A/N: This chapter takes place in the past.
She stood alone facing the writhing mass that was Her Lord. He was clear as day with her Voidsight. Being a thing of the Void made him an exact image in her sight rather than an impression as most everything else was.
The image of Sylus being wrapped in tendrils and dragged into that gaping maw haunted her. His screams… His fear… His desperation in that final moment… Even now she could still hear him crying out to be saved… but she couldn’t stay away. She didn’t know how many times she’d come here. How long she’d spent in this darkness. Waiting. Hoping… For what?
“My… Lord… I… I am sorry I come here so often…” she was wringing her hands together, “I know by now nothing remains of Sylus… I just… I pray you took him swiftly… I… I do not know why I continue returning to your home… I suppose…” she sighed, “I miss him… I wish I did not, My Lord… I wish I did not miss something as frail as another life form, especially a human, but I do. And I hate it…”
For a moment all sound and light was drained from the room. Even with her Voidsight, Saari could see nothing. The silence was deafening.
“My Lord?” she called into the abyss.
“A moment, please,” the voice was a mixture of the one that had filled her head since she was a child and that of the recently deceased, “Technical issues…”
A burst of light exploded around her. She recoiled as she raised her hands in front of her horns. It was too much to take in so quickly. She cried out in pain as she slid her hands under the horns and in front of her eyes.
“Are you… Are you okay?” two hands took hold of her arms.
“I…” she slowly removed her hands from beneath her horns, “I…”
The writhing mass of tendrils that was once Her Lord appeared to be melting into a dimmer, less detailed form. It resembled a person. She had never seen this form before, yet for some reason, it felt so familiar.
“Saari,” the hands moved from her arms to her shoulders, “Can you see? Are you alright?”
“I… I am…” she was struggling to comprehend what she was seeing. All that she had known and worshipped all her life, was suddenly gone. The last of His tendrils receded into this new form. “M-my lord?”
The form smiled at her. It was wide and comforting.
“No,” it laughed, “It’s me, Saari! It’s me! It’s… It’s Sylus!”
“Sy… lus?” she didn’t understand. Qaitax had consumed Sylus. Sylus was dead. Sylus was gone. How could he be here… when… Qaitax… Wasn’t…
Was this some kind of test? Was her lord trying her resolve? By wearing the voice of someone she’d cared so deeply for? The idea was cruel, but surely not outside the realm of her lord’s will. Perhaps she had annoyed him too much by coming here so often… He could have simply said something rather than tease her like this…
The form nodded, “I’m back!” he laughed as he drew her into a strong embrace, “I missed you so much,” he breathed into her ear. It was clearly him now. His voice was less and less an echo of some distant memory… It was here…. Now… with her…
It didn’t feel like the Sylus she knew. The Sylus she’d known was thin and sickly… She could feel every bone inside of him. They had tried their best to make him as healthy as possible, but it was clear that it would take longer than Qaitax wanted. He died small and weak, but this being… It was squishy. It was bigger than Sylus ever was… It felt and sounded like him… But… How could it be?
“Y-you look different…” she was afraid to doubt his existence in case he really was Qaitax testing her in some way.
“Oh, yeah…” a hand reached behind his head, “Had a bit of an overhaul. What ya think?” the form opened his arms.
“I… I only see what the Void shows me. You do not resemble the form that was Sylus. My lord… I beg you… if this is a game, do not force me to play… Have mercy…” she dropped her staff to the ground and knelt down before him, “I will leave you be. I will never bother your home again… I… I am… I am sorry…” she lowered her head to the floor.
“Saari…” She clenched her fists at the sound of his voice saying her name. The form knelt down in front of her. Grasping her by her shoulders, he forced her up into her knees. “Don’t you ever do that again. You bow to no one, especially not me. Qaitax may still be in here somewhere, but you owe him nothing.”
“My lord… Is…” she studied the form in confusion.
He pointed to his head, “In here. Somewhere… I haven’t heard from him yet, but I am assured he’s there,” the form laughed nervously, “I guess you could say… I ate your god…”
A smile slowly crossed Saari’s lips.
“You… You really are Sylus…”
The form patted his stomach, “Who else do you know who’s so obsessed with eating that he’d try to take on an actual god?”
Saari laughed. As he was recovering, Sylus had made it a point to try as much Q’taxian cuisine as he could. As an honored sacrifice and charge of the Brotherhood, his request was facilitated to the best of their ability. He ate so much and yet… He remained skin and bones.
“Does this mean… My lord… He is…”
“Dead?” Sylus thought a moment, “Not technically, but then again, if I understood the fine print correctly, I’m not technically alive…”
Saari wrapped her arms around him.
“You do feel different…” she sighed as she tightened her hold.
“I might have to relearn living things…” he laughed gently as he returned her embrace.
For a moment, there was a safe and comfortable calm.
A loud bang filled the Halls. They pulled away from each other, looks of fear on their faces. They rushed to the door of Qaitax’s chamber. The Halls were dark. They could feel the temperature dropping. People were screaming and yelling in the distance. The constant hum of air pumping through the vents fell silent.
