OG Q’taxians #10: Brother Johl.

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Cassidy sat on the couch at the Synclaire’s. She stared out the window at Sylus standing on the porch holding a cup of coffee with Quip at his feet. Neither had moved in a while… She was tempted to go out and talk to him, but she knew he was trying to stay out of her bubble. She sighed as Saari approached her.

“This is becoming quite silly, is it not?” Saari sat beside her.

Cassidy nodded, “I-I’m sorry…”

Saari raised her hand, “Do not be sorry. Sylus has taken a liking to you, but at the expense of his own health. He is the adult and he is behaving far more childish than either of the actual children. It is his choice to be so obstinate in not taking you to Brother Johl. This could all have been resolved some time ago if he could only rise above his resentment for the man.”

“Why does he hate him so much?” Cassidy’s voice wavered a bit as she struggled to speak.

Saari gave a deep sigh, “It was something that happened a long time ago. It did not even involve him, yet he has taken it so deeply to heart that he refuses to let it go…”

“What happened then?”

Saari shook her head, “I would prefer not to speak on it.”

They both turned to look out the window. Sylus wasn’t in sight. Saari stood up abruptly and made her way to the door. He was sitting, seemingly unconscious, on the swinging bench on the far end of the porch. Quip was laying across his lap.

“My lord?” she called to him.

“Yes?” he answered slowly. His voice devoid of its usual boisterous energy.

“My lord!” Saari marched out onto the porch, “With all due respect, you are being ridiculous!”

“Give me a break, Saari… I haven’t slept in days…” his irritation was apparent in his tone.

“And now you make it worse for yourself. I know you’ve grown fond of her, but Cassidy knows she is hurting you. This is hurting both of you. You must do something. She is a child. She should not feel so guilty all the time especially when there is something that can be done about it!”

Sylus’ eyes shot open.

“I can stand a bit of discomfort if it means never seeing that… that thing ever again!” he barked.

“He is Q’taxian!” Saari shrieked in reply.

“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes, Saari. Human, Q’taxian… It doesn’t matter. Being a monster knows no bounds. Brother Johl is a monster. It has nothing to do with his appearance and you know that,” Sylus gritted his teeth.

“You seem to forget that I am the one he scorned. It is not your duty to carry my burdens. They are mine and mine alone. If I can move past those events then you must be able to as well! You may hate the man for his actions, but to carry so much resentment that you cannot see reason is unreasonable,” Saari did her best to remain calm. The last thing she wanted was to enrage Sylus as he was now: Weak, irritable, and tired.

Sylus stood up, throwing Quip to the floor, “What he did to you was UNFORGIVABLE!” He bellowed at the top of his lungs.

“AND I WILL NEVER FORGIVE HIM!” she yelled in return, “But forgiveness has nothing to do with this situation. He is useful. A too. Something that should be used when necessary. No matter how terrible he is, he is of use to us here and now. Please, my lord… See reason…”

Tension grew as they stared at each other in silence on the porch. Cassidy knew they were going to start yelling so she made her way into Daniel’s room where he was sitting at his desk with a comic book in his hand.

“Whatcha reading?” she asked as she slowly entered his room.

“Voltman and the Thousand Watt Caper…” Daniel sighed, “It’s old but I like it. You know what’s funny?”

Cassidy sat in a rocking chair in the corner of his room, “What’s that?”

“All these superheroes are cool and all, but it’s different when your own dad is a superhero…” Daniel closed his comic.

“Well he can’t fly, can he?” Cassidy’s mind wandered to visions of Sylus gliding through the air with all the grace his body could never afford him. She laughed.

“You know… I really don’t know… He hasn’t done many voidy things since he got back. Well… Besides eating a lot of voidspawns… “ they thought a moment, “He has those tentacle things he never really uses…”

“You’d think they’d come in handy, huh?” Cassidy chuckled.

“Yeah… I mean… He’s spilling his coffee and food a lot… Maybe they’d hold stuff better?” Daniel laughed nervously.

They were both silent.

