.
 
“We’re going to be okay. And if we aren’t Saari will kick our asses until we are, right?” he looked to her, still kneeling beside him.
 
Saari smiled. “If that is what you want, my Lord. I would be more than happy to kick your ass, but perhaps not Daniel’s. He is still so young and impressionable,” she winked at him. Daniel laughed.
 
“Are we all okay now?” Sylus let Daniel pull away. He nodded as he wiped his eyes, “Good,” Sylus grunted as he stood up, “Goddamn maybe I am too fat…”
 
Saari rolled her eyes as she turned to Daniel. She put her hand to his cheek and brushed her thumb under his eye, “For what it is worth, I love you, too, Daniel. I will help however I can.”
 
“Thank you, Saari,” he leaned in to hug her but bumped his head on her horns. She lifted them up so he could make it in for the hug. They laughed.
 
Sylus stood over them smiling. He’d always wanted a family. One that loved each other and not just themselves. He had fooled himself for so long believing he was loved when he really wasn’t. It was plain to everyone, but he was blinded by her acceptance. He never thought he’d find someone who embraced him for who he was, but thinking back… It seemed like it was more a means to an end than something she ever really accepted.
 
“So much time wasted…” he muttered to himself.
 
“Had you not used that time as you had,” Saari stood up, “We would have never met and my people would have all perished. As terrible as it sounds,” she put her arm around his waist, “Everything happened the way it did for a reason.”
 
“You believe that?” he looked down at her.
 
“Of course I do. I believe in some vague weave of fate’s design. I believe we have control but every action has a predetermined reaction. Had you not enlisted as many times as you had, you would have never made it to Q’tax. As terrible as it is to frame it this way… had she not pushed you…”
 
Sylus shook his head, “But at what cost?” He looked over to Daniel who was sitting at the counter drawing again. Mr Skitzel was sitting on the edge next to him.
“Would you have ever been able to see through her deception had you not been through what you had been? Would you have ever had the strength to tell her to leave? To know that you would be alright without her? You needed her at some point in your life, Sylus. She nearly destroyed you, but in some way you felt you needed her. And that’s okay. But you know better now. You have grown…”
 
“Literally.” He interjected as he patted his belly.
 
“And you have learned. You know now. You and Daniel both know you deserve better.”
 
“But… I let him down… My flesh and blood… My son… I failed him… And I know he resents me for it,” Sylus sighed.
 
“He does not. He is hurt, yes, but it is not because of you and you know that. But things are different now. They are getting better. So long as we can keep things going in that direction, Daniel will never have to worry about being hurt ever again,” she wrapped her arms around him, “We will be okay, Sylus,” she squeezed him tightly, “All of us.”
 
They stood a moment in silence staring at each other. He couldn’t see her eyes behind the horns but he knew where they were. To most people the horns she wore were a terrifying symbol. They represented a kinship with the void. The fate of Q’taxia was already well known. The influx of Q’taxian refugees left many afraid for the fate of their own world. But where most of the world saw a powerfuly daunting figure in the Q’taxian culture, Sylus saw the love of his life. Never at any point had he been afraid of her. He was enamored from the first time he laid eyes on her. Except back then… He was certain he would never leave Q’taxia alive. 
 
To Saari, Sylus was a pleasant anomaly in her otherwise dark world. Even with the ability to see through the void, things were dark. Her interpretation of the world around her was more shapes and edges that stood out against a darkened background. Colors were usually distorted, lines weren’t always straight, but it was enough to help her around. It also made her keen to energy eeking from the rift that humans had yet to find ways to detect. Anything born of the void was vivid and clear to her. Sylus had two settings in her eyes. One was his default visage: A pale rotund mass with purple eyes and mouth. It was an oddly comforting form in the darkness. The second was when the voidlord was in control. He became a flaming purple mass that was nearly too bright to look at. Both forms emitted more light than any ordinary object including the very sun and both were accompanied by the presence of constantly squirming tendrils that appeared as bright purple strands in the darkness. She knew Sylus from anyone else in the world. That was all that mattered to her. Daniel was a mass similar to Sylus’ default form. A pale glowing form with black eyes and mouth. Much like Sylus had been before he became steeped in void energy. She knew them both and she loved the sight of them.
 
“Oh shit milk…” Sylus muttered. He looked around Saari at the bar, “Where did Daniel go?”
 
Saari turned around, “Probably to his room?”
 
“Daniel?” Sylus called up the hall.
 
“One sec!” Daniel called from his room. 
 
Sylus nodded at Saari. 
 
“Okay,” Daniel began as he came out of his room and down the short flight of stairs, “This is Saari’s visual guide to stuff.” He handed her a flimsy black and white marble notebook. Scrawled across it’s cover were the words ‘Saari’s Guide to Stuff’. “I started drawing some things. I think I’ll try to find pictures in catalogs later because I can’t draw very good. But you get what they are right, Saari?” 
 
“Oh Daniel thank you!” she exclaimed with genuine joy as she took the notebook from him. 
 
She opened the book. In it were drawings of things like a loaf of bread, a milk carton, a T-bone steak, a ham, bananas, apples, a yogurt cup, a container that must have been juice next to a very crude round thing… 
 
“What is this?” she turned the book to Daniel. 
 
“Oh that’s an orange. I was trying to figure out how to draw orange juice without using the words…” he trailed off a bit. 
 
“Oh no, it is wonderful. I just couldn’t tell what it was… I’m not familiar with fruits yet…” Saari felt bad. 
 
“You know every cut of meat though,” Sylus grinned at nothing. She jabbed him in his side with her elbow. He flinched a bit. 
 
“Of course I do. That’s all you eat!” 
 
“That actually hurt…” he rubbed his side. 
 
“It was your squish…”
 
“My squish is sensitive!” Sylus moaned as he pulled his shirt up to see the damage. “Woman! It’s bruising!”
 
Saari smirked at him. 
 
“You’re a lot stronger than you look…”
 
“But you knew that already,” she sneered playfully. 
 
“That I did, love, that I did,” he smiled as he tucked his shirt back in. 
 
Saari turned back to the notebook. There was a tub of ice cream and one other round symbol. She had an idea what it was but she turned the book to Daniel again. 
 
“Is this another fruit?” 
 
