Sylus sat on the floor of an empty house, his back propped up against a wall. He breathed deeply as he took in his surroundings. Nine was laying across his lap, at least, what he could see of his lap.
Master is great hunter! Nine sat up with a smile on its face, Master save Nine. Nine is very lucky to have Master!”
“Huh?” Sylus tried to sit up, but a strange weight held him down.
Nine wanted to teach Master how to hunt small prey, but Master didn’t need help because Master hunted gaunt! Master big hunter!
“Big… What?” He finally looked down at his gut. “Oh god…” A sickening sensation filled him. He was going to throw up. He had to. He was going to burst if he didn’t.
No. We’re fine. We’re perfectly fine. Just rest here a bit longer and we can go home.
“Qaitax…” he moaned over the discomfort, “I… I didn’t want this…”
It could not be helped. I can take over if the pain is too much, but this is something you are going to have to get used to.
“It’s not pain… It’s…” he groaned, “It’s just awful…”
Do you want me to take control?
He rolled his head on his shoulders, “You always take over when I’m in distress. I… I have to…” he took a deep breath, “I have to just…” he winced, “I feel like I’m dying…”
You are not dying. You are tired. Rest and we will go home.
“H-how long? How long do I have to sit here like… like this?!” he motioned to his stomach, “Qai, Qai, I said I liked being fat but not like this… This… This isn’t right… It… It’s…” He dropped his hands on his gut, “It’s… It’s warm…”
Biomechanical functions tend to generate heat.
“A-and i-it’s…” the nauseous sensation was returning, “It’s moving…”
That is how it works, Sylus. You will have to get used to this.
“I-is it me… or is it the…”
“OH GOD!” Sylus screamed, “IT’S STILL ALIVE?!”
“OH GOD! NO! NO NO NO!”
I can end it, but the core is what we must consume and it is freshest if left alive.
Sylus screamed at the top of his lungs.
Does Master need help? Should Nine go get family?!
Sylus sobbed and screamed. He ran his hand over his stomach again. It was a slow, subtle movement that came from within. It was sickening. He hated it. He hated everything about this. He was sitting in the ashes of what were once people digesting a living thing… This was all wrong. This wasn’t what he wanted…
But it’s part of the package. You have everything you want, but it comes at a price. To me, this is nothing. I understand that to you, a mortal mind, this is terrifying and greatly discomforting, but you must remember, you are no longer a mortal. You must do what is best for us and our body. This is what we need. You must accept this.
“I don’t like it…” Sylus choked.
I don’t expect you to ever like it. But it is necessary.
“I… I don’t…” Something pushed against his flesh enough to force it outward, his mind immediately connected it to something from a long time ago… “I-I’ve had life inside of me before, except… I was making it, not… not destroying it…”
So the experience isn’t entirely foreign to you.
“Qaitax. There is nothing relatable or normal about digesting something alive.”
As I told you, I suggest you abandon all notions of normalcy. This is normal now.
“Does it have to be alive?”
For best results, yes. For mediocre results with the least benefit to exertion, no.
“Ugh…” he was too tired from a mix of fullness and sheer horror, “Just… wake me up when we can get out of here… This place gives me the creeps.”
“Sy?” A familiar voice called up the stairs. “Sy, are you okay?”
“Nine came running home upset about something… Said you weren’t okay… Do you need help?”
“I, uh, I…”
You could use comforting.
“Ah, no, I-I’m fine. R-really,” he forced a laugh, “100% A-okay!”
“That is the worst lie I’ve ever heard.”
Footsteps began making their way up the stairs. In a flash of panic, Sylus rolled himself over to slam the room’s door shut.
“I’m fine, you can… You…” he was lying on his stomach and the retching feeling returned, “Ugh… No…”
“D-did you eat?” Jeron slowly approached the door.
“Ah, yeah, yup. I ate. I’m good. I’ll be home in a bit. I’m fine.” He couldn’t help but follow up with a groan.
“That doesn’t sound fine…”
“Look, go home. The kids shouldn’t be left alone like this. I really am fine. This is all just… Weirdly new to me and… And I have to get used to it…”
“You don’t have to…”
“Do it alone. I know, but Jeron, this is bodily function stuff… there’s nothing you can help me with.”