“He’s not feeling good, is he?” Daniel finally spoke.

Cassidy’s eyes wandered to the floor.

“Cassidy?” Saari called into the house, “We are going for a walk. Please ready yourself.”

“Where are we going?” Cassidy called back, concerned that Saari was only speaking to her.

“To the refugee camp to see Brother Johl. Whether Sylus is coming or not,” she was clearly upset but she tried her best to bury it.

“Wait, Dad and I aren’t coming?” Daniel asked as he stepped down into the living room.

“The camp can be dangerous, Daniel. It is best that you remain here with your father,” Saari spoke calmly.

“Sylus isn’t coming?” Cassidy caught her disappointed tone too late.

Saari sighed as she slung the bandolier that held her staff over her shoulders, “He is being obstinate and this cannot wait any longer. For both of your sakes.”

“Well… If this guy is so dangerous, shouldn’t we bring the Voidlord as insurance or something?” Cassidy replied.

Saari glanced out the open door to Sylus standing in the yard pinching the bridge of his nose. He’d heard everything and she knew it. She also knew she was being manipulative and while it left a bad taste in her mouth, she knew she had to do something drastic to convince him to look beyond his own misgivings.

“You two can’t go alone. I’ll go, too,” Daniel commanded.

“Daniel,” Saari laughed, “I am a priestess of the Void. We will be okay. I promise you,” she smiled at him.

“But what if you need help?” Daniel looked up into her horned eyes.

Saari was growing to translate expressions more and more accurately. It was clear he was being sincere and wanted to help.

“We’ll be fine, Danny!” Cassidy chirped, “Don’t worry!”

“Oh… Okay…” he was crestfallen.

“IF HE LAYS A SINGLE HAND ON HER INAPPROPRIATELY I WILL BREAK MY VOW TO NEVER DEVOUR A HUMAN OR Q’TAXIAN!” Sylus yelled from the front lawn, “I WILL KILL HIM SO QUICKLY HE WON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!”

Where is the fun in that… It’s so much better when they struggle…

“You shut your mouth,” he barked to himself.

Saari sighed. Having Sylus along was a relief. Johl wasn’t all that powerful, but she knew she’d have trouble with him if he tried anything. As much as she spoke about overcoming and moving on, she wasn’t sure how things would play out were she actually forced to respond to his behavior.

“Great. Happy Saturday, kids. We’re going to the refugee compound to visit a serial molester,” he threw open the door to his car, “All aboard! Let’s go!”

The Q’taxian refugee camp was all the squalor you’d expect it to be. It was a few thousand people on a tiny plot of land with nothing but refuse from the Voidworks to build their shelters with. There were entire towns of empty houses, but they stayed in this squalor even though no one was policing them anymore. There was a time that armed guards patrolled their parameters, but that came to a swift end when no one volunteered to take the post. Between the unknown effects of the Mist and the oddities that were the Q’taxians, no one wanted to get involved. There remained a seven foot tall wooden fence in great disrepair around their allotted land. A sign hung above the opening:

“Welcome to Q’taxia. Home of the wretched.”

It was painted with a less-than-steady hand.

Sylus and Saari both lingered outside the fence. Both incredibly apprehensive to enter. It wasn’t just Brother Johl they worried about. The last time they visited, almost two years ago now, Saari was nearly killed for failing her people. They cursed and threw debris at her for surviving when so many others were lost. They called her a cow and a whore for laying with a human. She was a traitor for handing Q’taxia over to humanity. They’d say all these things and throw anything they could lay their hands on, but they never approached her. The ancient fear of the power of the Voice was still fresh in their minds.

Sylus was assaulted multiple times by people begging him to return their lost lord to them. They offered all kinds of things in return: Their blood, their lives, their children… He tried explaining the situation to them numerous times, but none would listen. They raged and screamed at him for taking their precious lord away. That as a human he had taken all they ever had. Plundered their land, stolen their god, and killed their people. They would beg and plead, piling themselves upon him. Demanding he set their lord free. They clawed and tore at his flesh thinking that if they pulled him apart, Qaitax would be freed and, for some reason, be willing to serve them again. All the while, Qaitax was more than willing to lay them all to waste, but Sylus wouldn’t let him.