Daniel became a bit flustered. “N-no…”
 
She looked at the book again. 
 
“What do you think that is, Sylus?” 
 
He looked to the notebook as he straightened his tie, “That’s a biscuit.”
 
“Cookie, Dad… Cookie,” Daniel corrected sternly.
 
“Daniel…” Saari turned to him again,” We’ll make our own.” she knelt down to pat him on the head.
 
“Not a fan of health kicks myself, but what about homemade ice cream as well? I hear that can be pretty good,” Sylus mumbled with his head craned back as he struggled to straighten the knot in his tie. 
 
Saari stood up to help him. 
 
“That sounds like a nice idea,” she spoke slightly distracted by the state of Sylus’ tie, “How did you manage this…”
 
“Magic, baby. I have 20 fingers and none of them can tie a tie,” he wiggled his fingers in front of her. 
 
“I see 10,” she muttered. 
 
“It’s the 10 you can’t see you should be worried about,” he smirked. 
 
Without looking away from his tie she reached over his shoulder and grabbed one of his tendrils. His body became rigid. 
 
“That wasn’t very hard.”
Sylus hissed as her grip tightened, “I forgot you can see them…”
 
“Clearly,” she released him. 
 
He gasped in relief. 
 
“What does that feel like, Dad?” 
 
“Like really bad rope burn,” his voice croaked a bit. 
 
Daniel cringed. “Ouch.”
 
“I will be more gentle next time,” she patted him on the cheek. 
 
“You fixed it?” he was genuinely surprised as he looked down at his tie. 
 
“Magic,” she wiggled her fingers in front of his face before turning to Daniel. “Thank you very much for the tome, Daniel,” she bowed slightly to him, “Your drawings are plenty good enough. You may have to add more over time, though.”
 
Daniel nodded, “I plan on it. By the time I’m done you’ll have a full visual guide to everything!” He threw his hands over his head in excitement.
 
Saari smiled as she held the book to her chest.
 
“You know I could make you not blind right?” Sylus mumbled as he buttoned up his jacket.
 
“It is nearly one hundred degrees out and you are putting on a jacket?” Saari said snidely.
 
“These are dangerous times we live in,” he adjusted his shirt in his pants, “If I die, I want to be found looking like a boss.”
 
“But you cannot die…” Saari sighed.
 
“Sure I can. It’s not a 100% guarantee. Just unlikely. That was the agreement,” Sylus grunted as he sat down to adjust his socks.
 
“You can die?” Daniel looked around Saari, “I thought you were invisible…”
 
Sylus stopped and looked up at his son. A mild sense of disappointment on his face.
 
“I am?” he looked at his hands.
 
Saari knelt down a bit and whispered in Daniel’s ear.
 
“Why are you like that?! You know what I meant… Invincible… Jeeze…”
 
“You coming with us?” Sylus grunted again as he stood up.
 
“Am I?”
 
“If you want,” he shrugged.
 
“You two not gonna make out in the car or anything?”
 
They both flushed a bit.
 
“We’re going to the grocery store…” Sylus groaned a bit.
“Well I am going to the grocery store. Your father is driving me,” Saari corrected.
 
“I’m going in with you…”
 
“No you are not. I can do this on my own,” Saari barked stubbornly.
 
Sylus cringed slightly before making his way to the door.
 
“You coming, Dan?” he motioned to the door.
 
“Can I have $20 for the arcade?”
 
“$20!?” Sylus choked.
 
“Stuff’s expensive. Would you like it if I was on drugs?”
 
Sylus looked to Saari who was clearly stifling a laugh.
 
“$20? Really?” he reached into his pocket for his wallet. It wasn’t there. His mind started racing. Where could he have left it… The car? The diner?
 
He looked up to find Saari, holding his wallet, handing Daniel a twenty dollar bill.
 
“Can you not?” he barked as he grabbed his wallet back.
 
“You never retrieved it after last night!” Saari exclaimed.
 
“Handing out my money…” he muttered as he checked the contents of his wallet.
“To your son, my Lord,” Saari sneered.
 
Sylus cringed as he stuffed his wallet back into his pocket, “You know I hate it when you call me that.”
 
“What is it that you say…” she said as she shrugged, “Technicalities?”
 
Sylus grinned and shook a bit as he opened the door and stepped outside.
 
Saari smirked as she grabbed her staff beside the door and followed.
 