“The time has come,” Qaitax turned to Saari, taking control for the first time, “My freedom. Your people’s destruction.”
Saari could barely perceive the glaring purple light Sylus became when Qaitax took over his body.
“We have to move,” Sylus put an arm around Saari’s shoulder as he began leading her into the hall, “Where’s the nearest exit?”
Saari thought a moment. They could hear metal creaking somewhere in the distance. She had never had to consider leaving the Halls, but if she remembered correctly, there was an exit near the infirmary.
“This way,” she took his hand and lead him through the halls.
They passed the prison as they went. Sylus paused a moment, pulling his hand from Saari’s grasp.
“We need Nico,” he muttered as he entered.
Deep red emergency lighting had come on in the main hall that was lined with cells. A siren had begun to wail.
“Nico?” Sylus called into the near-darkness.
“S-Sylus?” Nico reached out between the bars of the humans’ cell.
“Hey there, buddy!” Sylus stepped in front of the cell, “You ready to blow this hellscape?”
“Y-You’re… You’re not… Sylus…” Nico backed away from the bars.
Sylus smiled, “I got an upgrade.” He tore the barred door out of the lock and off its hinges, “That was a lot easier than expected,” he offered a hand to Nico.
“Synclaire!” their commander stood up on his feet.
“Steiner,” Sylus replied firmly.
“Synclaire…” the older man laughed nervously, “Love the new look. Finally looking like a man!”
Sylus smiled at him, “Why, thank you!”
Nico took his hand and stepped out of the cell. Seeing Saari in the doorway, he recoiled.
“It’s okay, Nico. She’s with me. She’s looks scarier than she really is,” he lead Nico over to Saari.
“H-hello, y-your grace,” Nico bowed deeply before her.
“Grace?” Saari was confused for a moment, “Oh! No… No need for such terms. I am simply Saari,” she returned his bow.
“So, we’re breaking out huh?” Steiner stepped out of the cell behind him, “I-I always knew you were good for something!” It was clear he was nervous and intimidated.
Sylus guffawed. Loudly. His laughter went on for an uncomfortably long time. Deep and booming, it rose above the sirens and echoed through the stone hall of the prison.
“Oh,” he sniffed as he regained control, “Oh dear. You misunderstand, Steiner. I came here for Nico and only Nico,” he sighed with a smile, “You’re staying here.”
Sylus turned his back on his fellow humans as he lead Saari and Nico out of the room. Once they were through the door and he was stepping through after them, something came in contact with one of his tendrils. He rolled it tightly around the object, tearing it from the hands of whoever was weidling it. He brought it in front of himself. It was a bar from the cell door he’d destroyed. Turning, he found Steiner backing away from him.
“You see,” he bent the bar in half, “I was going to just let you be. Let you die with what meager honor you had. Here. In this place. Which is more than you deserve for the hell you put me through. But now?” A wide grin filled his face, “You all glutted yourselves on my meager rations, leaving me to starve. You took my warmth away. You let me freeze. You tried to kill me,” he sighed through his smile, “You tried so hard and look at the result? I’m more than any of you could even comprehend, but that doesn’t mean you’re forgiven. No, not you. I think it’s only fair you repay your debt to my suffering.”
Qaitax took hold, sending every tendril he had out to entrap Steiner.
“What is it you humans say?” he tightened his grip on the man forcing him to cry out in pain, “Ah yes. Thank you, Sylus. Bon appetit!”
Saari and Nico waited out in the hall. They knew what was happening. They could hear more than either of them wanted to, yet they chose to ignore it. Saari’s acceptance of Sylus didn’t change her opinion of humans in general and Nico had no love for his comrades and their abuses. When Sylus finally stumbled out of the cells, they did their best to keep their eyes on his face.
“Onward!” he covered his mouth to stifle a belch.
Saari smiled softly as she turned to lead them down the hall.
They could hear footsteps running through the halls. A set sounded as though it was coming towards them. A young woman collided with Saari.
“My lady,” she bowed, “Master Tessin… He was looking for you. What’s happening?” her face was covered in soot and grime, “I tried to go into the vents to see if something had been disconnected, but it’s everything! Saari! It’s everything! Everything is falling apart! What happened!?”
“K’alik,” Saari grasped the young woman’s shoulders, “It is the end.”
“The… The end?” K’alik breathed, “No… No it can’t be… The Voidlord…”
Sylus waved to her with a grimace on his face.
“Oh no…” she suddenly understood, “We were such fools…” she breathed. K’alik took a moment to regain her composure. Tying back her long disheveled hair, she turned to Saari, “What must we do, my lady?”
Sylus turned to Nico, “Can we get anyone out with the tram?”
“We can get about two hundred people out at a time,” Nico thought aloud, “The thing is… the trip to earth and back takes time and I have no idea how many trips we can take before the entire tram begins destabilizing. We’d need to organize an evacuation routine to get as many people out as necessary…”
K’alik nodded firmly, “I will speak to Master Tessin. We will do what we can.” She darted back down the hall, “Oh and wait a moment before you head out!”
