Jeron stood in the kitchen preparing dinner; his heart much lighter than before. Part of him kept nagging him about how weak it was to breakdown like that, but he couldn’t help it and honestly, he knew he was one stressor away from breaking again, but for now? He was happy and comfortable. He knew he had to start talking more, but all his life his father had made sure feeling things were seen as unmanly and weak. He sometimes wondered how his mother knew she loved him if he never expressed it…
Daniel and Saari made their way into the living room.
“Hey, guys,” Jeron turned to greet them, “I’m sorry about what I said, Saari.”
Saari gave him a curt nod, “I understand your perspective now. Daniel is a very good teacher.”
“You’ve got a lot on your shoulders, too, huh kid?” Jeron nodded to Daniel.
Daniel laughed uncomfortably before changing the subject, “We hung a bucket out my window and caught some crystals! Saari made a new lamp! Can we hang it in the living room?”
“That’s up to your dad…”
“Sure,” Sylus came down the steps dressed, “Wherever you guys want.”
“You sound a bit distracted, Sy. What’s up?”
“I’m going out to… Uh…” he cleared his throat, “I might not be back until tomorrow.”
“Wait why?” Jeron rounded the island, “Where are you going?”
“I-I’m going to, uh, figure out… things and stuff…”
“Sylus. Honesty. Please.”
“Not in front of the kids!” He hissed.
“You are going to hunt,” Saari spoke up, “It is about time.”
Sylus stood rigidly upright.
“Hunt? Dad doesn’t hunt, Saari. We don’t own a gun and he can’t even hold one…”
She shook her head, “He needs no weapons beyond his own body. This should be a good exercise to get him used to his new form.”
Sylus deflated, running a hand down his face.
“So what are you hunting, Dad?”
Sylus turned to Nine who was once more napping on the couch. He bit his lip.
Daniel followed his gaze, “You can’t eat Nine!” He darted across the room and wrapped his arms around the spawn’s neck, “He’s my friend.”
“I’m not gonna eat the dog, Dan…” Sylus sighed, “I just… I mean…”
Nine stood up stretching on the couch, his paw tendrils digging into the cushions.
“Hey! Get off there with that!” Jeron barked.
Master need help hunting?
Nine good hunter! Nine can help then Master can be good hunter too!
Sylus sighed, “Fine. You’re right. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. Just… I don’t know… Something… Small… okay?”
Nine nodded before heading toward the door. Its tendrils reached out and turned the knob opening the door. The rain had stopped but there was still a dark pallor in the air. Sylus bit his lip again.
“Sy?” Jeron stood next to him, “It’s okay. You have to do what you have to and honestly, none of us have any love for those… things.”
“Except Nine!” Daniel burst out, “Nine helped us a lot while you were gone, Dad.”
Jeron nodded, “He really did.”
Sylus took a deep breath.
“Don’t stay out all night, okay? Come home,” Jeron spoke as he fixed his collar.
“That’s probably not a good idea…”
“Sy… We’re gonna have to get used to it eventually. Just… Start small, okay?”
He nodded stiffly. “That’s the plan,” he choked.
“Alright. Go on. I’ll make dinner for myself and the kids. You go do whatever it is you do.” Jeron patted him on the chest before returning to the kitchen.
“Good luck, Dad,” Daniel gave him a quick hug before sitting on his stool at the counter.
Saari stepped forward, “Do you have need of my assistance? I am quite knowledgeable in the diet of void lords.”
Sylus shook his head, “You don’t have to worry about that kind of thing anymore.”
“Are you certain? Perhaps I could be of some…”
“Qaitax says no. Very sternly. Stay here. Have dinner with Dan and Jeron. Hang up your lamps. Just hang out, okay?”
Saari stepped back, “I… I am no longer needed then… Truly…”
“Not as a caretaker, no. But as a person, yes. You are needed.”
She looked up to him.
“You’re loved, Saari. Relax, okay?”
“I have been relaxing for overlong. I must do something…”
“Then work on your own skills. I’ll work on mine, okay?” Sylus smiled.
Saari’s gaze sank. “Is that my Lord’s will?”
She shook her head, “I-I am sorry. I did not mean… I-I will take your advice into consideration,” she bowed lightly before joining Daniel at the island.
“Off you go, Sy,” Jeron waved him off.
With a deep breath, he finally stepped outside, pulling the door shut behind him.
“I don’t think I can do this, Nine,” he sighed.
Sure Master can! Master can be good hunter like Nine!
“I really don’t think so…”
Sylus looked around the derelict town. He knew that since the Riftworks was no longer functioning, it was probably riddled with all kinds of spawns. He had no idea how to detect or track them or what kinds there were or what ones he could even handle.
We hunt echlane.