Part 2

 
Sylus deeply inhaled the outside air.
“Nothing quite like void mist in the morning,” he grunted as he stepped down the stairs to his car.
A thin purple mist filled the air. You could barely perceive it, but its presence was strong enough that even an untrained eye would know something was very wrong. The sun itself was masked by the mist. It’s once golden rays shone in a slightly purple hew on the tiny ghost town of La Sombra.
“It is getting worse…” Saari’s voice shook with a hint of concern.
“I should think so,” Sylus mumbled as he fumbled his keys, “It isn’t as though it’s going anywhere anytime soon.”
“Do you like this stuff, Dad?” Daniel cringed as he stepped outside, waving his hand in front of his face.
Sylus stood up to face his son, “I suppose, in a way,” he shrugged, “After all I’m practically made of the stuff. I suppose it would be like wading through amniotic fluids for the rest of you.”
“That’s disgusting!” Daniel gagged.
Saari covered her mouth in mild disgust.
“Rude,” Sylus muttered as he opened the driver’s side door.
Everyone piled into the car. The nearest grocery store was in the next town over. They would drive by the ruins of theirs on their way.
“You think anyone will ever come live here again?” Daniel mused as he looked out the car window.
Sylus glanced between his son in the rear view mirror and the void-stained sky, “I really don’t think so,” he sighed as he turned the car on, “It’s a wonder so many have stayed.”
The ruins of a derelict town could be seen all along the road out. Shopping centers, apartment complexes, gift shops… Everything was dark and empty. The only lights that still shone in the dimmed light, were the diner and the gas station across the way. A hand full of houses still had people in them, but it was nothing like what it once was.
La Sombra had always been a tourist attraction. It was built along a ridgeline overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Many of the buildings actually hung over this cliff, secured by support beams grounded directly into the sheer stone face. Sylus’ home and the diner were two such buildings constructed this way. It was a strange architectural choice for an entire town to be built on, but La Sombra was a strange little town to begin with.
It had always been viewed with a sense of mystique from thrill seekers and oddity enjoyers the world over. The architecture was all very modern, yet the founding of the town was dated hundreds of years prior. Old sketches of the town depicted it then almost exactly as it was now. Therein lies mystery number one. Most wrote it off to fraudulent “historians” trying too hard to make the little seaside town more interesting than it already was, but La Sombra really didn’t need the help.
It’s strange nature, being built around a cliff face with only one access point made it an isolated world of the seemingly unknown. Rumors and tall tales cropped up around the town. Wealth was buried there from the Pacific trade routes. It was built on an ancient burial site and was severely haunted. It was a cryptid hotspot. The people who lived there, lived forever which was why the population seemingly never changed. Things like that. But there was one such rumor that was actually grounded in reality.
The shadows of anyone who lived in or passed through La Sombra always faced the same direction. The rumor stated that it was caused by anything from the presence of alien technology to a portal to hell no one could see. It didn’t matter where you were in relationship to the sun, your shadow always faced the same direction. That direction happened to be away from where the rift tore open. So the portal to hell story was closer to reality than anyone really knew.
Even after the rift opened, La Sombra still enjoyed regular tourist traffic. The government was quick to build a facility around the rift, trying to study and contain it. People flocked to La Sombra in numbers unlike anything it had seen before. They came in search of unmarked tankers and black helicopters. Their fascination seemed to be more in their government’s covert operations than in the anomaly that was the rift itself.
And then the mist came. It came before Sylus’ final deployment through the rift to Q’taxia. He remembered his comrades growing wary of its presence leaching into their world. They were familiar with its effects on Q’taxia, but seeing it in their own home was unnerving. By itself, the mist was harmless. It was what it lead to that was catastrophic. The facility was quick to analyze the substance. Inert in almost every respect save that it was a pure conductor of energy. Without any changes, their facility became powered by it. Lights and machinery no longer drew from their generators. When you flipped a switch, things just came on. It was the mist, they realized. How it actually worked, they weren’t sure, but it was free and reduced their need for outside energy sources.
The entire town of La Sombra became completely energy independent on the mist. However, it didn’t take long for people to start leaving the town. When the very sun became overshadowed by the substance, it was seen as an ill omen and people began to flee. It wasn’t long after that actual things started coming through.
It started with a large entity shrouded in darkness. It seemed to consume any light cast upon it. It shrieked in a way that shook the foundations of the entire town. Strange sounds spewed from its maw. As quickly as it had come, it vanished. After that came an explosion of monstrosities. They overtook the facility. Few managed to escape the carnage, but those that did, tried to secure the facility in order to contain the influx. As hard as they tried to contain it, the beasts fought back. Eventually tearing the very roof off of the complex. They were free to escape, though none of them could scale the sheer steel walls.
The government was quick to condemn the Riftworks and the little town of La Sombra. That was it. The final nail in the proverbial coffin. La Sombra went from a small town of oddities, to a ghost town devoid of almost any life. There were a handful of remainers. Sylus and Jer being among them.
La Sombra remained an access point for the seaside highway that connected the two nearest towns. She still saw traffic, but it was nothing like before. Only ballsiest of drivers took the La Sombra route and all of them knew the Synclaires and Jer. None of them knew who kept the gas station open, just that it worked and required no payment. It wasn’t worth questioning anything that occurred in La Sombra.
If you traveled to the next town over, you’d think La Sombra didn’t even exist. The sun shone brightly over a bustling city. People went about their business as thought the didn’t live right next door to the rift. In fact, outside of La Sombra, few people even acknowledged the rift. They knew it was there, but it was taboo to bring it up in public.
Their destination was an end store in a strip mall. It was a large chain grocer that had anything you could possibly need at exorbitantly high prices. Because where else where people going to go? They had influxes from La Sombra and a sense of scarcity from the coastal routes and the unwillingness for most drivers to take it. So the prices went up. Luckily for Sylus, money was never a problem. Being partially comprised of a being that could manipulate the fabric of space tended to alleviate that strain.
He pulled up in the drop-off lane outside the grocery store. Daniel was quick to bolt out of the car. The arcade was two doors down, but he didn’t want to wait. Those $20 were burning a hole in his pocket.
“Hey!” Sylus called after him, “Be back in one hour. Any later and I will come in there and embarrass you.”
It was a threat Daniel knew his father would make good on. He’d done it before by trying to jam himself into one of the tiny racer cars and nearly breaking it. With a short nod, Daniel darted off.
Sylus groaned a bit.
“Just do not break anything,” Saari muttered as she straightened her horns.
“What? No. Why would I break anything?”
“Daniel informed me of the last time you sought to embarrass him.”
Sylus thought a moment. Almost breaking the race cars was conveniently eluding him. “Was it recent?”
“Recent enough,” Saari sighed as they turned down a parking aisle.
Once they were parked they both exited the vehicle.
“I am going in alone,” Saari spoke firmly as she slipped her staff into its sheath and slid it behind her back.
“And I’m walking you to the door. How could I ever live with m’self if you get hit by a car?”
Saari was visibly upset, “I know to look for vehicles. I am growing accustomed to it.”
“Yeah but still. It’s not you it’s the idiot behind the wheel,” Sylus grunted as he tucked his shirt back in.
Saari waited for him behind the car. He met her there and offered her his elbow, she took it and they made their way to the grocery store entrance.
“I’ll wait out here,” Sylus smiled as he lowered his arm, “But please, Saari, for the love of god… If you need help just…”
“Invade your mind with cries for help?”
Sylus cringed a bit. Leaning up on her toes, Saari kissed him before patting him on the chest.