Nico looked at Sylus nervously, “I really can’t guarantee that I can save a meaningful number of them…”
“Well, we have to try. We can’t leave them all here to die… Not when we can at least try to do something…” Sylus replied.
Nico sighed, “Then we have to hurry. I’m not supposed to be away from the tram or it shuts down. There’s a boot sequence and I have to get it up and hot before we can even think about getting out of here.”
Saari nodded as she resumed leading them to the exit tunnel.
It was a narrow cylindrical opening. It seemed more like a sealed off vent than an actual exit route. Sylus took one look up it and realized there was no way he could ever fit.
“Well this is unfortunate,” he sighed, “Nico, Saari, you two go first. If I get stuck, use something to push me out, yeah? Don’t want to block anyone trying to escape,” he laughed uncomfortably.
“Wait!” K’alik called to them from the infirmary. She ran up to them with an armful of fur coats. “I cannot guarantee perfect fit, but I did my best.” She bowed her head as she offered the coats to them.
“K’alik…” Saari smiled as she took one off the top.
Nico grabbed another.
Sylus took the last.
They each studied their coats a moment. Sylus and Saari quietly swapped theirs. Her’s was much too large and his was much too small. K’alik smiled.
“Good luck to you all,” she bowed her head, “Master Tessin and I will do what we can from here.”
“Thank you, K’alik,” Sylus embraced her. She returned the gesture.
“Be well, Sylus,” she breathed into the fur coat.
After a quick squeeze, he released her.
“I shall go between the Halls and the surface,” she volunteered.
“Perfect!” Ka’lik exclaimed, “I must return to Master Tessin, but I’ll be here when you come back.”
With a nod Saari turned to Nico.
“You should go first. Start the boot sequence. I will follow.”
Nico nodded as he started making his way up the steep incline.
Sylus smiled at her, “Go,” he nodded toward the tunnel.
Saari stared at him intently.
“Go, Saari!” he laughed, “I’ll be right there!”
Without a nod or a word, Saari entered the tunnel.
Sylus sighed, “We aren’t going to fit and I’d prefer to not become a roadblock…”
“Allow me,” Qaitax assumed control.
Much to Sylus’ surprise, they managed to squeeze out with little effort.
The surface of Q’taxia was a nearly frozen wasteland. A harsh cold wind blew purple ash across its surface. The lack of a sun had long deprived the world of any and all life.
“If people start coming out, keep them under control. I need to get this thing up and working,” Nico called from the engine car of the tram.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before K’alik appeared leading the first of the escapees.
“Master Tessin is organizing as many people as he can. I’ll be returning to assist him. I just wanted to know the status of things up here,” K’alik was remaining remarkably calm under the immense pressure.
“Try to slow it down a bit,” Sylus replied, “We need time to get the tram working and we’d like to avoid as much panic as possible…”
“It’s already a mess down there,” K’alik sighed, “They have to get out in single file and you can imagine the difficulties we’re having trying to keep everyone orderly… They won’t stop screaming and yelling long enough to take directions…” K’alik sighed again, her composure starting to slip, “They won’t all make it… We know that… But… It’s deciding who does and doesn’t… Master Tessin and I… We… We don’t want that responsibility… We swore an oath to protect and serve our people… How can we do that now… We’re doctors… Not arbiters of fate…”
Saari approached her slowly. “K’alik,” she put a hand on her shoulder, “It should never fall to so few to choose for so many. Use your best judgement. Help whoever you can. The young and their families perhaps… I cannot truly say what is best, but know that I will be here to accept anyone who comes through that door. We will get as many people out as we can.”
K’alik nodded as she wiped the tears from her eyes, “We will do our best, my lady.” She bowed before returning back down the tunnel.
Saari began commanding the few already on the surface.
Nico leaned out of the engine car’s door, “We’re booting up now. It’ll take about fifteen minutes. We can start boarding people now. If you want, tell K’alik she can start bringing them up twenty at a time. That should allow for an orderly boarding…” Nico thought twice about what he said. What could possibly be orderly about people fleeing their world in utter fear and terror…
The doors on the passenger car shot open.
Sylus turned to Saari. She nodded to him as she began instructing people onto the tram.
“Do you think they’d listen to me?” Sylus whispered to Saari.
She glanced at him before turning to her people.
“THIS BEING IS OUR LORD,” Saari bellowed over their yells and chatter, “YOU WILL OBEY HIS ORDERS AS WE HAVE DONE SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME!”
There was a pause in their movement as they all turned to Sylus. Qaitax took this as an opportunity to impose his will. Immediately he filled his unseen tendrils with as much energy as he could afford to make them visible. They writhed around him in every direction.
“Heed the word of My Voice or perish upon this broken world!” he raised his arms toward them.
The tendrils were convincing enough to make the crowd collapse to their knees.
“STOP WASTING TIME AND MOVE!” he hollered.
They quickly stood up and resumed boarding the tram.
“We’ve got this,” Sylus winked to Saari.
With a firm nod, Saari headed back down the tunnel.
K’alik stood in front of the bottom blocking people from trying to scramble up. She was beaten and bruised, yet she continued to stand tall.