“Would you like me to just keep you company for a bit? The kids ate their dinner and they’re set up with snacks and a movie. They’ll be okay for at least a hundred and twenty minutes.”
“They didn’t see Nine freaking out?”
“No. I was outside on the porch. I told them I’d be right back. They didn’t seem concerned.”
“G-good…” Sylus groaned as he struggled to roll himself back onto his back.
“You need a hand?”
“N-nope. Really. Go home, Jeron.”
Jeron slowly sat down with his back against the door. “I’ll go home when I can help you get there, too.”
Sylus sighed. It took all of his tendrils and the last of his waning energy to right himself. He gasped as his weight was finally off his gut.
“How long do you think until you can walk?” Jeron sighed a bit.
An hour perhaps.
“Is that how long…”
It will still be alive, but it will take up much less space. It takes time to optimize the position of prey, but once it is found, the struggling will cease and there should be less empty space.
“Thanks, Qai, I hate it.”
As I said, I do not expect you to like it, but this is your reality now.
“What’d he say?” Jeron called from outside the door.
Sylus sighed, “An hour. Why not go home and check back then? Nine can escort you back if you really want.”
Jeron shook his head, “I’d rather you not be alone right now. You sound like shit.”
“I feel like shit…” he took a deep breath, “Look I might fall asleep. I don’t want you alone up here…”
“Nine’s right here, Sy. I’m fine.”
Sylus’ groggy mind struggled to find any other reasons to send Jeron away. He slid himself up against the door. Resting his hands on his stomach, he found himself completely mesmerized and absorbed in its rhythmic movements.
Better. There is nothing to be afraid of, Sylus. There is nothing to enjoy or hate. This simply is what it is.
Sylus sighed, uncertain if he could ever get used to this. He may yet handoff hunting to Qaitax so he’d never have to deal with this kind of thing again. Then again…
“Is that you growling?” Jeron spoke up once more.
“Oh god…” Sylus groaned, “You can hear it…”
“Is that your fucking stomach?”
“Jesus, Sy… I thought you said you were starting small…”
“I meant to… But it didn’t work out that way.”
Jeron was hesitant to ask, “What’d you…”
“A gaunt. A big one. Too big. I shouldn’t have but it was hurting Nine and I got angry and rage just took over and the next thing I knew I woke up sitting on the floor with a gut as wide as I am tall…”
A strange feeling shot through Jeron’s body, but as quickly as it came, it was gone.
“I feel stranded, Jeron. Like… Like I can’t even get up. I’m just sitting here, hopeless. I don’t even know if I could defend myself against…”
We are far from defenseless. Where we to come under attack, we can expedite the digestion process and consume our aggressor as a replacement.
“So we can speedrun this nightmare?”
Ideally, no. Correct digestion is optimal for feeding all of our tendrils appropriately. Quick digestion prioritizes offensive limbs. This is not ideal for general maintenance.
“Ah… Look at me. I’m learning what kind of monster I am…”
“What’d he say?”
“That if anything comes at me I’ll be fine,” he sighed, “This really sucks, Jeron. I was really just hoping to eat a little and just come home. I didn’t mean to end up like this… I bet you’re really reconsidering spending time with me anymore, huh?”
Jeron shrugged, “Saari mentioned Qaitax used to eat people. I’m not surprised this is what you have to do, but Sylus… You have to promise me you’ll never eat a person. Okay?”
“Oh god no!” Sylus choked, “Fucking NEVER!”
“Good. Because that’s when I’d start reconsidering things.”
“It won’t happen, Jeron. I promise.”
The temptation will be there. There is a very particular allure to hunting a sapient being. The desire to control and consume their very consciousness is a power trip unlike any other. It is intoxicating. However, were you to give in, your hunger would never end. Mortal minds are like a drug to us. The more we consume, the more we crave. The more we give in to cravings, the less ourselves we are until we become like this feral creature squirming within us as we speak.
“Qaitax has made it fairly clear that eating people is a bad idea so don’t worry he’s with us on this one.”
“So he’s on a diet?” Jeron snorted.