“You will be okay. I won’t take long,” she smiled before turning to the entrance.
“It’s not me I’m worried about…” he called after her.
As she entered, another patron in the entryway stifled a shriek and plastered themselves against a wall to get away from her. Sylus pinched the bridge of his nose.
Looking around for a place to wait, Sylus noticed there were no benches.
“Where am I supposed to put m’fat ass…” he muttered to himself as he leaned against a cement pylon.
“You there!” a voice seemingly came from nowhere.
Sylus looked around.
“Yes you! The  rich fat man going through a midlife crisis!”
His gaze settled on an orange haired girl sitting behind a table laden with boxes of cookies. She was wearing a uniform that as far as Sylus could tell was for some youth group.
“You know I’m talking to you. How about you step on over and I’ll hook you up with some of the good stuff,” she patted a stack of boxes.
“Not interested,” he tried to be pleasant though he was mildly irritated.
“No, you are interested. You know you are,” she eyed him up and down, “You’re like my exact demographic outside of middle-aged soccer moms.”
“What about me is your demographic?” he could barely stifle a sneer.
“Well… You’re fat, so you don’t care about your health. You’re wearing a suit for no reason, so you’re loaded. Aces for moving junk food. And you dye your hair purple, so you’re in some kind of old person crisis mode. 
“I-I do NOT dye my hair!”
“Purple isn’t a natural color…”
“Neither is bright orange!”
“Yes, actually, it is. Thanks to my mom… I… Think…”
Sylus couldn’t help but get hitched on the strange statement.
“Or is it my dad…”
He raised an eyebrow in mild concern.
“Who cares,” she muttered, “I don’t dye my hair. That’s all that matters!”
“Neither do I,” he replied.
“Then explain that!”
Sylus ran his fingers through his hair.
“It’s dark brown.”
“It’s purple in the light and you know it. Have you never seen yourself in a mirror?” she was leaning up on the table as she shouted.
Sylus looked around. There were some glances coming from passerbys.
“Oh for the love of…” he walked up to the table, “How many do I have to buy to shut you up?” he nearly growled at her.
“How many can I sell you to stop you from dying your hair stupid colors?” she hissed in reply.
“You don’t know me!”
“I know you enough to trigger you into buying cookies,” she slid a stack of five boxes toward him.
“I don’t need five,” he replied curtly.
She stared at him. “You’re right.” She reached under the table and placed five more boxes on it.
Sylus bit his lip in sheer welling rage.
“Unless you have a preference you’re getting what doesn’t move. I need to hit a quota and I’m not selling enough of these.”
“How old are you?” Sylus sneered as he reached for his wallet.
“Ten.”
“Ten. And yer talkin ‘bout quotas?” the angrier he was, the thicker his accent got.
She nodded. “I’m a self employed business woman. Running my own franchise. I have to be smart about it if I want to keep it running.”
“Yer TEN! M’son is ten and his biggest concern is feeding the bloody cat!”
“Your son isn’t very business minded,” she said as she reached for a plastic bag.
“HE’S ten!”
“Alright,” she put some numbers into a calculator, “You owe me $75.”
“FOR FIVE BOXES OF COOKIES?!”
“Ten. Ten boxes. $75 please,” she put her hand out and flexed her fingers.
Sylus resumed reaching for his wallet. Which was missing.
“Aww damn. M’lady has me wallet. Guess am not buying yer biscuits,” he moaned sarcastically.
“She went into the grocery store didn’t she?”
“Y-”
“Not exactly hard to miss. She’s q’taxian, right?” the girl spoke idly as she bagged his cookies.
“Y-yes… She is.”
“Not just q’taxian but one of their higher ups, right?” the girl spoke casually.
“Y-yes?”
“She’s the high priestess isn’t she?” she continued.
Sylus did a double take, “Why on earth do you know that much about q’taxians?”
“Did you know it used to be called Qalia?” her voice pitched with mild interest.
“How do you know these things!?” Sylus shrieked quietly.
She shrugged, “I like weird things. I live like… two houses out of the no-go zone. Thought it might be helpful to know about the tear and stuff.”
“Yeah but where did you find this information? Q’taxian refugees aren’t exactly easy to come by much less approachable by a child…”
“The Internet. Come on now, you’re not that old,” she sneered. “You know they say their god is here on earth somewhere. I’d guess near the tear. Something about the mist and stuff…” she continued matter-of-factly.
This child knows too much… Qaitax was growing as irritated as Sylus.
“We are not killing the child, mate,” Sylus replied aloud.
The girl froze for a brief moment, but hardly missed a beat in replying, “Voices?”
“None of your business,” Sylus’ voice had shifted.
The girl looked up again. Sylus’ eyes were a bright purple with no white or pupil. “Jackpot!” she shrieked. People turned in her direction. “I knew it!” She reached under the table before pulling out a small flip phone. “Who else would be traveling with the high priestess!” She took a picture with the ancient device. “You’re…”
Sylus lunged across the table and put a hand over her mouth.
“Sylus likes little mortals. I am indifferent. Silence yourself,” Qaitax hissed in an unearthly tone.
The child squealed behind his hand.
“If I release you without snapping your neck, will you be quiet?”
She nodded. Seemingly unfazed by the threat.
Qaitax slowly pulled away.
Without a breath, she immediately began asking questions.“So which one of you does the eating and the sleeping? Do you ever argue over who gets control? Is it split time? Random? Planned? Who uses the bathroom?”
Qaitax’s eyes widened in rage as he clenched his fists.
“Probably shouldn’t piss off the void god or whatever. Lemme talk to the fat man again…”
Qaitax slammed his fists onto the table, “You are trying our patience. My host is just as capable of ending you as I am. I suggest you keep that in mind.”
“But…” she faked a sniffle, “But I’m just a curious little girl,” she looked up at him pitifully.
Qaitax’s face shifted between a wide range of emotions before the light in his eyes dimmed and Sylus was once more staring down the orange haired girl.
“She got you, didn’t she?” he said aloud with an unimpressed look plastered on his face. His gaze drifted above the girl’s head and focused on nothing.
I DO NOT LIKE HER! Qaitax screamed in his head.
“I think I do,” Sylus glanced down at her.
I WILL DEVOUR HER SOUL!
“No you won’t. Because we don’t eat souls. You know that,” Sylus sighed, “Besides, she’s a ginger and we all know…”
“DON’T GO THERE!” She yelled.
Her eyes darted around aimlessly. A look of fear caught in her shifting gaze.
“A-are you okay?” he reached out to her.
“I have a soul. I know I do… Everyone has one…” her voice had lost it’s loud and obnoxious edge, “I have a soul…” she seemed to be nearly in tears. “I know I do…”
Sylus stood back, “I-it’s just a joke… I was just… Of course you have a soul!”
Debatable.
“Quiet you… This is your fault anyway…”
It is unknown if mortals have higher consciousness. Perhaps we will find out ourselves, but as it stands there is little concrete…
“I said shut up! Jesus…”
“I have a soul…” her voice was shaking. Her eyes stopped moving and gazed emptily at the table. She suddenly looked exhausted and worn.
Sylus’ mouth kept opening to speak, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. Instead, he rounded the table and sat in the empty chair beside her. It creaked a bit under his weight.
“Look,” he looked straight ahead, “If that’s the line, I won’t cross it, but you have to know I was just kidding,” he turned to her. Tears were welling in her eyes, “You have a soul.” He leaned back a bit to see some kind of mark reaching around her throat from the back of her neck.
“Souls aren’t even real,” she sniffed. Sylus snapped back to attention.
“Well… maybe not in a literal sense. But you do have your own of consciousness and autonomy. Which is pretty clear since you’re trying to run this bisc-er-cookie stand by yourself. You’re a smart girl,” he smiled at her.
“Then why am I always alone…” she sniffed again, “Smart people should be able to make friends… shouldn’t they?” she looked up at him.
Sylus suddenly became very aware that there was no one else anywhere in sight with the same uniform as her.
“Where are your parents?”
She shrugged, “Off somewhere doing something.”
“So you set this all up on your own? And run it yourself?” he was genuinely surprised.
She nodded. “I carry the table and the boxes from my house to here every Saturday. It’s weird out so sales are down,” she tried to normalize the conversation, but her voice was still shaking.
Sylus stared at her in silence.
“Do you need help getting home?” he finally asked.
“You just threatened to eat me…” she gave a short chuckle.
“I did not. Qaitax did. And not yourself, but your soul. Hence that whole conversation. I think he was attempting humor…”
I was not.
Sylus slapped himself in the face.
That hurts no one but yourself.
The girl laughed a bit.
“So if you don’t eat souls, what do you eat?” she wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
Sylus looked down at a box of cookies he’d idly taken into his hands. “Mint chocolate biscuits, I suppose.”
She smiled.
 

