When the morning came, Cassidy was the one to suggest she should go home. Sylus, much to his chagrin was grateful for her decision. He loathed the idea of leaving her alone in that monstrous house with nothing but frozen food to eat… He despised the idea of not being able to be there for her. It weighed on him heavily. She was defenseless and alone. He hated it, but… What could he do? He hadn’t slept and his mind and body were both struggling to function.
“Sylus?” she said in the car after all the good-byes.
“Sylus, huh? Not fatman?” he chuckled.
She shook her head, “Not this time…”
There was a moment of silence.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to not live alone in that house anymore,” she spoke firmly.
Sylus let her words sink in.
She turned to him, “If it’s this thing…” her hand reached around her neck, “Then I’ll cut it out.”
Sylus’ eyes bulged, “There’ll be another way, love! Don’t do anything so brash…”
“But… I don’t want to be alone anymore! I want to stay with you… And Daniel and Saari… I don’t want to be alone anymore… I don’t care if my parents ever come back!” the shaking in her voice grew as she spoke, “I don’t care if I EVER know who they are or were… I don’t care!” her knuckles whitened as she balled her hands in her lap. “I don’t want to be alone anymore…”
There was another short silence.
“You won’t be, love,” Sylus turned to her and gave her a quick smile, “Not for much longer. I promise.”
“What if…” she rubbed her neck again, “What if there’s nothing you can do…”
Sylus had never considered a no-win scenario. For anything. So it never even occurred to him to consider it now.
“There’s always a way,” he smiled.
Cassidy sighed as they pulled up to her walk, “Guess this is where I get off…”
“Would you like me to bring you something that isn’t frozen?” he leaned into the passenger seat as she got out of the car.
She shook her head, “I’m actually looking forward to that crappy microwave brownie…” she gave a weak laugh.
Sylus smiled. He gazed at her a moment before realizing she was looking at something.
“Is everything okay?” he finally asked.
“Y-yeah… Just… Does the mist… Seem a bit closer?”
Sylus looked up into his rearview mirror. It was hard to tell through that lens. He stepped out of the car and sure enough, the mist had moved. It was a matter of centimeters, but he could see the untainted grass going through it’s slow mutation to accept the Mist as it’s new source of nourishment.
“It is…” his mind wandered as he slowly turned to her.
“It is me…” her voice shook as she clenched her fists at her side, “It IS me… Isn’t it?”Sylus drew his lips thin.
“PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME STAY HERE ALONE! I DON’T WANT TO STAY HERE ANYMORE!” she ran around the car and wrapped her arms around his legs, “PLEASE! Please… Please don’t leave me here alone to rot…” She wept into his jacket.
He knelt down in front of her, “I won’t,” he smiled as he wiped her eyes, “I won’t ever leave you alone.”
“E-even i-if I-I’m the one stopping the M-Mist…?” her voice hitched as she struggled to fight her tears.
Sylus sighed, “Here’s the thing, Cassidy. Even if this is all you, you’re only buying time. You’re not saving anyone…” he looked out into the Mist, “It’s still spreading to the West. It’ll come back around eventually. And then what? You can’t stop it forever. Look at what happened to the Q’taxians when all they did was focus on buying time rather than using it wisely. Look how that ended for them? No, love. I won’t leave you here to rot,” he smiled as he brushed her bushy hair out of her eyes, “We’ll figure this out,” his smile grew, “Together.”
Cassidy couldn’t help but wrap her arms around his neck.
“It’ll be okay, love,” he held her tight, “It’ll be okay.”
They remained a moment in the embrace before Cassidy began pulling away.
Sylus suddenly remembered something very important, “OH! Do you have a mobile?”
“A… wha- oh! Cell phone?”
“I do actually…” she slid her tiny backpack off her shoulders. She reached in and retrieved a very modern phone out of it, “I got it for Christmas… From someone… My parents? I really don’t know. But it works!”
“Here, put the house phone in,” he recited a series of numbers to her, “Call that if you ever need anything. Doesn’t have to be an emergency. Just call if you ever need us, okay?”
Cassidy nodded firmly. Suddenly this stupid phone that had meant nothing to her in the past had become the most important thing in the world to her.
“Now,” Sylus stood up with a grunt, “In ya go.”
With a confident smile, Cassidy made her way to the door of her house. Sylus watched from the car.
“Oh…” she muttered as she reached for the handle, “Do you… Want to see it?”
“I mean… The sooner you see what it is the sooner we can fix it right?” she laughed nervously.
Sylus smiled. He reached into the car to turn it off.