Needless to say, both left that first visit utterly afraid to ever return again.

Sylus was even more afraid now that there were children involved. He had no idea what the Q’taxians would do to such vulnerable beings. He hated the idea of thinking of them like that. They weren’t animals. They were people. Angry, destitute, isolated people. They had every right to be angry, but it wasn’t exactly his and Saari’s place to take the blame for the shortsightedness of their ancestors. What happened to them, to Q’taxia, was a travesty. But it had happened countless times before and will continue to happen so long as there is mortal life for the Void to feed upon. They weren’t alone in their displacement. Many other species had fled their worlds. Never enough of them for the species to survive though. As it was with the Q’taxians.

They each took a child by the hand and slowly entered the through the arching gateway. At first no one even looked their way. It was as they began making their way to the center of their town where the ragged barn that served as their temple stood that heads started turning. At first there were stares. Followed by low murmurings. The occasional hollar. Sylus put Daniel in front of him and placed both his hands on his shoulders. Saari saw this and did the same with Cassidy. Some small objects were thrown in their general direction. Paper, plants, fistfulls of dirt. Nothing terrible. Then rocks. Small rocks. Then larger ones. The yelling grew louder. Sylus and Saari both stared straight ahead, avoiding any eye contact with their assailants. They just wanted to get in and out as fast as possible. It was uncomfortable, but far from life threatening…

A cold throbbing sensation suddenly filled the back of Sylus’ head. He was dazed from behind and released his grasp of Daniel. A man reached for the boy to pull him away. Saari reached for her staff, but another man was already trying to pull it off her back. A woman reached for Cassidy. The second she screamed, Quip came tearing through the crowd. He bit down on her attacker’s arm. The woman reached for a knife on her belt, but Saari kicked her hand as she continued to struggle with the man trying to tear her staff away. Sylus regained his balance and without a thought, lashed out with every tendril at his disposal. The man who’d wrapped his hands around Daniel’s shoulders, was torn apart in the blink of an eye.

A silent stillness filled the mob. Saari and Cassidy were released. Quip bit through the arm of Cassidy’s attacker before releasing. Sylus stood seething with rage. Blood sprayed all over his face and clothes. He wrapped a tendrel around Daniel and drew him close. The boy was also covered in blood. It wasn’t an uncommon experience what with the family outtings to cull Voidspawns, but this was different. This wasn’t some mindless animal that was now lying in tatters on the ground. Once Sylus’ breathing became less of a heave and more normal, he seemed to snap seamlessly into an unconcerned state.

“Don’t ANY of you. Lay. A single. Fucking. Hand. On ANY of MY children again. Or so help me. I will tear this shithole down and there will be nothing left for any of you,” he yelled into the crowd as it slowly pulled away from them, “You can come for me or Saari, but the SECOND you put YOUR hands on MY children, YOU LOSE THEM!”

Sylus pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and knelt down to wipe Daniel’s face with it. He was in a state of frozen shock. His eyes transfixed on the mess that was once a person.

“It’s okay. It’s not your fault don’t worry,” Sylus cooed as he cleaned his son up, “You’ll be okay,” he pulled him into a hug, “I promise.”

Daniel pulled away slowly, taking the cloth from his Sylus’ hand. He used it to wipe his father’s face.

“You’re scary when your red,” was all he said before handing the cloth back to Sylus.

With a smile, Sylus pocketed it before standing up again.

“Well this suit is ruined now,” he laughed before turning to Saari and Cassidy both of whom were also frozen.

Saari’s head slowly drifted away from Sylus. She took Cassidy by the shoulders and resumed her trek to the temple. Sylus did the same with Daniel as he followed in silence. He could hear Quip growling in the background as he kept people away from his freshly eviscerated meal. A smile crossed his lips.

Good boy, he thought to himself.