Part 3

 
As Saari entered the store, a sea of people parted. They all stared at her in fear. They knew who she was. There was no Q’taxian more noticeable than the high priestess herself. Through her Voidsight, Saari saw a bunch of gray blobs pulsating with life. They had thin red outlines indicating their alarm. She smiled and nodded politely as she grabbed a cart and made her way over to the vegetables.
To her dismay, they all looked the same. She examined the labels, but, once again, she remembered she couldn’t read. She bit her lip. It was too soon to be crying to Sylus for help. No, she could manage. She saw a gray blob floating by, it had no red outline.
“Excuse me,” she called out to it, “Can you help me? I need carrots…”
The blob stopped and turned to her. It’s white vacuous eyes looking her over. A thin red line beginning to form around it.
Without a word, it moved beside her and handed her a group of long vegetables that suddenly turned orange in her hands.
“Thank you so much!” she bowed.
The blob nodded curtly and, again without a word, hurried away.
The rest of the vegetables started showing some unique qualities. That one had big broad leaves. That one was a ball of broad leaves. That was all well and good, but she still didn’t know which ball of leaves where which. She bit her lip as she resisted the urge to summon Sylus to her side. She didn’t need him. She’d figure it out. As she stood studying the various leaf shapes she remembered Daniel’s guide. Reaching into her hip satchel, she pulled it out. Going through the pages, she found little information about vegetables.
“Oh course. Why would a child care for greens…” she muttered with a sigh as she slipped the book back into her pouch.
“Saari?”
Saari looked up to find a vaguely familiar form. It stood apart from the rest of the blobs and had some defining features. It was a dim shade of purple almost black.
“I-I am sorry, but how do you know me?”
The shape looked around, “I think everyone knows who you are…”
“Yes, well, few know me beyond the ‘Witch of Q’taxia’, how do you know my name?” she was growing mildly agitated.
“It’s me, Nico!”
Suddenly the form took more shape.
“I came back with you and Sylus remember?”
“The void technician?”
The form snapped and pointed at her, “Now you remember!”
The details fleshed out a bit more. He went from grey to black with a dim purple outline. His eyes and mouth were a neutral shade of white. She thought a moment before smiling.
“Yes I do! You rode the tram back with us after the tunnels began collapsing…” and then she remembered something else, “Er… We did not speak much after the event… But… Do you harbor any ill will toward Sylus?”
“Ill will?” he placed a hand on his chin, “No? Oh!” he laughed, “Oh hell no. That bastard deserved what happened to him. Quite frankly no one was surprised after what he did to Sylus.”
Saari was relieved. “I appreciate it.”
“He still rockin’ void purple eyes?”
Saari chuckled, “And hair. The effects grow more apparent every day. I am waiting for the day he wakes up with glowing eyes even though Qaitax is not in control.”
Nico laughed before jabbing her gently, “So how the heck have you been? Adjusting couldn’t have been easy for you…”
Saari smiled gently, “May we talk while I shop? Sylus is waiting outside like a lunatic. I would like to not leave him there long.”
Nico laughed again, “Of course. You need a hand?”
“Actually…” she looked back down at the vegetables, “Do not tell Sylus I asked for your help… He would be deeply ashamed, but which of these is cabbage?”
“Your secret is safe with me,” he said as he reached into the lowest shelf and handed her a ball of broad leaves. As she took it in her hands she could see it’s pale green surface and some veining in the leaves.
“Thank you,” she nodded as she placed it in her basket and moved on.
“So in all seriousness, how have things been for you?” Nico asked again.
“Things have been…” she paused a moment, “Challenging. However, Sylus has been very accommodating. Even if we were not soulbound to each other, I would find him to be a very amicable human.”
Nico snorted a bit, “And I know how you feel about humans…”
Saari paused again, “That was before… Before I really understood. In reality q’taxians and humans are very similar in many respects.”
“I never really had the chance to learn much about q’taxians…”
“You could always visit the Brotherhood if you wished to learn about our history. They are very open with information now,” Saari replied as she continued on to the butcher.
“Yeah but…” Nico shrugged, “Would they want to even talk to a human?”
Saari began examining the meat selection.
“We have changed greatly. With our world gone, we have been humbled unlike anything before. Even the death of our sun did not rend our hubris so low,” She began retrieving suitable cuts of meat.
“Oh, sorry! Did you need a hand?”
Saari smiled, “Thanks to Sylus rather restricted diet I have become rather familiar with various cuts of meat,” she loaded several cuts into the cart, “It is the one thing that glows with detail in this entire store.”
“Is that how it works then?” Nico asked as she took hold of the shopping cart.
“How what works?” she replied as she began pushing.
“Your sight?”
“Oh! Yes actually. The more I familiarize myself with things through other senses and connecting what people tell me they are to their shapes the clearer they become until they eventually seem quite akin to what I believe are their natural forms. Until then, however,” she looked down at her cart full of meat and vegetables. The meat was very vibrant while the vegetables were somewhat dim, but she could make them out well enough now though. “Everything looks startlingly similar…”
“What do I look like?” Nico stopped and spread his arms out.
Saari paused a moment as she studied him once more. “You look like all of the other blobs however you are darker than the rest and have a dim purple glow which I believe can be attributed to your exposure to the Void.”
“So nothing all that special?” Nico sounded a bit disappointed as he dropped his arms to his sides, “Sylus must look like he does to the rest of us, huh?”