Cassidy lead him into the living room where Argyle sat watching some divorce court drama.“Time for something intelligent,” she turned to public access, “That garbage’ll rot your brain out!” She patted the stuffed unicorn on the head. “Okay,” she pointed past Sylus, “Over there in the other living room,” she sighed.
Sylus stepped aside as she lead him into another room.
“Alright,” she sighed, “Let’s get this over with.”
Before Sylus had even fully entered the room, she lifted the back of her shirt up. Immediately he was inundated with a splitting headache. His mind felt as though it was slipping from his grasp. A low, guttural growl came from deep within him.
“A-are you okay?” she turned to Sylus.
He was leaning on the arm of a couch, his free hand clutching his face.
“It hurts so much…” his voice shook, “What is that thing…?”
“It is… A warding… Sigil… Ah!”
They both cried out at once. Between whatever the sigil was doing to him and the exhaustion of having not slept the night, Sylus Synclaire collapsed.
Time. It means everything. And yet… Nothing. We have it all and yet we have none. There is no end, only a beginning. Fight. Fight for the future… Fight for that or fight for nothing at all… Fight so that others don’t have to… Fight.
Sylus came to on a gaudy couch missing his jacket and shoes; legs hanging over the side. His head was still pulsing with an echoing pain.
“Wh-what happened?” he slowly sat up. The mere exertion of attempting to set himself upright sent a piercing ache through his head. With a hiss he resigned to lay back down. “What the hell was that…”
A warding sigil, Qaitax explained, It is a very advanced form of sigil work. It would have to be to both paralyze us and resist the spread of the Mist…
“Did you catch enough of it to know what it looks like?” he groaned as he put an arm over his eyes.
I did not. We cannot look at it. It is not meant for our eyes to perceive. It is only meant to torment us and drive us away. Even a Voidlord is still a Voidspawn.
Sylus sighed as he pressed his arm against his head.
“You are awake, my lord,” Saari slowly entered the room.
“Saari?” he breathed as he tried to sit up again.
“Rest. Please. Cassidy called us as soon as you collapsed,” she explained. Her concern was evident.
“I’m… I’m okay…” he grunted as he forced through the pain of sitting up.
“You are not,” she rushed over to him placing both hands on his shoulders and forcing him to lay back down, “You are no okay and you will not force yourself to be okay. You will rest. Do you understand?” She sat beside him on the couch.
“Daniel?” Sylus choked a bit as he struggled to speak.
“He is here. With Cassidy. They are both shaken, but they know you will be okay,” she pulled his arm away from his head. His scleras were a deep shade of red, his irises were nearly glowing a brighter shade of purple than usual.
“How bad is it?” he groaned.
“For now I will chalk it up to exhaustion. If after you rest it is still present, perhaps it will garner cause for concern. Rest, my lord. Please,” she ran her fingers through his hair. It was drenched with sweat.
“Ah I’m gross…” he laughed nervously, “I need a shower…”
“You need rest,” she leaned over and kissed him on the forehead, “I will prepare something to eat. Something very meaty,” they both laughed a bit, “I will check on you again when the meal is prepared.”
“Thank you, Saari,” Sylus breathed as she stood up to leave the room.
“If I find you wandering around, I will be forced to use my every tool in my arsenal to sedate you,” her lips were drawn sternly.
“Every tool, hm?” he grinned tauntingly.
“It will not be pleasant,” she barked before leaving the room.
“Saari?” he called after her.
She stepped back into the room, “Yes?”
“Is Cassidy okay?”
Saari sighed, “She was hysterical… She kept screaming about killing you… It took a lot to convince her that it would take more than a mark on her back to kill you. She was unconvinced… I believe now she had reason to be so concerned.”
“Can you…” his mind went blank just trying to think about the markings, “Try to look at it? Every time I try to recall it… I…” he hissed.
“Do not worry, my lord, I will do my best to examine her markings,” she nodded slightly.
“Th-thank you… Saari…” his voice trailed off as another splitting headache overtook his mind.
“Rest,” Saari commanded before leaving the room again.
Cassidy was standing out in the hall with Daniel. She was ringing her hands, “Is he okay?”
“He will be,” Saari smiled.
“You should see it, but…” she breathed heavily, “What if it hurts you, too?”
Saari smiled reassuringly, “I am not a Voidspawn. I will be fine.”
“Then Sylus… He’s not…” she was struggling to wrap her head around the idea.
“Human?” Saari shook her head, “No. Not anymore. He was once, but that was some time ago.”
“But he’s still my dad,” Daniel chimed in, “He’s still the same person, right Saari?”