It could have been us had you not acted so irrationally…

Give the gaunt a break. The thing doesn’t get fresh meat very often.

And yet you could have had a full belly… When was the last time you ate ANYTHING?

“You can stop now,” Sylus muttered aloud.

The rest of the trip was a long dragging march toward the temple. There were no further interactions. No one even looked at them.

Upon reaching the barn, they found Brother Johl standing in the doorway. He was a portly man with long grey hair pulled back in a ponytail. He was small for a Q’taxian. He wore the customary yellow robes of the Brotherhood.

“Word travels fast. Even upon the hubarn tongues of Q’taxia,” he called to them.

“They weren’t very hubarn a few minutes ago,” Sylus scoffed.

“It’s a wonder you didn’t feast yourself, my lord,” Brother Johl bowed mockingly.

See? Even HE understands…

“You can seriously shut up now,” Sylus barked aloud.

“Was that for me? Or my lord. Either way. Incredibly Rude,” Brother Johl smiled at him, “But what can one expect from humans.”

“You shut your fucking mouth you piece of utter shit! How fucking dare you!” he began moving toward Brother Johl.

“MY LORD!” Saari shouted over his tirade as she placed a hand in front of him, hindering his approach. He stepped back beside her.

“Ah, Brother Saari. Welcome home,” Brother Johl heavily emphasized the word ‘brother’. He opened his arms in her direction, “Did you miss me that much that you had to see my… Radiant face once more?” he chuckled.

“You son of a-” Sylus lunged for him again, but Saari stopped him.

“I am of the Brotherhood, Sylus. The Voice, the High Priestess… These are both roles in the Brotherhood. As such, I am a Brother. Do not read too deeply into it,” she whispered to him.

“His tone…”

“Ignore it, my lord,” she spoke quietly yet firmly.

“So what brings the most infamous couple to this land of death and squalor? Too comfortable in your cozy home? Need a refresher as to what hell your people are enduring?” Brother Johl scoffed as he swayed a bit.

It was Saari’s turn to be enraged. She stepped toward him with much intention. Sylus stepped up beside her. She stood tall, her shoulders back, her head high, she looked down upon his small form.

“Were it not for the zealotry of the Brotherhood, more of the common folk would have survived. You put the order ahead of civilians. That was your doing, Brother. But that is not what you preach, I am certain,” her voice was smooth yet her words dripped with venom.

“Touche,” Brother Johl laughed, “Am I using that correctly? I suppose I just like the sound of it. But enough with the pleasantries! What brings the illustrious Synclaires to my,” he turned to the barn, “Humble abode?”

“What do you know of sigils?” Saari began as she struggled to calm the shaking in her voice.

“Sigils? Pertaining to what?” Johl responded.

“The Void,” she replied.

“Hmm… I know a bit off the top of my head, but I should have some texts on common ones. Why do you ask?” He suddenly seemed so polite once he got all of his antagonism out of his system.

“May we enter?” Saari finally asked.

Brother Johl looked into the barn, “Not much room, but by all means… Mi casa es tu casa,” He stood in the entrance waving them inside.

The barn was cluttered with books and candles. There was a small seating area just inside the doorway.

“This was all we could salvage from the old temple. I’ve put some of the surviving brothers to work transcribing their knowledge. So it goes with all life, we must pass on everything we’ve learned about the Void and it’s machinations,” Brother Johl grunted as he squeezed past them. He sat down in a tattered high back leather chair, “So, again, what brings you all here? It must involve the children or else I’d call you worse than fools for bringing them here.”

“I’ll be brief,” Sylus grunted as he sat in an equally opposing chair beside Brother Johl, “Cassidy has a very advanced sigil branded on her back. It’s stopping the spread of the Mist past her home. The effect is stretching all around the globe from that point, but the Mist is still spreading well enough to the West into the ocean.”

“This is a good thing, no?”

Sylus lifted his hands into the air, “Feel any different in here?”

Brother Johl sat a moment in silence.

“A bit… Warmer… Yes?”

