A/N: We’re back on the present timeline.
“Now I know Sylus is quite the treat to stare at, but perhaps the Lady Saari would like to see herself for a change?” Haurex interjected.
“M-my self?” she turned to him.
“I could very easily present a mirror, if you so desire,” Haurex bowed to her.
She turned to Sylus. He chuckled deeply.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Saari, you’re beautiful,” he placed a hand against her face; allowing his fingers to run through her hair.
“I-I have never seen myself… In the Voidsight or otherwise… I… I have no concept of…” she stammered in discomfort.
“If I may?” Haurex spawned a mirror in his hand. He offered it to her with the reflective side facing away.
She glanced at Sylus once more. He simply smiled at her. Looking back to Haurex, she slowly reached out for the mirror. She held it at arm’s length for a while. It was the most intimidating thing she’d ever held in her hands. The fear and anticipation of what she’d find was nearly overwhelming.
Sylus put an arm around her shoulder and kissed her on the cheek, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he whispered in her ear.
Mustering as much courage as she could, she turned the mirror around.
There she was. Saari. Large, deep blue eyes, pale skin, thin lips, narrow nose, pointed chin, short, pale-blond hair cut into a bob. She had no eyebrows, like Sylus did. She wondered if any Q’taxians had eyebrows… Her ears at a slight point at the top and her fingers were long and slender coming to a slight point on the end. Her body… She suddenly felt disconnected from herself. She had hoped she appeared more feminine, but her body was a straight line from top to bottom. Very little in the way of curves. She sighed before turning to Sylus.
“I-I am…” she couldn’t say it.
“You’re beautiful,” Sylus repeated as he leaned in to kiss her on the lips.
“I am a stick,” she breathed as he pulled away, “What is there to love about this body…”
Sylus’s smile turned a bit sad, “You’re more than your body, Saari. You’re so much more.”
“But you allow yourself to be seen in public with something so… So…”
“Androgynous?” Haurex suggested.
“Androgynous…?” Saari questioned.
Sylus sighed, “Meaning you don’t cary and strong characteristics for either gender.”
Saari looked in the mirror again.
“Do I look like a man?” her voice shook.
Sylus shook his head.
“Do I look like a woman?” tears were welling in her eyes.
Sylus smiled, “Of course you do.”
“Voidlord,” she turned to Haurex, “You are incapable of placations. What do I look like to you?”
Haurex flipped himself in mid air, “What do I look like to you, Saari?”
“You present yourself as a lithe and slender man,” Saari stated firmly.
“What about me is manly?”
Saari studied him. Haurex was overly thin, incredibly flamboyant, had long flowing locks of hair… his eyes were large and had she not heard his voice… she wasn’t sure if she would have been able to determine what he was expressing.
“Precisely,” he replied with a smile, before she could say a word.
Saari turned back to Sylus, “I-I am sorry…” she lowered the mirror, “I just thought… You were saying what I wanted to hear…”
“Saari,” Sylus smiled, “I think you’re beautiful. I never really thought to analyze you and run you through a some predetermined system of masculine and feminine traits,” he laughed slightly, “I fell in love with your fervor. Honestly, hating me made me want to get to know you better. Did I expect us to become an item? Hell no. Did I expect you to ever trust me? Nah. But I wanted to understand you. I wanted to know you. And what did I learn?” he brushed the side of her face with the back of his hand, “That we’re so much alike and yet so different,” he smiled widely, “Remember,” he chuckled, “I didn’t look like this when we met.”
Saari smiled shyly, “I have never really seen you before…”
Sylus laughed, “It was bad, trust me.”
“I could show her…”
“NO!” Sylus screamed, “Please! No…”
Haurex shrugged dismissively.
Saari handed the mirror back to the Voidlord.
“Is there ANYTHING else I can do for the lovely couple?” he rested his pointed chin on the back of his folded hands.
Sylus looked down at the tome he still held in his hand. He sighed heavily as he waived it in the air, “We got what we came for.”