“He knows its dangerous. He didn’t really have a choice back on Q’taxia. Plus, by the time I got there, he was starving. He almost…” Sylus bit back on his words, “I almost didn’t make it,” he forced a nervous laugh.
“What happened there, Sy?”
“Oh, you know, I got eaten alive and forced into a series of dreams meant to manipulate me into forgetting I had divorce my mind from my body before I died… It was… Frightening, to say the least.”
“Qaitax… he ate you?”
Sylus groaned a bit, “Yeah, actually. My body had to be consumed to make sure we could escape. I was… I was Qaitax’s last meal.”
Jeron sat back against the door in silence.
“That must have been horrifying…”
Sylus forced a laugh, “I woke up in his gut. Dying. It hurt. A lot. It was dark and all I could hear was this loud growling sound. I… I could feel his gut moving against me… Rubbing my flesh from my bones. It’s a very particular searing sensation, being chemically dissolved. Not the same as a fire burn. I… I could feel my skin falling off my body…” he shook the memories aside. “But Qaitax got me out of there quick. I don’t think I was actually awake in there for long, it just felt like a long time because of all the sensory overload.”
Jeron was silent.
“I still dream about it sometimes…”
“I wake up thinking I’m being digested again… I guess…” he looked down at his gut, “I guess that’s why I hate this so much. I know what this feels like. I know what this creature is going through… I know how painful it is, but somehow its better because I’m on the outside this time?” he sighed, “I can’t rationalize it Jeron… I can’t…”
You must stop trying to fit this reality into your mortal understanding of the world. It will never fit. Normalcy, rationality… You must abandon these moral concepts.
“I refuse to go insane.”
You may have to give in a little in order to overcome your rigid moral views.
You will, Sylus. In time, you will. I will help you adjust. You will not go feral, but you will have to let go of the restraints of mortal concerns. The sooner you can do that, the less of an event this kind of thing will be.
“I think it matters, though, Sy,” Jeron finally spoke up, “You… You’re more important than anything else in this world. More important than…”
“Stop. Just… Just stop. I get it. I’m supposed to save everyone and everything. I’m supposed to just magically get my shit together and save the world. I get it. I know. I said I would, but… I… I really don’t think that’s what I’m here to do…”
A chill filled Jeron’s chest.
“I… I don’t think I’m a hero. I don’t feel like I’m good or whatever. I just… I feel like myself. And I guess… Part of feeling myself is accepting that I’m a monster. Monsters aren’t heroes, Jeron. Monsters destroy the world, they don’t save it…
“You and the kids mean more to me than the rest of the world. Humanity could burn and I’d be fine as long as I had you all. You’re all I care about, Jeron. You’re all I want to protect. I’ll get better, Jeron, but not for the world. For you and the kids.”
“Can I make a small request?”
“Sure,” Sylus scoffed.
“You don’t have to be lawful good or anything like that, Sy. Humans are a mixed bag of morality. I’m not exactly godly and I know that. But please, Sy, just… Don’t be evil. You can choose not to go down that path. You have all this power inside of you and you can use it however you want, but I ask you, no, I beg you, please don’t use it for evil.”
“Jer, I can barely use my tendrils. I have a loooong way to go before I’ll ever be a threat to anyone.”
“You’re already a threat to the other monsters in town, so that’s a start.”
Sylus ran his hand over his stomach.
“It’s gonna be okay, Sy. We’ll figure it out. We all have things we need to figure out so we may as well work on them together.”
Sylus sighed deeply.
“If Qaitax is right, we have half an hour to go. Relax a bit and it might go faster, okay?”
Sylus groaned a bit as his stomach made a particularly loud noise.
“Don’t worry,” Jeron chuckled, “The sounds really don’t bother me. For some reason…”
Sylus forced a nervous laugh, “Really?”
“Yeah… Really. Now shut up and digest so I can get your fat ass home.”
A smile crossed Sylus’ lips.
“I love you so much, Jeron.”
“I love you, too, Sylus.”
“Even though I’m a real-life monster?”
Jeron chuckled to himself, “Even though you’re a real-life monster.”
“Shut up and rest, Sy.”
Jeron couldn’t help but smile.