“My Lady,” she bowed as she stepped aside for Saari, “As you can see…”
The entire length of the visible hall was packed with people. Saari and K’alik both knew only a fraction of them were going to make it.
“Nico says we can bring some more up. Twenty at a time,” Saari explained as calmly as she could.
The urgency of the clamoring was making it hard to think, but K’alik seemed to have things under some semblance of control.
“ALRIGHT!” she bellowed over the crowd, “THE HUMANS WILL ALLOW US PASSAGE SO LONG AS WE REMAIN ORDERLY! THEY WILL ACCEPT GROUPS OF TWENTY! CITIZENS ONLY! WHOLE FAMILIES FIRST!” Her words were met with boos and jeers. “LISTEN TO ME OR NO ONE LEAVES HERE! THE HUMANS WILL NOT TOLERATE DISORGANIZATION! YOU HAVE SEEN THEIR EFFICIENCY…”
“FOR MURDER!” someone called above the jeers. The reply was met with cheers and hooting.
“TAKE THEIR TRANSPORT FOR OURSELVES!” another voice bellowed. More cheers.
“THEY’VE TAKEN EVERYTHING FROM USE! WE WILL NOT BE BOUND TO THEIR MERCY! TAKE WHAT IS RIGHTFULLY OURS!” Loud screaming and hollering.
“GET OUT OF THE WAY!” A man standing in front of K’alik commanded.
“IF YOU RUSH THEM THEY WILL TAKE NONE OF US!” she tried to reason with them.
“WE WILL OVERWHELM THEM AND TAKE WHAT IS OWED US!” another voice screamed from within the crowd.
“CAN ANY OF YOU OPERATE HUMAN TECHNOLOGY?” She screamed above them.
“GROUPS OF TWENTY. WHOLE FAMILIES FIRST!” K’alik repeated.
The crowd rushed her, shoving her to the floor. She shrieked as they stampeded over her. Saari was quick to intervene. With a flash from her staff, they backed down, but the damage had been done. K’alik laid still on the floor.
“K’alik!” the voice boomed through the halls.
A humongous man wearing the armor of the elite guards came ploughing down the hall, forcing people aside.
“OH LORD K’alik!” he knelt down beside her.
“M-Mero…” she choked, blood trickling from her mouth, “I just… I wanted to help…”
“Oh lord…” Mero took her up in his arms.
“I’m sorry…” she breathed.
Mero looked up to Saari, “Can you do anything? Can you help her?”
Saari frowned, “I cannot…”
“I’m taking her to Master Tessin,” Mero lifted K’alik into his arms, “Try to manage things here. I’ll be back.”
Saari nodded as she took up her station in front of the tunnel.
“Due to your monstrous behavior, none will be leaving until Mero returns,” Saari didn’t have to yell over the now quiet mob, “Organize yourselves. Groups of twenty. Whole families first.”
The mob, knowing they’d made a mess of things, quietly, yet begrudgingly, began sorting themselves out.
Saari felt a familiar buzzing in her head.
“Saari? Is everything okay?” It wasn’t the voice she was used to invading her thoughts, “Well I mean… It’s not, but… No one else has come up in a bit… Do you need help?” it was Sylus.
“There was an incident, My Lord,” she sighed in reply, “We will resume evacuation soon.”
“Now is not the time. Once Mero returns, we will be bringing more up.”
Saari could hear Sylus’ affirmation before the connection closed.
It concerned her that someone other than Qaitax could get into her mind, but she trusted Sylus to not abuse the power.
An eternity passed before Mero reappeared from the infirmary. He parted the sea of people as he approached Saari.
“I should have been here…” he breathed, “Why did she have to try to do this alone…”
“How is she…?” Saari was hesitant to ask.
Mero looked at her forlornly. A sad smile crossed his lips, “She won’t be leaving.”
Saari bowed her head.
“And neither will I!” he bellowed, “Lead out people out of here, Voice! I’ll keep them in check on this end!”
“Mero…” Saari put a hand on his arm.
“K’alik wanted to help. So I will continue what she started. Go. Lead them out,” Mero placed his massive hand over hers, “See that we have a future, even if it is at the mercy of humans. It’s better than nothing,” he smiled weakly at her.
With a nod to each other, Mero stepped aside from the tunnel.
“FIRST GROUP!” he bellowed.
As soon as the group began forming, Saari began leading them up the tunnel. Mero was sure to cut them off at twenty. He stood, unmovable, in front of the tunnel. Bellowing commands at them.
On the surface, Sylus was quick to approach her. His movement was far more swift and even than someone of his size should have been capable of.
“What happened?” he said in a hushed tone as he walked beside her.
Saari sighed, “If I told you, you would no longer wish to help us…”
“That bad…” Sylus’ voice trailed off.
“I never knew my people to be such heathens…”
Sylus sighed, “It’s what happens when mortals face death… They lose their civility.”
“Is that you or Qaitax speaking?” Saari looked up to him.
“Both?” Sylus smiled awkwardly.
“Had you said that before now, I would not have believed you, but now?” she glanced back at the people coming out of the tunnel, “I know it is the truth.”