“Very good,” Haurex nodded gently, “On our way then? Your technician must be getting nervous,” he grinned.
“Oh shit, Nico!” Sylus yelled, “We have to get moving, Saari.”
She remained still, her gaze focused on him.
“Saari?” he waved his hand in front of her.
“I do not want to forget what you look like. I want to know you. Every inch of you,” she sounded distracted.
“Ah, well,” Sylus rubbed the back of his neck nervously, “There’s not much to see, really.”
“Take your shirt off,” she commanded.
“E-excuse me?” Sylus recoiled a bit.
“I want to see you. All of you,” she spoke firmly.
Sylus turned to Haurex.
“I have seen you naked already, Sylus, but if it helps I will avert my gaze,” Haurex wrapped a tendril over his eyes.
“You have seen me naked, have you not?” he cringed as he nodded weakly, “Sylus… I will never get to see you again… Please… Nothing about you will drive me away. I promise,” she smiled at him gently.
He sighed heavily, “You have two minutes to study then I’m putting my clothes back on.”
Saari nodded with a smile.
It took him a few minutes to unbutton everything and untie his shoes. He folded each article of clothing meticulously before making a pile on the floor. Eventually, he stood in the temple completely naked. Saari wasted no time walking around him, poking his belly, touching his arms, running her fingers through the shallow muscle curves in his back.
“To be honest,” he laughed nervously, “I’m not 1000% sure this is all completely anatomically correct.”
“That is fine. It is you,” she replied as she came around to face him again, a smile plastered on her face.
He smiled awkwardly as he began swinging his arms in discomfort. She poked his stomach again.
“It is soft and squishy,” she laughed.
“You already knew that!” he laughed in earnest.
“I did, but… It is different now… somehow…” She tried to make sense of her thoughts. They were more feelings than words or things she could easily express. All she knew was that in her Voidsight, Sylus appeared large, but devoid of any detail. The Voidsight didn’t translate things like muscle and fat. Just the vague outline of a pleasingly round shape.
“Can I at least put my pants back on?” he smiled at her.
“Oh! Yes. Of course! I apologize…”
“I don’t mind being shirtless, but I really prefer to have my pants on ESPECIALLY WITH A THIRD WHEEL IN THE ROOM,” he turned to Haurex knowing full well the Voidlord had been watching them the entire time.
“Oh please,” Haurex flipped his wrist at Sylus, “Like I was going to pass up the opportunity to observe you sublime form.”
“You can stop flattering me at any moment,” he muttered as he fastened his belt, “Because it isn’t working. It’s just creepy.”
“Hmm…” Haurex touched a finger to his chin, “Perhaps I will reevaluate my approach.”
“For the record,” Sylus bent down to tie his shoes, “I’m never going to trust you.”
“Never say never, my rotund friend. Things and people change. Such is the nature of time,” he smiled as he rested his clawed pinkie finger on the corner of his mouth.
“Rotund…” Sylus scoffed as he began putting his shit and jacket back on, “Normally I’d take that as a compliment, but coming from you? No thanks.”
Haurex gave a light laugh.
“One thing you should never question is that I am truly fascinated by you, Sylus,” Haurex performed a small flip in the air, “The mortal who consumed a Voidlord…”
“Again,” Sylus made a circle with his index finger, “That’s not how the story goes.”
“Oh right yes. A Voidlord. Desperate and alone. Learning the truth of fear and mortality. Turns to a mortal to save him. Is that not how it goes?”
Sylus could feel Qaitax trying to gain control.
“Tell him to stop,” Haurex sighed, “He can try all he wants, but the truth is the truth and it is time you both faced it.”
“I have not once mislead or lied to Sylus. Simplifying the situation serves no purpose in compromising us,” Qaitax finally managed to come forwards.