Nine nodded. Small feisty spawns. Make good wriggles in belly but need many to feel full.
Sylus swallowed hard, “Can we… do something bigger? So I don’t have to, like, eat a lot of them?”
Echlane travel in packs. Many are always together. Easy targets but can be difficult because numbers.
Sylus sighed. “Any other options?”
Nine paused a moment in thought. Crikcraks… They are medium spawns with big heads and bulgy eyes. They have claws and fur. Fur not nice in belly. Crikcraks can be dangerous to untrained hunter. Master asked to start small and Master is smart to do so. Echlane are small and a little challenging. Good start for new hunter.
“I-I’ll take your word for it… H-how do we find some then?”
Listen. They make skittery scratchy noises and like to live high off the ground. They drop down in swarms to consume their prey. We are too big to be their prey, but they can still be bitey.
“So…” Sylus craned his neck upwards, “Do they fly?”
No. They climb.
“I-I’m not big on heights…”
Nine has found echlane’s on tall floors of buildings. They nest in the walls for safety. Nine knows right tippy-tappies to make them scurry. Buildings on other side of town are best. Nine hunts the close ones regularly. Come.
Nine began trotting out into the street. With a deep, uncomfortable sigh, Sylus followed. They went around the bend to the cluster of houses in the center.
These buildings are not as hunted. We try this one, Nine motioned to the house nearest the end of the lot, Listen closely for skitterings in walls.
In all the years he’d lived amongst the ruins of La Sombra, Sylus had never set foot in any of the other homes. It felt sacrilegious as they were the resting places of those who once lived here. Sure enough, as soon as he stepped inside, he kicked up a thin layer of ash. A shiver ran down his spine.
Sylus did his best to clear his mind and listen for things scratching in the walls.
Nine hears them. Does Master?
Sylus shook his head.
Follow Nine. Quietly.
Nine moved up a flight of stairs with deft swiftness. Sylus knew the second he set foot on any of those old wooden steps he was going to cause the loudest creaking sound.
Use your tendrils. They can mask your weight. Someday you will learn to measure your steps accordingly, but for now, use them to support you.
Sylus slowly let his back tendrils unfurl and rest on the ash-covered floor. With some configuring, they managed to lift him gently off the floor.
Very good. Now, use them like legs. You need not consciously think about their movement simply what it is you want them to do.
Taking yet another deep breath, Sylus went up the first step. It was awkward and strange not using his feet, but it was quiet enough. He slowly followed Nine upstairs. The spawn waited patiently for each of his hesitant steps. Once he was up, Nine did a little dance that made no sound at all on the hardwood floors.
Master is good hunter! Now, can master hear echlane in walls?
Sylus once again tried to focus on his surroundings. There was the distinct feeling of not being alone. Of something watching them. It was as though there was another breath in the air around them.
“I-I don’t hear scratching… But I feel something… Strange…”
Nine’s back arched as his tendrils unfurled in a display of aggression.
Something else hunts echlane…
“W-what is it?”
Without another word, Nine burst down the hall. Sylus silently reached after him. He stood frozen at the top of the stairs. What was he supposed to do? Could he even help Nine or would he just be getting in the way? A yelp from down the hall made up his mind. His tendrils carried him deftly to a room at the end. The door was already out of the lock so he pushed it open slowly.
Nine was inside, it’s tendrils fully unfurled and on full display against another, much larger gaunt. Snarling and shrill snaps filled the air as the creatures faced each other in a deadly standoff. Sylus didn’t know much about gaunts outside of Nine, but he knew his faithful companion was in trouble.
He stepped into the room, unfurling his own tendrils as a show of power. The larger gaunt immediately backed down. Nine lowered his display and turned to Sylus.
Feral and bad! It takes Nine’s hunting ground! Help Nine Master!
“I thought you said you didn’t hunt on this side of town?”
This town is Nine’s hunting ground. Nine and Master only. No ferals! Bad!
Nine made a loud shrieking sound as it lunged after the other gaunt. A guttural squelching noise filled the air as its jaws wrapped around the creature’s neck, but it wasn’t enough. The larger gaunt easily bucked Nine off and had it pinned down in an instant. It’s own head unraveling to begin tearing Nine apart. As hard as it struggled, the domesticated spawn was completely overpowered.
A sickening sensation overtook Sylus. Neither he nor Qaitax dictated his next moves. They simply happened from a place of primal rage. His tendrils lashed out, fulling encompassing the feral spawn. It yelped as it was pulled away from Nine. It gnashed and snarled and clawed at Sylus’ tightening appendages, but it was no use. It’s aggression turned to fear as it’s face met the voidlord’s ravening gaze. It knew its fate, and like Nine, it tried to struggle, but it was of no use.