“Does it look any different?”

Brother Johl thought a moment more.

“Ah, the Mist. I see what you mean. The child disperses it. How very interesting…” he leaned forward to examine Cassidy’s face. “While I can see where that would be a personal problem for you, my lord, is that not a gift for your people?”

“In a way, I suppose it buys time, but the sigil itself predates the Incursion. Someone had knowledge about the Void before we ever found Q’taxia,” Sylus explained as best he could. He was trying to seem relaxed and unaffected, but his whitening knuckles were giving away his discomfort.

“Ah I see… Therein lies the point of interest… Well,” Brother Johl laughed, “I can’t really help you unless I can see it, now can I?” he looked to Cassidy with a smile revealing some gaps among his teeth.

“Cassidy,” Saari knelt down next to her, “Can Brother Johl see your markings?”

Cassidy shrugged, “That’s what we’re here for, right?” she laughed nervously.

Sylus reached for Brother Johl’s arm, wrapping his fingers tightly around his wrist. “Touch her in any way that I find inappropriate, and I will feast tonight.” He released Brother Johl’s arm.

“Very good, my lord. I have no intentions of causing harm. Especially not while you’re so ravenously hungry. The last thing I’d ever want is to displease you,” Brother Johl sneered.

“Can it whelp. Do your job,” Sylus growled as he turned away.

Brother Johl turned to Saari with a questioning glance.

“He cannot see the sigil for it causes him great harm,” she explained.

“A Void Sigil that can harm a Voidlord? I’m practically salivating… Show me.”

“Do NOT get any bright ideas, Johl, or SO HELP ME!” Sylus bellowed.

“MY LORD!” Saari shouted at him.

“STOP YELLING!” Daniel screamed, “STOP IT!”

“The boy is right, yelling doesn’t help. Funny how wise a child can be,” Brother Johl was sure to get the last word, “Now. Show me this masterpiece of sigilwork.”

Cassidy turned her back to him. Saari remained kneeling in front of her with her hands on Cassidy’s shoulders.

“It’s okay, Cassidy. We won’t let anything happen to you,” she smiled.

“I know…” Cassidy breathed as she lifted the back of her shirt.

“OH MY!” Brother Johl shouted, leaping from his chair, “THIS IS INCREDIBLE! Where is my magnifying glass… Where where where AH!” He leaned as close as he could to Cassidy’s back. “This is beyond me. This… This is something well beyond common sigil crafting… Whoever did this… They were eons ahead of knowledge on the Void… Perhaps…” Brother Johl looked back into his near endless piles of books, “Perhaps if I could keep an image for reference, I could see if one of these books mentions something similar. Context alone may be enough, but an image would help greatly.”

Everyone could hear Sylus growling off to the side.

“For academic purposes, my lord,” Brother Johl sneered, “One moment!” he bounced into the back of the barn. He returned with an old instant camera, “Let’s see if this thing still works!”

Without anyone’s consent or reply, Brother Johl took a picture of Cassidy’s back. He took a few extras just in case. “Beautiful,” he muttered with every shot. Cassidy had shut her eyes tightly by now. She knew she’d come to no harm, but that didn’t change her growing discomfort.

“THAT’S ENOUGH!” Sylus roared, “STOP! PUT YOUR SHIRT DOWN CASSIDY!”

Brother Johl sighed, “Yes, my lord, but can I get a picture of the beautiful face that goes with such a beautiful sigil?” He smiled to Cassidy as she lowered her shirt.

Saari stood up and slapped him hard across the face.

“You have not changed,” she hissed.

“I see you have, Brother Saari,” Brother Johl laughed weakly as he rubbed his cheek, “I don’t remember you being so… Brash.”

“Brash?” Saari was seething, “Brash!? How dare you…”

“You used to fall to my feet at my command, now you stand so obstinately before me as if my place in this world is beneath you, oh High Priestess of the Imprisoned God. Voice of the Voiceless. Howling. Wench,” he spat.

Sylus turned to find Saari grasping Brother Johl by the collar of his tunic, lifting him from the floor.