Sylus took charge of corralling them onto the tram as Saari went back down for the next twenty. Once the tram was full, Nico was ready to leave for the first time.
“There’s no guarantee I’ll be able to get back…” he looked out the engine car door, “If you two want to be sure you get out of here, now is the only time.”
Sylus looked to Saari. He knew that under those horns there was a look of moral dismay.
“We’ll get on with the next one,” Sylus smiled.
“Maybe if we get them into a groove they can carry on without us, but until then, we’ll hold up here. If…” he turned to Saari again, “If that’s okay with you…”
She nodded firmly as she turned to go back down the tunnel.
Sylus waved Nico on. With a salute, Nico closed the cabin door and began navigating the tram toward earth. Q’taxia was so engulfed in the Void, that there was no need for a tear. The Void was everywhere around them, they just had to know where they were headed to traverse it.
Sylus watched in quiet uneasiness as the tram punctured the firmament of the Void. He was sure Nico would be able to make it back a second time… but a third? A fourth? A fifth? In quick succession? Without maintenance or recharging? He had no idea how many people they could save or how many times he should wait to leave himself. He knew Saari would try to stay until the end, but he couldn’t… he had to get back to his family…
At the bottom of the tunnel, Saari found Master Tessin, an elderly slender man with well kept hair and the smile of a man who’d lived a good life, speaking in hushed tone to Mero.
“Master?” Saari questioned him as she stepped in front of Mero.
“Ah, Brother Saari,” Master Tessin bowed deeply.
“Is aught amiss, Master?” she inquired.
Master Tessin sighed heavily, “The Brotherhood has forbidden me from treating any of the injured. I’m afraid I only have two options with Lady K’alik…” Mero was clenching his eyes and fists shut. “She is in terrible pain, Mero… And I know she trusted you and your council. Which is why I’ve come to you.”
Mero’s clenched expression melted into a sob. Covering his mouth, he gasped as he tried to stifle his pain.
“Is she awake?” Mero’s voice shook.
“She’s in and out,” Master Tessin bowed his head.
“Can I… can I see her?”
Master Tessin looked to Saari.
“The first batch of evacuees have already left. We have time before the tram returns,” she turned to Mero, “Go to her.”
Mero nodded as he followed Master Tessin back to the infirmary, parting the crowd as he went.
The shrieking and yelling had been reduced to low, hushed murmurs. They knew this was the end of them as a people. Not enough could possible escape to facilitate a future for Q’taxia. They knew everything they had come to know and understand was coming to an end.
A tall, lythe runner approached her from within the crowd.
“U’toh. Qax District. What are the plans for escape?”
Saari wasn’t sure how to reply, “We are moving as many as we can… There must be an access point closer to Qax and the other districts… why come all the way to Q’tax?”
“There is only one tram…” the runner replied.
“Qesyl has long supplied the capital with it’s fruits and vegetables. We are farmers. Surely there is room for us?” U’toh spoke with much urgency.
“Forward me fifty people from Qesyl. I will see that they are evacuated…”
The crowd roared in disapproval.
“And what if our neighbours, Qai? They are engineers and scientists…”
“There is no need for any of them,” the portly man that was Brother Johl approached Saari, “I have spoken to the Brotherhood. We have decided that it is more important that we evacuate our knowledge. Not the people who reveled in their complacency and now desire the escape the repercussions.”
Saari and the runner, U’toh, both stared at Brother Johl in disgust.
“Surely skilled lives are more important to saving our way of life than some books…” U’toh replied incredulously.
“The books contain far more knowledge than any man or woman among you. They hold far more value than life that will die off anyway,” Brother Johl explained in his usual superior tone.
“Brother Saari… You can’t possibly…” U’toh tried to appeal.
Saari sighed, “I have no power over the Brotherhood… Send me your fifty. If we get them out before they have their tomes, life will go first. Tell Qil the same. The temple is much closer, so be quick.”
U’toh nodded before darting off back down the hall.
“Brother Johl,” Saari turned to him, “With all due respect, that was entirely inappropriate.”
“The truth is better than continuing placating lies,” Brother Johl replied.
“These people are panicking…”
“People come and go,” he said with indifference., “They live and die every day. Knowledge, Brother Saari, knowledge is what survives. And survive it must. The Brothers are collecting the most important tomes we have. We will be arriving with them shortly. I expect you and the humans to make room for us.”
Saari sneered at him as he returned back down the hall. The masses parted for him as he went.
It was some time before Mero returned, a look of completed dismay on his face.
“How is she?” Saari asked in hushed tones.
“She insisted she be seated at her desk. She refuses to leave her post,” Mero smiled, “She’ll be stubborn til the end…” he gave a short laugh, “She demanded that I return to my duties here. I will cover this side, return to the surface, Brother Saari.” Mero forced a weak smile.
“I have authorized fifty people from each of the nearby cities. Forward them ahead if they arrive in time,” she explained, “They are well aware of time being everything.”
Mero nodded firmly.
She turned to head up the tunnel, “Oh and if Brother Johl and the other Brothers show up with a bunch of rotten books? Stall them.”
Mero nodded to her with a smile.