Saari nodded again, “He will always be your father, Daniel. Nothing will ever change that.”
“He might be a Voidthingy, but he’s still my dad and he’s still awesome!” Daniel declared with all the gusto he could muster.
Cassidy smiled at him.
“We should go further away from him before I see your markings. Just in case there is a proximity effect to it,” Saari suggested.
Cassidy nodded in agreement. They made their way to a third floor bathroom, Daniel in tow.
“Okay,” without a thought, Cassidy turned around and lifted her shirt again.Saari was taken aback.
“That… That is truly impressive…” she spoke slowly as she leaned in to examine the markings. They were bold and vivid in her Voidsight. White light forming clear lines and shapes. It truly was a work of sigil mastery. “I have never seen anything like it before…” she reached out to touch it. Cassidy flinched at the touch of her fingers, “I-I am sorry… but may I?” Cassidy nodded slowly.
Saari began running her fingers over the marks, “Does this hurt?”
“I-it tingles. Doesn’t hurt though…”
“What is that, Saari?” Daniel leaned into the bathroom.
“DANNY!” Cassidy shrieked in embarrassment.
“I-I’m sorry was I not supposed to look?” he was honestly confused.
Cassidy sighed, “No… I-it’s okay…”
“This is a work of art. The detail is utterly fascinating…” the more Saari ran her fingers over it the more vivid it became. The more apparent it was that it was more than just a marking. It was a branding. This sign had been burned into Cassidy’s flesh. She pulled her hand away. “Do you remember how you got this?”
Cassidy shook her head slowly, “My parents?”
Saari cringed. If her parents were responsible then they were beings versed in Void magics long before the Void came to earth. This was a far more concerning development than Saari had expected.
“How long have you had it? You may lower your shirt.”
Cassidy shrugged as she dropped her shirt, “As long as I can remember?”
“It is a Void Ward… A very advanced sigil. Among our people it was only known by the highest ranking members of Q’taxia’s society. Where they procured such knowledge we do not know, but it is said that dying worlds pass on their wisdom through survivors… That means… There was a world before Q’taxia that offered up this kind of information…” Saari’s mind wandered. There was little in the scriptures she was familiar with that addressed previous worlds consumed by the Void, but it was mentioned that there were others before Q’taxia, “The only people I could think to present this to would be…”
“DON’T YOU DARE!” Sylus bellowed from the bottom floor. In a heartbeat he was standing in the hall outside the bathroom, “Don’t you DARE say what I think you’re going to say…”
“The Brotherhood,” Saari finished her statement as she turned to face him.
“I will NOT bring Cassidy or ANYONE to that disgusting creature!”
“He is Q’taxian! He is the highest among the Brothers. He knows more than I was ever allowed to learn! We must address him if we are to find a way to undo the magics of this mark…”
“He. Is. Scum.” Sylus seethed.
Saari nodded as she stood up, “He is, but he is knowledgeable.”
Sylus stifled a scream.
“Should you not be resting, my lord?” she replied rather sternly.
“We’ll find another way,” he barked.
“How? Knowledge is passed on by survivors. The Brotherhood were the keepers of our knowledge. If we wish to know the compounded wisdom of Q’taxia and the worlds before her, we must speak to him. Or steal the tomes and hope one of us can read ancient dead languages.”
I cannot read mortal tongues, Qaitax willingly divulged. Sylus rolled his eyes.
“There has to be another way…” Sylus’ voice shook.
“She will not go alone. We will be with her,” Saari turned back to Cassidy, “You will be protected.”
Cassidy nodded resiliently, “I have both of you. Nothing bad can happen!”
“Me too!” Daniel shouted.
“You too, Danny!” Cassidy replied with a smile.
Sylus was trying to smile, but all he could muster was a weak attempt to hide his cringing.
“Go rest, my lord, please,” Saari put a hand on his chest as she gently pushed him down the hall a bit, “You are not well. We will not visit Brother Johl until you are well and that may take some time.”
“If he lays a hand on her I will break my fast on his corpse,” Sylus hissed.
“He may have to to examine her…”
“You know damn well what I mean…” Sylus was struggling to not fly off into a rabid fury.
Saari nodded, “And I will assist you in that endeavor, but let us not jump to worst case scenarios. We know he is not trustworthy, but we also know he is very knowledgeable. We also know that he is terrified of you. He will behave for fear of his life.”
Sylus nodded, “He damn well better.”
“Go lay down,” Saari smiled, “I will retrieve you when I have something ready to eat.”
