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. 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.
“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?”
“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.
“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!”
“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.”