Saari embrace him briefly before heading back up the tunnel.
On the surface she found Sylus huddled up against the exit.
“I didn’t think it’d be this difficult,” his voice shook in the cold, “I can barely stay awake…”
“Leave with the next tram,” Saari gently suggested as she placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m not going anywhere without you,” Sylus’ eyes were a vibrant shade of purple that bore into her even through her distorted voidsight.
“I am not going anywhere without my people,” she stood tall beside him, leaning on her staff, already frozen to the core.
Even above the roaring winds, Saari could hear various sounds coming from Sylus. She wasn’t sure if he was awake or not, so she tapped him with her staff. He groaned a bit as he turned to her.
“I’m so full…” his words drooled off his tongue.
Saari smiled softly at him, “Rest while you can, my lord.”
Sylus laughed weakly, “I always said I wanted to try everything before I died…” He huffed a bit against the cold air as he folded his head back down into his coat, “Does it count if I’m already dead though?” he mumbled through the fabric.
Saari jokingly tapped him on the back of his head with her staff. She couldn’t see it, but he smiled in response.
After what seemed like an eternity, the tram came hurtling back through the Void. Nico stepped out almost immediately.
“The Voidworks is freaking out. They have no idea what to do with the refugees…” he called to them against the blustering wind.
Sylus unfolded himself as he struggled onto his feet, “They can figure it out. We good to go?”
“Based on the level of decay, I can’t only guarantee two more runs. After that, we’re in high stakes gambling territory…”
“Two more then. Saari,” Sylus turned to her.
With a nod, she returned back down the tunnel.
Nico returned to the engine car to turn the tram around.
It wasn’t long before Saari returned with twenty more people. Sylus herded them onto the tram. This went seamlessly until all the seats were filled.
“There’s some standing room, but I haven’t accounted for that kind of mass…” he explained.
“Willing to take the risk?” Sylus laughed as he leaned against the engine car’s door frame.
“This time, yes. But only this time. I’ll see what kind of stress the tram takes. If its negligible, we’ll do it again. Either way, this is the second to last trip I can really afford,” Nico’s voice was shaking. Sylus couldn’t determine if it was fear or excitement. Either way, he was full of adrenaline, “Hurry! Tell Saari!”
“How many more you think?”
Nico thought a moment, “Two more sets of twenty.”
Sylus nodded as he turned to make his way back to Saari.
“THREE MORE!” Nico called after him.
With a smile and a nod, Sylus continued on his way.
Saari brought up one more group and as Sylus was loading them on, a series of men in yellow robes came clamouring up the tunnel. They dragged behind them linen bags full of books.
“Oh HELL no,” Saari bellowed.
Sylus turned to her in shock, “Saari!”
She turned to him, “I learned it from you.”
Sylus burst out with boisterous laughter.
“Brother Johl!” she yelled into the wind, “What is the meaning of this!”
The Brothers walked past both her and Sylus as they began loading themselves and their cargo onto the tram.
“HEY GET THE FUCK OFF OF THERE!” Sylus ran after them.
“Go ahead, my lord, eat a few. There are plenty more waiting down below,” Brother Johl jeered him.
Sylus glared ferociously at him, “Not a bad idea, Brother.” He turned to Brother Johl, “I think only one needs to go…”
Sylus rushed him only to be stopped by Saari.
“I-I am sorry, my lord…” she held her staff in front of him, “Brother Johl is the most important of them all…”
“Why?” he hissed, “Why is that pompous ass worth ANYTHING over the lives of all those people who he kept the truth from?”
“A necessary evil to maintain balance and order. Do you think the Halls would have lasted as long as they had without such an illusion of safety?” Brother Johl replied in as disinterested of a tone as he could muster.
“You’re scum,” Sylus snarled.
“Scum has its purpose, my lord,” Brother Johl replied as he approached the tram.
Nico leaned out the tram door, “What the hell is all this?”
Sylus glanced at him in dismay.
“I didn’t plan for this kind of weight…” he yelled to the Brothers getting into the tram.
“Surely a few books in place of flesh doesn’t change your calculations all that much,” Brother Johl replied snydely.
Nico stormed out of the cabin toward Sylus, “What the hell is going on? I’m not risking my life to transport books!”
Sylus opened his mouth to reply when Saari stepped up beside him.
“They contain our knowledge of the Void. Surely they hold some importance…” Saari knew what she was saying was a poor argument.
“Books can’t die. People can. This is ridiculous!” Nico protested.
Sylus sighed, “I’m in no shape to deal with all of them…”
“I’ll take the books, but get the robed fucks off my tram,” Nico spat before returning to the engine car.
Sylus turned to Brother Johl with a sigh, “If we can’t take civilians, we’re not taking the Brothers. Leave the books. Get your people off.”
Brother Johl thought a moment, “If I do this, then the entirety of the next tram will belong to the Brotherhood.”
“Over my dead body,” Sylus barked.
Brother Johl glared at him mockingly.
“Over my COLD dead body!” Sylus corrected.
The stare continued.
“OVER MY COLD IMMOBILE DEAD-ON-THE-GROUND BODY!” Sylus finally bellowed hopefully covering all of his bases.