“You’re always cooking, Saari… Why not do take-out?” he replied, trying to take some of the weight of the situation off her shoulders.
“CHINESE!” Daniel bellowed from the bathroom.
Sylus shrugged sheepishly at Saari, “I can get a duck.”
“I’ve never had Chinese take-out… Can we please?” Cassidy stepped out of the bathroom.
Saari sighed, “It is so high in salt and bad things…”
“But it tastes so gooood,” Sylus patted his stomach.
“Fine,” Saari threw her hands up in the air, “Actually no,” she turned to Sylus pointing a rigid finger, “Not unless you rest. We will order later. You must lie down until you are feeling better.”
“I’m feeling fine!”
Saari glared at him. Exhaustion was still evident in his face.
“Go. Lay. Down. Or no duck for you!” She spat as she forced him down the hall.
Cassidy and Daniel laughed as Saari herded him back down to the secondary living room. Upon remembering the couch was too small for him, she ended up putting him in the primary living room and moving Argyle onto a rocking chair. Cassidy brought him a blanket and a glass of water and placed it on a side table.
“Get some rest,” she spoke softly to him, “I kept you up all night.”
Sylus shook his head with a smile, “I’m fine, really.”
Cassidy shook her own head in reply, “Go to sleep, Fatman.” She tapped him on the forehead before wandering out of the room.
“That’s better,” he laughed to himself as he threw the blanket over his legs.
Time keeps on ticking…
I know that song… it’s stuck in my head now… thanks ominous inner monologue…
Sylus slowly sat up still humming the tune that his subconscious had felt was necessary to dredge up. He felt much better. Reaching for the glass of water, he found a note under it.
“Took Quip for a walk. Be back soon! ♥”
He couldn’t help but smile.
He took the opportunity of being alone in Cassidy’s house to search for any other sigils. He was hoping to find some more stationary wardings. Things not burned into a child’s flesh. He had to stifle his rising rage at the thought. The building was massive. There was a lot of space to cover. Plenty of places for things to be hidden. He sighed. Even if there was some other mark somewhere, he’d never find it.
As he ascended to the second floor, a certain smell reached his nostrils. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good either. It was sharp and almost dirt-like. It smelled like the Q’taxian refugee camp. He followed the scent to a closed door. He took a deep breath before opening it. The entire room was a glaring shade of pink. White trim and lace broke it up. It was so incredibly feminine that Sylus almost gagged. There was nothing wrong with pink and feminine things, but this was a bit much… Nothing in this room wasn’t either pink or white and there was very little white. The smell was coming from a pink door on the far side of the room. He approached it slowly. The scent was almost overwhelming now. Holding his breath, he threw the door open. Crystals. Void crystals.
“How did she get these…” he muttered to himself, “It takes a lot of skill and know how to condense the Mist into a solid crystal…”
It is a very advanced form of mortal manipulation of Void energies… These could only have come from the Q’taxians.
Sylus cringed a bit before slowly closing the door, “How did she get them…”
How did she get those markings?
There is a lot we do not know about her. Ordinarily I would suggest leaving such things alone, but I, too, am curious. It may even aid us in our endeavors to close the Rift.
“How can she be this young and this steeped in Void energy… Someone is behind this… Some sick bastard manipulating a child… And when I find them…” he clenched his fists.
You’ll devour them. Yes. And I’ll be the last being to stop you, but perhaps, should we ever encounter them, we should glean their knowledge from them? Instead of simply outright killing them. It could prove useful since they clearly have a very strong grasp of Void manipulation.
Sylus sighed again.
I do ever so hate being the voice of reason especially at the prospect of food, but it would behoove us to figure out who is behind this, where they are, and how they obtained such advanced knowledge.
“I won’t argue with you, but I hope you’ll have the strength to stop me when the time comes…”
We shall see…
“I wonder when they left…” he slowly made his way out of the pink nightmare and back down stairs.
He sat on the couch next to Argyle in his rocking chair.
“So what do you want to watch?” he turned to the stuffed animal, “Yeah I like a bit of silence myself.”
Sylus pulled his legs up onto the couch and covered them with the blanket again. He dozed off several times before realizing over an hour had passed.
“Fuck!” he screamed as he stood up. A sharp pain shot through his head.
We are hungry.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Sylus hissed as he grasped the side of his head, “Where is everyone? Hello?” he bellowed into the empty halls of the house.
We are alone.
“Is stating the obvious your thing now? Or do you have something useful to add?” Sylus was growing both irritated and concerned.
He made his way to the entryway where he found his shoes by the door and his jacket hanging from a hook on the wall.