“You deserve far more than brash, brother. I could snap your neck if you weren’t useful,” she threw him back into his chair.

“How very unladylike,” Brother Johl huffed as he corrected himself in the chair.

Saari screamed as she lunged for him.

Sylus put his arm around her waist, “See what I mean?” he breathed into her ear, “He’s so damn hate-able.” He could feel her heart racing in her chest. “How about this. When this is all over, I’ll eat him. It’s a win win for both of us, yeah?”

Saari let herself go limp against his arm. She turned to him with a smile.

“Like you did your squad commander?” Sylus clenched his fists at his side, “Oh dear. It seems I’ve touched a nerve,” Brother Johl chuckled, “I’m afraid I don’t count getting devoured as a proper reward for my efforts. Try again, please.”

Sylus glared at him.

“Find something useful and you live. Don’t and you die. How’s that?”

“I can’t possibly be certain that the answers you seek are in any of these tomes…”

“And yet you took them onto the tram in place of living beings,” Saari snapped, “You had better hope the answer is in there or I will beat you until you are pleading for my lord to end your suffering.”

“Such brutality!” Brother Johl gasped mockingly.

“Understand, dear brother, that I was willing to be civil. I came here in good faith and on good will. It is you who spat in my face. Do not think me so feeble as to not see through you for your true nature, brother. And don’t for a moment think that I have or ever will forget the things you’ve done to me. I am grown now and while I will NEVER forgive you, I was willing to treat you civilly, but alas, you have not changed. Nor will you ever,” she spat with seething rage.

Brother Johl sat recoiling in his chair, glaring at her.

“Shall we depart?” Sylus put his hand on her shoulder.

“Yes. Yes we shall,” Saari turned with every ounce of grace she could muster.

“Good luck, ol’ chum,” Sylus winked at Brother Johl as he patted his stomach.

Brother Johl grumbled to himself as they left.

“Well that sucked,” Daniel said blatantly as soon as they were out of the barn.

“Sure did,” Sylus replied as he pulled a piece of Q’taxian out of his hair.

“To the Diner?” Saari suggested.

“Where else?” Sylus laughed.

Cassidy remained silent.

“Are you alright, Cass?” Sylus turned to her.

“I-I don’t like him…” she shook her shoulders as if trying to shake something off her back.

Sylus turned to Saari. She knelt down to Cassidy, “Sylus is right. He is not a good person, but we will never let him hurt you. We need him right now and, as my lord promised, should he fail, he will not live long enough to scorn us ever again.”

Cassidy sighed.

“He took a lot of pics…” her eyes wandered away from Saari, “Can we get them back when he’s done looking for the mark? I really don’t want him keeping them…”

Saari nodded, “If he is successful, we will retrieve the photos. I promise you.”

Cassidy cracked a small smile.

“Thank you,” she said weakly.

“Guys… Guys come on… It isn’t even noon and you’re dragging that shit into my FINE establishment…” Jer balked as they entered the diner. Sylus and Daniel still covered in blood, “Wash yourselves… come on…”

“Sorry, Jer, shit morning,” Sylus approached the counter while the others made their way to their booth.

“Same as always?” Jer leaned toward him.

Sylus nodded.

“Lend a hand?” Jer nodded his head toward the kitchen.

“Gladly,” Sylus rounded the counter.

“So what’s the word?” Jer asked as he grabbed his apron from hanging inside the kitchen door.

“We went to the camp…”

Jer turned to him with a look of shock and horror on his face, “After last time?”

“Yeah… We had to talk to someone about Cassidy… Brother Johl was our best bet…”

“Brother Johl… Brother… Short fat guy with an ego ten times his size? Tusks? Disproportionately long neck? Three fingered hands? Dressed in yellow?”

Sylus nodded, “You’ve met him?”