“One brother per twenty civilians,” Saari offered, “Take it or I will start purging them myself.”
Brother Johl paused for another moment, “Five and we have a deal.”
“Two and some of your stupid books,” Sylus barked.
Brother Johl though once more, “Three.”
“Including you,” Sylus sneered.
“Not including me. Three brothers per twenty civilians and one whole car for our tome collection,” Brother Johl folded his arms across his chest.
“A WHOLE CAR?! No. No deal. Fuck you,” Sylus turned away.
“Speak to him, Brother Saari. Make it work. Or more than just your people will perish. Their legacies and knowledge will as well,” Brother Johl spat before heading back down the tunnel.
Saari turned to Sylus. She couldn’t make out much in the way of details, but she could tell by his eyes that he was livid.
“I’m not taking books over people. I’m sorry,” he turned to her, “Lives matter more.”
Saari sighed, “The harsh reality is… Even if we evacuate as many as possible, it will never be enough to save our people. In a generation or two, we will all be gone either way…”
Sylus sighed heavily, “Books though…”
“The legacy of our people…” Saari breathed into the wind.
Sylus clenched his fists at his side until he finally accepted that she was right. And he hated it. He hated the idea of saving inanimate objects over mortal life, but she was right. Johl was right. They’d need to evacuate thousands to save the Q’taxians as a people. They were saving, what, a few hundred?
Futility, was Qaitax’s first thought in his mind.
Nico was leaning out of the engine car looking for instructions.
“Go,” Sylus finally called to him.
With a somber nod, Nico took the tram into the Void once more.
Sylus stood staring at the ground watching as the ash danced and twirled in the wind. He closed his eyes as he let the cold air blow through his hair. There was a level of fury and rage within him he’d never felt before.
“I should have killed him,” he muttered into his coat.
“Brother Johl?” Saari replied.
Saari sighed, “He serves a purpose. As horrible as he is, he serves a purpose. And we cannot deny that. Even if it is morally questionable that we aid him…”
“I’m going to kill him someday, Saari,” Sylus looked up enough that his mouth was no longer hiding behind the fur collar of his coat, “Understand that.”
Saari nodded, “I will not stop you when the time comes. Just be certain that there is no other way and that he has outlived his usefulness.”
Sylus sighed, “Let K’alek know the tram’s gone again.”
Saari’s face began to burn as she remembered K’alek’s fate. She cast her gaze downward trying to come up with a way to explain what happened to Sylus.
“K’alek…” she spoke slowly, “K’alek is… She…” she looked up into Sylus’ eyes, “She’s hurt.”
“Hurt?” Sylus recoiled, “How? What happened?”
Saari shook her head, “She.. She was… She was trampled…”
Sylus felt his heart sink, “Is she going to be okay? Can we take her out on the next tram?”
Saari shook her head, “She has chosen to remain at her station until the end.”
“The… end?” fear and sadness washed over him, “But… She can’t… Where’s Mero?”
Saari winced at him, “He was monitoring the entrance to the tunnel, but with the presence of the Brotherhood… Oh no… Wait here!” She called to the remaining evacuees.
Saari darted for the tunnel with Sylus not far behind her.
Something yellow was in front of the bottom of the tunnel. Saari could feel her own rage boiling to the surface. She slid out first through the yellow banner. Turning, she saw that it held the crest of the Brotherhood. Two Brothers, armed with spears whose blades were forged in void crystals, stood on either side of the entrance.
“What is the meaning of this!?” Saari bellowed as Sylus finally managed to exit the tunnel.
The guards stood still and silent. Their yellow shrouds obscuring their faces.
The once barely-organized mob of frightened civilians, was almost completely dispersed. A few remained up against the walls of the Hall, but what remained was a far cry from what had been.
“Where is Mero?” she demanded.
Once more the guards were silent.
“WHERE IS HE?!” Saari barked at the top of her lungs.
“Answer her,” Sylus stepped before the guards, using as much energy as he could muster to make his tendrils visible. His attempt at seeming imposing had no effect on the stalwart guards.
Saari, fuming with rage, began marching down the hall toward the temple. She wasn’t afforded the effect of throwing the doors open for they were already ajar. Inside, the Brothers were rushing about compiling as many books as they could.
“Where is Mero,” she demanded.
They ignored her as they continued on her way.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MERO!?” she bellowed into the cavernous hall.
Brother Johl, at his usual station in the pulpit looked up to her, “He resisted and therefore, had to be dealt with.”
“WHERE IS HE?!” Saari’s voice was becoming hoarse. She could feel her eyes beginning to burn.
“You needn’t concern yourself with him. He and the little medic will be together soon,” Brother Johl closed his tome.
“YOU MONSTERS!” Saari sobbed.
“In a world so placated and soft,” Brother Johl spoke as he approached her, “Someone must be the monster everyone else fears.”
He stared directly into her horns. To her he was a dark form like all the others, but where most Q’taxians had a soft purple glow, Brother Johl’s was a disgusting shade of dirty yellow. To her, he was revolting.