“Actually… He is very different. He is not very detailed at all, but there is no way I could ever mistake him for any other being. He is unique,” she spoke slowly, distracted by something, “Where are the cereals?”
“Oh!” Nico put his arm in front of her pointing down the aisle they were about to pass.
She nodded lightly.
“What do you look like to yourself?” Nico asked as she honed in on a very brightly lit section of cereal boxes.
“To… myself?” she turned to him as she began absently placing boxes into her cart.
“Yeah like… In a mirror?”
Saari stopped a moment in thought. Shew knew there was a mirror in the bathroom. Sylus and Daniel both used it. She became suddenly aware she’d never really seen the thing… Could she see it at all or had she just never noticed?
“I-I do not know…” she said finally as she put her hand to her chin, “I suppose I should find out!” SHe began pushing the cart again.
Mildly confused, Nico swiftly caught up to her.
“What about q’taxians?”
Saari smiled, “Same as humans, really. Blobs with various outlines. They are all a pale purple, however, rather than grey like humans. Again, I attribute it to our exposure to the Void.”
Continuing through the grocery store, Nico helped identify various items adding to Saari’s lexicon of visuals.
“I’m surprised Sylus never went over this stuff with you…” he remarked idly as she began gathering identified cheeses.
“He did. Which is why I can see it at all. I just cannot make any meaningful differentiation. Now that I am alone I am making a more concerted effort to commit this information to memory. Like the vegetables. I could see their shapes, leaves, and some dim coloring, but I had no idea what one was called what. Now I know that the bright orange ones with fluffy tops are carrots and the round balled up ones are cabbage!” she smiled, “I have now completed the connective input so next time I will know exactly what I am looking for!”
“As long as it’s one of those things, though…” Nico added.
“Well… It also helps with the process of elimination. I know what things are NOT carrots or cabbages anymore. It is helpful on many levels.”
“Interesting…” Nico muttered as he began to think on the process of learning things that way.
“Well that is all I need,” Saari sighed as she turned the cart toward the front of the store, “Did you get what you came for?”
Nico froze.
“Ah shit…” he ran back the way they had come.
Saari waited a few minutes before he returned with two boxes of cereal and a gallon of milk.
“Matteo is visiting this weekend and I know he’d be upset if I didn’t have his favorite cereal,” he panted between breaths.
“Matteo?” Saari asked as he walked up beside her.
“Mi hijo, er, son. My son. Ezzy is letting him come by for the weekend. I don’t get to see him very much with work being what it is…” he voice dropped from it’s normally upbeat tone.
“You do not get to see your son often?” Saari was honestly curious.
“I-” Nico visibly sagged a bit, “We lived right in La Sombra… I worked at, well, the Works… Yet I never saw him… Never saw her… I never saw my familia… I never got to see my little chico grow up…” his voice shook a bit, “I missed his whole life…” he sniffed, “I don’t blame her, Ezzy, dios la bendiga… I don’t blame her for leaving and taking him with her. They’re safe now. Safer than they would have been staying in La Sombra… Yet…” he winced, “I miss them so much… I had to move out of La Sombra to be able to see him again. So I live here now!” he forced a smile.
Saari didn’t know what to say or do. Daniel had always been there. Since the day she’d arrived through the tear. His mother had left of her own accord and never once came back for him nor asked about his well being. She wasn’t entirely sure what the conditions of her departure were, but it was severe enough that she knew Sylus would be furious if she ever returned. All she did know was that Sylus erred on the side of protective. He trusted very few people around his son. He’d made a lot of progress in giving him space, however, hence Daniel’s unaccompanied trip to the arcade. She wasn’t sure how far ahead Sylus’ reputation preceded him, but she knew if anyone was fool enough to try to harm Daniel, Sylus would show them no mercy.
“What about dinner?” Saari noted.
“Oh! Take-out! Tonight is pizza, tomorrow is Chinese. He leaves Sunday evening so we have a toss-up for lunch,” Nico forced a pained smile.
She tried to smile as well.
“Oh…” Nico began as the started heading toward the check-out counters, “How has Daniel been?” his tone was somber.
“Daniel is doing very well, actually. We are both so very proud of how far he has come. He has a therapist at school who has helped immensely,” she was genuinely beaming.
“That’s good to hear,” Nico sighed, “The way Sylus went off the walls…”
Saari sighed as she pursed her lips, “I suggest you not discuss this in front of him. He still… Has a terrible reaction to the whole thing…”
“Who wouldn’t?” Nico replied as he placed his things on a conveyor belt, “I may never see Matteo, but I know Ezzy loves and cares for him. I know he’s in good hands and it helps, but I just regret those good hands aren’t mine… Nothing like Daniel’s situation though… I really am glad he’s doing better.”
Saari smiled widely as she began doing the same.
Saari and Nico continued chatting as they exited the grocery store.
“HEY YOU!” the voice of a what sounded like a small child called in their general direction, “COME SEE THE COOKIE FREAK!”
“Do we really have to go with freak?” a familiar voice replied.
“Yes. We do. YES YOU SIR!”
Saari and Nico stepped further out the exit and looked to their left.
Sylus sat at a small folding table beside a very vibrant figure. He was juggling something in the air without moving his arms.
“Sylus?” she called out to him.
Suddenly everything he was suspending above him collapsed and he stood up from the table with a start. The form beside him looked around in concern, an orange border forming around it.
“Saari!” he gasped, his voice hitching slightly, “And Nico! It’s been quite a while, has it not?” he approached them with an extended hand.
Nico took it with a smile and shook it firmly.