“I’m not talking to you, Qaitax,” Haurex’s relaxed expression turned to one of rage and disdain, “Tell him whatever you want. So, too, shall I. You know DAMN well that human is protecting you from a fate far worse than annihilation.”
“You know nothing of my existence…”
“Oh, don’t I? Well allow me,” Haurex materialized a roll of paper. Doning a pair of reading glasses, he began making his way down the list, “Heeded a summoning ritual. Intervened with mortals. Allowed yourself to be captured. Fell in LOVE with a mortal. Communicated with mortals. Fed mortals. Allowed mortals to live off of your strength. Allowed mortals to consume you. Turned to a mortal for aid. Made a deal with a mortal for your freedom…” Haurex removed the glasses, “I’m seeing a trend here, are you?”
Qaitax snarled at him.
“You threw away your Lorddom, Qaitax. You threw away any right to ever call yourself a Voidlord the DAY you heeded a summoning ritual. The DAY you caved to mortal wills and took them as your masters… The DAY you let your love of a mortal overtake your very being…” Haurex threw the roll of paper over his shoulder, “You are not one of us, Qaitax. You have been away for far too long… What do you even know of the Great One’s dream? Hm? His will? You’ve forgotten. You forgot the DAY you left us. You fornicated with mortals rather than uphold your station. Weak. Pathetic. Base. Qaitax the Devourer. Qaitax the Destroyer,” Haurex scoffed, “Without Sylus, you are nothing. Without him, I would have killed you by now. Thank him. Thank him dearly, for it is by his existence that you yet live.”
Saari watched in horror as Sylus’ body went limp. Neither consciousness took control.
Qai? Sylus’ thoughts were burdened with hesitation
No answer came
Qai… Sylus tried again.
We’ll talk, okay, big guy?
A vague sense of approval came in reply.
“Now,” Haurex began again, his demeanor shifting to one more pleasant, “It is time we quit this place.”
Sylus blinked himself back into consciousness, “We?” he replied with a sneer.
“Yes, of course, the three of us!” Haurex had the biggest grin on his face.
Sylus glared at him.
“Well four, I suppose, if you count that… leech…” he flicked his wrist in Sylus’ general direction, “Not you, of course, my delightfully plump friend.”
Sylus’ glare deepened.
“You are not returning with us,” Saari announced.
“Awww…” Haurex’s grin turned to a dejected frown, “After all I did for you…”
“Perhaps you should have held that as a bargaining chip then,” Saari cut a wry grin.
Haurex smiled, “Touche.”
Sylus smiled broadly at Saari. She gazed at him one last time, knowing that as soon as they left Q’taxia, she’d never see him again. Sylus caught on to her staring.
“What?” he chuckled softly.
“I just want to remember who you are…” she said almost reluctantly.
“You know how I am, Saari,” he smiled again, “I haven’t changed nor do I plan on ever changing. I am who I am. That will never change.”
“But… I…” her eyes darting around the room as she struggled with her thoughts, “I never want to forget your face…”
His smile grew, “Faces come and go. It’s the person who matters. You could forget my face, but know I’m still me and that wouldn’t change anything.”
“Yes… But…” she looked to him again, “I love you…”
Sylus’ smile faded.
“I-I knew however you looked would never change my feelings, but having actually seen you…” she sighed, “I never want to forget…I-I do not… I don’t want to lose you…”
“Oh, Saari…” he breathed as he took her in his arms.
She wrapped her arms around him as best she could.
“I’ll always be here,” he smiled as he gave her a quick kiss on the lips, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“But what if I forget?” her voice shook, “What if I forget what you look like?”
Sylus laughed as he squeezed her close, “If I’m that amazing, you won’t forget.”
“You are…” she breathed into his collar.
A long moment passed while they embraced each other. Haurex remained floating in the distance, but neither of them cared until he finally spoke up.
“Perhaps you should return home before this sweet display of love escalates into something my innocent eyes should not behold,” he delicately rested a hand under his chin.
Awkwardly clearing their throats they released each other.