“That’s enough!” Brother Johl called to the others, “Take what you’ve gathered and head to the surface.”
Without a word, the other Brothers began filling bags and boxes with books. One by one they hurried out of the temple. Sylus stood outside watching in dismay as they breezed past the civilians lining the halls. Not once casting their gazes down to them. Clenching his fists, he turned to Saari. Tears were streaming down from beneath her horns.
“Saari…” he approached her slowly.
“No,” her voice was shaking terribly, “I must gather together enough people to fill the remaining cars on the tram,” she sniffed, “I cannot allow them to win like this.”
She immediately began trying to identify groups of adults and children. She would approach them and ask them to join her on the surface. Very few of them responded. Most looked away. She promised them freedom from their inevitable fate. None of them seemed to care. In fact, some even returned to their homes where she assumed the bulk of the crowd had gone. She began approaching everyone and anyone she could. She received the same responses: Curt rejection, silence, walking away. Eventually, within the extended length of Hall she could see, no one was left waiting along the walls. Save for the Brothers going up and down the tunnel, no one was left trying to escape.
Saari stood still in the hall, her hands clenched at her sides, limbs shaking. She was sobbing. Sylus approached her slowly.
“I just wanted to help… I wanted to do the right thing… K’alek… Mero… Master Tessin… We just wanted to do the right thing… How could they…” she slowly turned to Sylus, “How could they damn so many lives… I-it is not fair… WHAT GIVES THEM THE RIGHT!” She screamed down the empty hall.
Sylus stood a bit away from her, wringing his hands together, “I… I don’t know…”
“Can you do ANYTHING, my lord?” Saari stepped up to him placing her hands on his shoulders, “Please… Please… Can you not do something? Anything?”
Sylus’ gaze wandered to the floor. A sort of empty glassy stare filled them.
“My lord? Sylus?” Saari shook him lightly.
His eyes lit up as he turned to face her again, “Even if I could. I wouldn’t,” Qaitax answered, “What pity should i take on my captors? Those who supped upon my flesh and blood? What do I owe any of you that I should endeavor to save your lives?”
Releasing his shoulders, Saari stepped back in dismay.
“I-I… M-my lord…” she bowed her head in shame for even thinking to ask anything of Qaitax.
“Do not be ashamed of trying to help your own,” Qaitax continued, “It is only mortal to desire survival, but I will not help you do so.”
“Could you… though?” Saari was afraid to question his will.
“Currently?” Qaitax looked down at his body, “No. I could not. I cannot help, even if I wanted to.”
It was a small relief, but Qaitax’s dismissal of her people’s lives left a bad taste in her mouth. She knew he had no reason to be kind or benevolent. The fact that he allowed Sylus to remain and help as much as he did meant that there was some form of compassion within him… Or perhaps that was only a quality that belonged to Sylus…
Saari watched as the last of the Brothers made their way to the surface. Brother Johl reaching the tunnel signaled the end of their pilgrimage. With a defeated sigh, Saari followed them back up to the surface. There the Brother’s stood gathered near where the tram would return. The civilians who had been waiting before them were huddled off to one side mumbling in fear and confusion. Saari didn’t know what to say. What COULD she say? She moved with as much strength and determination as she could toward Brother Johl.
“Let these people on,” she barked in a hushed tone.
Brother Johl turned to her, “Why bother?”
She grabbed him by the collar of his yellow robes, “Because they were here first. They have been waiting in the blistering cold. You may have scared off everyone else, but these people WILL leave Q’taxia.”
Brother Johl glared at her. She released him and, without another word, invited the people to the front of the line. Sylus stood back and watched, poised to tear anyone who interfered with Saari apart.
The tram finally came back through the Void. Nico threw the engine car door open.
“This is it!” he shouted into the wind, “This is the last trip I can make safely. After this I’m docking at the Works. Load as many on as you can! Cram em tight if you have to!”
Saari directed the civilians onto the tram. They managed to fill most of one of the cars. After that she stepped aside. The Brothers and their books, filled the rest of the tram.
Nico leaned out the door, watching in awed dismay as the yellow-robbed men hauled their books onto the tram. He turned to Sylus, “What’s going on?”
Sylus sighed, “A travesty.”
Nico was crestfallen. He knew little of Q’taxian culture, but one thing he did know was that the Brotherhood were a group of secretive men who hoarded knowledge and information from their people. They perpetuated the lie that nothing could ever threaten the sanctity of the Halls. The people felt safe, but the Brotherhood knew otherwise. Nico cringed deeply as he stepped back into the engine car, leaving the door ajar.
Sylus looked down the tram to Saar. She stood watching in defeated horror as the Brothers finished loading themselves onto the remaining cars. She turned to Syuls, tear stains on her face. He approached her briskly. Without a word, he lifted her into his arms and carried her into the engine car. She wrapped her arms around his neck and sobbed into his fur-lined collar. He held her head gently against this.
“We all set then?” Nico turned to find Sylus placing Saari down on a bench beside him. She had taken her horns off and was sobbing into her hands. Sylus nodded somberly to Nico. Not another word was spoken as the tram took off one last time for Earth.