Jer sighed, “He came here early on asking if I would shut down the diner and open a canteen at the camp. He offered void crystals as payment… Void crystals don’t buy the groceries though… I felt bad,” Jer opened the refrigerator and retrieved several packs of bacon, “But what could I do? The place barely runs itself. In fact, it’s more an act of love at this point. Sure the Mist powers everything, but the food? The meat and veg?” Jer scoffed, “That’s not free and business has been worse than terrible…” he laughed morosely, “But I told my dad… I told him… I’d never let this place close down. And I won’t. So long as I can keep soaking in the void fumes and running for 24 hours a day, these doors will never close.”

Sylus smiled.

“We don’t hang out much anymore, Sy…” Jer sighed as he messed with the stove settings, “I miss ya, bud…”

Sylus’ smile sank into a sad grin.

“Christmas?”

Jer turned to him, “Like old times?”

Sylus’ smile grew again, “Like old times. Close the damn place for a few hours and come hang with us. We’ll wine and dine ya. God knows I owe you that much,” Sylus gave a boisterous laugh.

“You don’t owe me a goddamn thing,” Jer slapped him in the arm playfully, “I just miss hanging with ya…”

“I wanted to ask you something, Jer… Something in the realm of ethics…”

“Ethics? Mine are pretty simple. Do no harm. Take no shit. If you can fit your ethics in there, then I have nothing much to say,” Jer laughed as he laid bacon strips onto the stove top.

“It involves harm…”

“Ah…” Jer pointed to the refrigerator, “Grab me the ham rounds in the fridge.”

Sylus nodded as he did so.

“So what kind of harm we talking about?” Jer reached into another refrigerator for some eggs.

“You know, before I got back… You know what I did… Right?” Sylus was hesitant to bring the event back up. He handed Jer two packs of ham slices.

“I do. Do you want me to say it out loud?”

“N-no… But… Do you think any less of me for that?”

Jer turned to face him directly, “Sylus. I’m surprised you stopped there, to be honest. I can never condone excessive violence, but after everything they put you through?” Jer shook his head, “I’m not surprised nor am I offended nor has my impression of you changed,” he turned back to the cooking meat, “And if shit like that don’t scare me off, nothing will.”

Sylus smiled.

“I might do it again…”

Jer paused a moment as he was placing the ham on the stove.

“Why?”

“The guy… The man… Brother Johl… He… You know what he is… Right?”

“A Q’taxian?” Jer glanced at him.

“Yes… But that’s… That’s not why…”

“Then you’ll have to be more specific…”

Sylus bit his lip trying to find the right words.

“Sylus considers his actions against young mortals to be… inappropriate. He holds strong personal resentment for something Brother Johl did to Saari. I am not privy to what the event in question was,” Qaitax answered for him, “but I do not know why you must weigh morals into everything, Sylus. It is a fool’s errand to attempt to pass judgement on everyone and everything. We are predators. Predators do not judge the worthiness of their prey.”

“But you’re also not animals,” Jer turned to him again pointing at a spatula hanging on the wall beside him, “You’re both intelligent beings. I don’t know about you, but humans have this thing called a conscience…”

“A mortal concept. The fact that you must all consult your moral codes for guidance on correct actions and behaviors is beyond a waste of time and effort. No two mortals have the same concept of morals and justice. That is the chaotic way of all mortals,” Qaitax replied as he handed him the spatula.

“So you never think if you should or shouldn’t do something?” Jer glanced at him as he turned back to the stove.

“There is no should or should not. There are no hypotheticals. There is only action. If you do not do something, it was not done, so consequences are not mete. Voidlords have but one code: Do as thou wilt. Consequences of actions will either reward or punish accordingly. And there are always consequences,” Qaitax handed Jer a towel when he noticed the bacon fizzling juices onto his arm.

“So that… That right there. I didn’t ask for a towel. You saw I could use one so you gave me one. What are the consequences of that?” Jer wiped his arm.

“You are not harmed,” Qaitax replied.

“You’re not Sylus so what do you care if I get hurt?” Jer started flipping the ham slices.

Qaitax’s mind spun in place. He didn’t know how to respond.

“Y-you are of use to us,” he finally answered.