“You the high priestess?” the small, bright form had followed him.
“I-I am yes?” Saari pointed to herself in mild confusion.
“Then I need the fatman’s wallet. He owes me money.”
“Stop it!” he hissed.
“Money?” she looked up at Sylus, a confused expression on her lips.
“I-it’s nothing, love. Swear!” he put a hand over his heart.
“Ten boxes of cookies. $75,” the form held out her hand, “Cash please.”
Saari’s confusion turned to anger. Then from anger to rage.
“We were going to make cookies, Sylus,” she could barely contain herself.
Nico was quick to see the situation escalating, “Thanks for the chat, Saari! We should all catch up sometime!” he paused a moment waiting for a response. When none came he added, “Catch ya later!” and darted off.
“I-I didn’t buy cookies, Saari…”
“Then why is this being asking for compensation?” she pointed at the bright light.
“Who? Oh,” Sylus laughed nervously, “Sh-she’s just kidding…”
Sylus’ eyes lit up.
“The tiny human wishes to sell us things we do not need. We did not agree to purchase. In exchange for aiding in her questionable business tactics, she agreed to furnish us with one box without monetary compensation.”
The bright light recoiled a bit.
“We will not be swindled child,” Qaitax’s voice was gravely stern as he turned to her.
“Ah darn… The big guns…” she moved back to the table.
Sylus shook his head clearing Qaitax out. He looked at Saari with a coy smile.
“Retrieve your one box, Sylus, but I am still unhappy about this,” her voice sounded almost colder than the voidlord’s.
Sylus turned to the girl.
“I hope you understand she can kill me,” he muttered as he approached the folding table.
“What’s her name again?” the girl whispered to him.
“Her name is Saari,” he said flatly as he stared at her collection of cookies.
“Saari!” she called out.
Caught off guard, Saari looked in her direction. The girl waved her over.
“Thanks for lending me the fatman. Without him I wouldn’t have sold as well as I did. Really helped that he has those tentacle things that no one can see. He juggled a lot of boxes and freaked a lot of people into buying cookies,” the girl explained with a smile.
Saari turned to Sylus in disbelief. He continued staring idly at the table.
“You just spent a long afternoon shopping!” she opened her arms in mock exasperation, “Why not take a box yourself? You won’t want to make cookies today. Maybe tomorrow when you have the whole day?”
Sylus raised an eyebrow. Her level of manipulation was astoundingly impressive.
Saari thought a moment. She turned to Sylus, “Are you putting words in this child’s mouth?”
He looked up in shock, “Why the hell would I ever do that?”
“To quell my rage,” she almost growled.
“Nope. I’m just good at what I do! Here,” she laid out five boxes, “Take your pick!”
They all looked the same to Saari. She sighed.
“DAD!”
Sylus turned to find Daniel running down the sidewalk with some kind of stuffed thing in his arms. The closer he got, the more it looked like a deformed orange unicorn with an iridescent white horn.
“DAD I WON SO MANY TICKETS!”
Sylus smiled as he turned to Daniel with his arms open, “That’s my boy!”
Daniel ran right into his arms, though the giant plush kept Sylus from closing his arms around his son.
“Was this your reward?”
Daniel nodded, “And some other stuff in my pocket!” he tried to reach into his pocket without putting the unicorn down.
“Show me when we get home,” Sylus smiled warmly.
“Okay,” Daniel agreed as he looked up and noticed the cookie girl, “Oh hi Cassidy!” He gave her a big smile.
Cassidy recoiled in her chair, “H-hi Daniel…” she said weakly.
“Still selling cookies?”
She nodded.
“Dad, can we buy some cookies from Cassidy?”
Sylus looked up at Saari. A somewhat defeated look was on what of her face he could see.
“We’re going to make cookies, Daniel,” he said as he turned back to his son.
“H-here…” Cassidy slid a box across the table, “The mint ones are really good if you chill them a bit.”
“How much are they?” Daniel approached the table still clutching the orange unicorn.
Cassidy shook her head, “Your dad helped me a lot today. Y-you can have them.”
“Gee thanks Cassidy! But…” Daniel paused as he reached around the unicorn, “Don’t you need the money?”
Cassidy bit her lip, “I made enough today. Don’t worry! They’re on me!” she forced a smile.
“Hmm…” Daniel reached into his pocket. He had no money left and while he liked the things he had won he knew they weren’t worth very much. “OH!” He slid the orange unicorn onto the table. “You can have Argyle.”
“A-Argyle?” her voice wavered slightly.
Daniel nodded, “That’s what I named him. He’s a protector unicorn! The best kind.”
“I-” Cassidy was struggling to speak.
“You can have him. I already have Mr. Skitzel. He’s a protector cat!”
Sylus could see tears welling in Cassidy’s eyes.
“Are… Are you sure?”
Daniel nodded, “Argyle will take good care of you.”
Cassidy struggled to keep a straight face.
“Then you need more cookies,” her voice shook a bit she reached under the table and put four more boxes on the table. “I was going to sell your dad ten and I know Argyle is worth more than ten boxes, but that’s all I can give without getting in trouble.”
“Five boxes!” Daniel screamed, “That’s so many! Thank you Cassidy!” He took up the boxes in his arms and turned to his father, “Look, Dad! FIVE BOXES OF COOKIES!”
Sylus smiled as he ruffled Daniel’s hair. He stood up and approached Saari.
“How does she appear to you?” he whispered.
She turned to him quizzically.
“A flaming ball of light… How did you know to ask?”
“There’s something about her…”
“Should we be concerned?”
Sylus shook his head, “I don’t think so… But… I’d like to keep an eye on her.”
“Is something wrong?”
Sylus shook his head again, “I’m not sure yet…”
“Hey fatman!” she called, her voice still shaking a bit, “I never asked your name…”
He smiled, “Sylus. But you can call me Sy if you prefer.”
She thought a moment, “Think I’ll still call you fatman.”
He laughed a bit.
“That does not bother you?” Saari whispered to him.
“Oddly enough, not anymore,” he smiled at her.
“What’s the other guy’s name?” Cassidy asked.
“Other… guy?” Sylus had to think a moment, “OH!”