“It’s fucking silk… It goes on a hanger,” he scoffed as he put it on.
Opening the door, he was greeted with a gust of frozen air.
“What the hell is this?!” he bellowed as he stepped back into the house. “We live in the Pacific Northwest… That’s not normal…”
Is anything what you would call normal since the rift opened?
Sylus fought the urge to be snarky, but Qaitax was right. Weird weather was the least of his concerns. Bracing himself, he opened the door again and managed to step outside. The wind blew so hard it nearly pushed him over.
He called into the wind knowing his voice wouldn’t travel far.
He looked up to find the sky pitch black.
There were no lights anywhere around him.
The world felt so much darker than usual. Something was very wrong. Sylus felt so completely alone. He hadn’t felt like this in years. It was a feeling he’d long dreaded. Loneliness was his greatest enemy. Not the loneliness of being alone in a house or something, knowing someone will come home eventually, but lonely as in there is no one left. No one will ever come back. Complete and utter loss of connection to others. It was as though everything else in the world was dead and gone. He was alone and he was frightened.
“What the fuck is going on…” he was beginning to panic as the wind stole the air right from his lungs.
We do not actually have to breath if it is causing you pain…
“I-I’m fine…” he yelled to hear his own voice.
I can feel that you aren’t…
There was a sudden break in the bleak emptiness. A presence. Sylus turned to find a featureless shadow in the Mist. It waved to him. He fought the wind to approach it.
“SYLUS, IS IT?” the shadow called to him, “HOW VERY INTERESTING…”
“WHO ARE YOU?!” Sylus yelled back.
The shadow laughed, “NOT NOW, BUT SOON! OH SO VERY SOON!”
With that, the shadow disappeared. The wind died in an instant. Sylus once again felt surrounded by life. He looked up to once more find the stars shining down on him. He dropped to his knees as he began sobbing in relief.
“What was that…” he whispered as he put his face into his hands.
I… I do not know…
“DAD!” Daniel’s voice came from behind him. It didn’t carry his usual excited tone, but more of fear and concern, “ARE YOU OKAY?”
“You wandered away, my lord!” Saari knelt down beside him, “Are you alright?”
“I-I’m fine… How…” he swallowed hard as he struggled to catch his breath, “How’s Quip?”
“Quip?” Cassidy replied, “He’s right there?”
Lo and behold, Quip was there, on the other side of the Mist, watching him with an air of concern.
“I mean how was walking him,” he looked up to Saari.
“Walk? We did not leave the house… We were in the kitchen…” Saari spoke slowly.
“But…” Sylus’ mind was racing, “You left a note… Under the water…”
Saari looked back at the children. They both shook their heads in confusion.
“No one left a note, my lord… Are you certain you are okay?” Saari finally replied.
“I…” he paused a moment, “I really don’t know…”
Saari helped him to his feet and slowly lead him back into Cassidy’s house. They ordered their take-out but no one was willing to deliver to the house so close to the Mist. They agreed to meet Sylus halfway. Saari went with him. The ride out of the development was in complete silence.“Something is very wrong, my lord,” Saari finally broke the silence.
Sylus sighed, “I’ll be fine.”
She turned to him, “Will you?”
He stared at her for longer than he should have while driving.
Once everyone had eaten, Sylus reluctantly admitted that he needed to return home. He needed a good night’s rest in the Mist. Daniel asked if he could stay the night with Cassidy. Sylus agreed. On the one hand he knew it was reckless to leave his son alone, but on the other he knew Cassidy had lived alone for so long and she was doing alright. Besides, he really couldn’t argue. He was too tired to even think straight.
It was lucky that Cassidy’s house was such a straight shot from his. The drive with Saari was once more in complete silence. She didn’t break it this time. She merely kept glancing at him in concern.
“I may not be okay right now,” he finally admitted, “But I will be,” he turned to her with a smile, “Starting with a good night’s rest.” He forced a yawn that wasn’t really there.
Saari knew he wasn’t being completely honest.
Once they were finally in bed, Saari rested her head on his chest and an arm around his stomach.
“I am here, Sylus,” she finally used his name, “I will never be far. Please do not forget that. Lean on me if you ever need to. You need not be alone ever again…”
Alone… the word echoed in his mind as he remembered that desolate feeling.
He put an arm around her shoulders.
“I know,” he whispered as he pulled her close, “I know…”
Saari was quick to fall asleep while he lingered in the realm of the waking. He was afraid to sleep. He was afraid of what would come if he let his guard down again. That feeling… Never again… Never… Again…