“How so? I cook. Anyone can cook. Maybe not as good as me,” Jer laughed, “But anyone can cook a decent bacon and eggs.”

Qaitax paused in thought again.

“I… I do not…”

“Maybe it’s not very ‘Voidlord’ to give a shit about others, but it is very human,” Jer began plating the bacon, “You’re catching mortal disease,” Jer glanced at him as though he was giving a bad prognosis, “And you can’t spell mortal without moral.”

Qaitax kept opening and closing his mouth trying to form a response.

“And to be honest, that might not be such a bad thing,” Jer plated the eggs, “I feel like there are certain nuances to life and existence that one can really only understand through the lens of someone who knows they don’t have eternity to enjoy themselves.”

“I-I am a Voidlord. I do not enjoy myself. I do not hate myself either. I exist. That is all.”

“Truly? That’s all there is?” Jer plated the ham.

“Yes.” Qaitax replied with certainty.

“How bland and boring. What good is existing if you don’t try to live a little?” Jer handed Qaitax a plate brimming with ham and bacon, “Now let Sy eat his breakfast.”

Qaitax watched as Jeron left the kitchen. He stood a moment in silence before allowing Sylus control again.

“You okay, big guy?” Sylus asked him.

I… I must think.

“Does that mean I have some alone time?”

When no answer came, Sylus pumped his arm as he whispered a quiet “Yessssss” to himself.

It was some time before they heard from Brother Johl. He had appeared on their doorstep with a single tattered book in his hands. Sylus and Saari met him outside on the porch.

“Unfortunately it appears that sigil predates even Q’taxia. The only mention I could find of it is in the Book of Bahn. Bahn being the first known mortal world to fall to the Void. It is said much of the knowledge other worlds have had the luck of obtaining came from them.”

“Helpful and yet not,” Sylus glared at him.

“Ah, but here’s the good part! There is a sister sigil!”

“A… A sister sigil?” Saari replied.

Brother Johl nodded excitedly, “Indeed yes! With some relatively minor alterations, I can change the sigil on the girl’s back to serve a different purpose.”

“And that would be?” Sylus narrowed his eyes warily.

“Aaaaand… There’s the bad part… There is a tome on that is said to contain all sigil knowledge in a language none have yet to decipher. It exists in a state both in and out of time. It contains untold amounts of sigil magics, but it can only be used by someone who bears a very specific sigil themselves.”

“So… Cassidy… Would be bound to a book?” Sylus struggled to understand.

“Yes. She would have to have it on her person at all times. In theory, she may even be able to read it and practice it’s magics…”

“If it is so powerful, why has no one submitted themselves to receive the necessary sigil to use it?” Saari was uncertain of anything Brother Johl was saying.

“Because no one could read it to figure out which sigil was the binding one.”

“Then how do you know Cassidy’s sigil and the binding sigil are so similar?” Sylus was preparing himself to chase Johl off his property.

“Because the Book of Bahn references a sigil that does as the one on the girl’s back does and one of a similar vein that instead of repulsing void energy, draws upon it with the tome serving as a kind of focus. Without it, she would absorb void energy at such an alarming rate that she would likely begin mutating into a voidspawn,” Brother Johl explained.

“Then do you have the schematics for the new sigil?”

“Oddly enough, I do, but I would prefer to have the matching tome on hand before that beautiful little girl becomes like the rest of us hideous Q’taxians…”

“That’s enough,” Sylus growled.

“What must we do then? Where is the matching tome? Bahn?” Saari enquired.

Brother Johl grinned, “Luckily not a place so far and desolate. In fact… It’s right next door…”

Sylus and Saari stood at the foot of the tram at the heart of the Voidworks. The Rift pulsating in front of them. Q’taxia still keyed in as the tram’s destination from all those years before.

“We’re going to need a Void Technician…” Sylus sighed as he reached into his pocket for his cellphone.

Nico Valentinez’s number flashed onto it’s screen.

“He’s going to hate me forever for this…” Sylus sighed as he hit the send button.

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