His eyes turned into balls of light once more, “YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO KNOW  MY NAME!” there was a momentary pause. Qaitax sighed, “You may call me Qaitax. I will not respond to Sylus or ‘fat…man’.”
“And I’d never call you those things. Since, ya know, you already threatened to kill me,” Cassidy said nonchalantly.
“My Lord!” Saari gasped.
Qaitax cringed, “I didn’t though, did I?”
Saari looked at him in shock.
Sylus took back control, “Do you need help getting home?”
Cassidy studied Argyle, “Usually I wouldn’t… But…”
Sylus smiled, “Are you ready to pack down then?”
She smiled, “Seems a bit early to be closing shop, but when you need a ride…” She slid off her chair and began putting the remaining boxes in reusable grocery bags.
Sylus turned to his son, “Daniel help out if you can?”
Daniel nodded as he handed off his cookies to Sylus.
He then turned to Saari, “I’ll take the cart and get the car.”
“I can push it. They will not be far. I will keep an eye on them,” she nodded reassuringly.
Once the car was packed, Sylus pulled up in front of where Cassidy’s stand had been. There she stood on the curb holding Argyle the Protector Unicorn in her arms. Daniel was holding some bags of cookies and the table and chairs were laying flat on the pavement. With a smile to Saari, he stepped out of the car.
“Okay, you two get in,” he said as he opened the back seat door, “Careful of the groceries!”
“Which side do you like, Danny?” Cassidy asked, she sounded a bit timid.
“Well… I like the sitting behind Saari. So you can slide in first!”
With a nod, Cassidy and Argyle slid into the back seat of the sedan. Daniel followed and closed the door behind him. Sylus watched as the buckled Argyle into the middle seat. His heart was nearly breaking from how adorable it all was.
Popping the trunk he loaded the chairs in first. He was barely able to fit the small table in horizontally. He then fit the bags of cookies as best as he could.
“Fuck me…” he muttered as he tried to close the trunk.
His eyes glowed a moment as the trunk clicked shut.
“What did you do?”
I closed it. I still wonder why you resort to such mundane solutions when I reside right here and am capable of almost anything…
“Because I don’t want to get used to you being in control. I like my consciousness. Thank you,” he tapped the trunk as he got back into the car.
“Aright, Cassidy-”
“Jones.” she interrupted, “Cassidy Jones. That’s my full name.”
Sylus smiled at Saari who seemed lost in thought.
“Well okay then, Miss Cassidy Jones. Direct me to you home so I can drop you off!”
With a nod, Cassidy told him where to go.
As they pulled up on her house, Sylus realized how close it was to the edge of the mist. She wasn’t kidding when she said she was two houses  from the no-go zone… He could make out the light of the right itself from where they were.
The home of Cassidy Jones was a gaudy vinyl vickie. It was in a development of similarly oversized homes. Every lawn but her’s was well maintained, including Cassidy’s.
“This is it?” Sylus asked incredulously.
“Yep,” Cassidy nodded as she undid her seat belt.
“The mist is right there… Do people still live here?”
“Some,” she said as she opened the door, “Not as many as before. A lot of people ran away, but I’m still here,” she paused a moment, “It’s not like I have anywhere to go…” her voice trailed off.
Sylus stepped out of the car to help her unload. He took the table and chairs. Cassidy took a few bags of cookies as she clutched Argyle. Daniel and Saari helped by carrying bags of cookies.
The entryway to her home was a vaulting ceiling with a massive crystal chandelier. There was a large staircase beside a hall before them.
“Are your parents home?” Sylus looked around and into what rooms he could see. They all looked largely unused.
“No,” she said flatly as she put her bags on the floor.
“Do… Do you have food?”
“I do!” she ran down the hall with Argyle still in her arms. There was a light thud as she ran back with a frozen dinner, and Argyle, in her hands. “I bought my fave!”
It was chicken nuggets with mac and cheese.
Sylus was nearly in tears as he clutched his jacket over his heart, “That… That’s not food…”
“Sure it is…” she looked at the box.
“Is that all you eat?” he cringed.
“I have another kind and some pizzas!”
“Oh thank god,” he released his jacket, “Frozen pizza.”
“You should come over for dinner someday!” Daniel announced.
Cassidy seemed to be caught off guard.
“If you would like,” Sylus added.
She pursed her lips as though she was stifling tears.
“M-maybe someday,” she smiled.
“We’ll make something good!” Daniel added with a smile.
“Th-that sounds nice,” Cassidy mumbled into Argyle.
“Do you need help preparing?” Sylus asked as he set some of her bags away from the door.
“N-no. I can make these just fine, thank you,” she was smiling again.
“Are you sure?” he was honestly afraid to leave her alone.
She nodded, “I’ve done this a lot. Don’t worry, fatman! You should take your groceries home before they go bad! Besides,” she looked down at her frozen dinner, “What if my parents come home?”
He finally gave up with a smile.
“Have a good evening then, Miss Cassidy Jones,” he smiled and waved to her.
“It was very nice to meet you,” Saari bowed.
“See ya later, Cassidy!” Daniel waved to her as they walked out the door and closed it behind them.
“Should I go back in and get her?” Sylus whispered to Saari.
“We do not know her home dynamics… We do not know if her parents will be returning…” she turned to him, “I know your heart hurts, but we must not rush to interfere.”
Sylus cringed slightly as he nodded. He looked over at the mist. It seemed as though it had stopped dead just two buildings from her house. There was another chunk of the same development engulfed in it. It wasn’t like the mist to just stop. It’s nature was to spread as far and as wide as it could.
“How peculiar…” he thought aloud.
“My Lord?” Saari inquired.
“Hm? Oh, sorry,” he smiled softly, “Just thinking.”
Daniel was already back in the car. Sylus opened the passenger side door for Saari before entering himself.
The car remained silent as they made their way home.

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