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 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.
“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?”
“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.
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?”
“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.
“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.