“I’m so very glad I could help facilitate the strengthening of this relationship, but you have your book and I’m sure your technician would appreciate it if you returned with as much haste as possible,” Haurex stretched out, floating on his back.
“I hate to agree,” Sylus sighed, “I threatened Nico’s family life enough just by asking him to help… We need to get home so he can get home or Ezzy’ll tear him a new one…”
“You could never understand,” Sylus turned to him, “How could you ever understand what it’s like to sacrifice your family for your duty?”
“Fair enough,” Haurex shrugged disinterestedly, “While the melodramas of mortals does intrigue me, I do lack a certain understanding for their emotional grapplings,” he sighed, “Perhaps I could learn someday,” he winked at Sylus.
“Ready?” Sylus turned to Saari, holding the book up in his hand.
Saari nodded slowly as her gaze drifted to the horns he held at his side.
“I will need those… Will I not?” She weakly pointed to them.
Sylus lifted them a bit before offering them back to her. She took them, fastening them to her sash next to her mask. With a nod amongst themselves, they turned to leave.
“Alright then, you two,” Haurex waived daintily at them, “Until next time!”
“Next time?” Sylus scoffed as he turned to face Haurex once more, “There won’t be a next time. You’re staying here.”
“For now,” Haurex’s grin grew to once again reveal his second set of teeth, “But don’t think this is the last you’ll see of me, my succulent little Sylus. I’ll follow you home eventually. It’s only a matter of time and to us Voidlords,” he laughed gently, “Time means very little.” Sylus gave him the deepest glare he could muster before turning his back to him again. “Bon voyage, to the lovely couple! I’ll see you both soon! Take care!”
They were about to step out of the temple when Haurex called out to them once more.
“WAIT!” they heeded him and turned around, “Weren’t you looking for someone?” Haurex pointed into a corner near the doorway to the temple.
“Looking for…?” Sylus didn’t understand until he looked where Haurex was pointing.
There, in the dark corner, was the shadow of something familiar. Sylus approached it slowly with Saari not far behind him. The closer they got, the more the shadow took form. It was a small pile of purple ash with a familiar polearm resting across it.
“Mero…” Sylus breathed, “I-I’d almost forgotten…” He reached into the pocket of his jacket and removed the broach he’d found in the infirmary. “I guess I’m glad I grabbed this,” he laughed somberly, “It was easier to move than T’thyl would have been.” He knelt down beside the pile of ash, Saari joined him. “I wonder why he was here… So far away from K’alek…” Saari knew only vaguely that there had been an altercation between Mero and the Brotherhood. She had suspected the worst, but this seemed to confirm it. She clenched her fists on her lap as she struggled to remain silent. There was already enough tension between Sylus and Brother Johl and she knew full well that if she said anything, what little civility remained would be shattered.
“There,” Sylus smiled as he placed the broach next to the blade of the polearm, “Together at last and hopefully forever.”
Saari wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
“They were good to me, Saari… Just like you. They treated me fairly and kindly. They didn’t have to, but they did,” he sighed heavily, “I’ll always regret not putting them both on the first tram out…”
Saari leaned on him, “They would not have gone. They were both dedicated to our people… They would have remained to the end no matter what you would have said…”
“Then they should have gone together… That they were so far apart… That…” Sylus’ mind slowly started working out how Mero ended up so far from the infirmary and the exit tunnel, “That isn’t right… They did this… Didn’t they?”
Saari leaned away from him as her gaze settled on the ash. She gave no response, but her silence was enough for Sylus to understand.
“I’ll kill him,” Sylus seethed, clenching his own fists at his sides, “I’ll kill that bastard.”
“He saved the knowledge of our people and those who came before us. You knew full well we Q’taxians had no future… He just… He…” she hated every word she was saying, “He sought to protect us and our history…”
Sylus sighed dejectedly.
“I’m still going to kill him,” he gave a dark chuckle, “Once this business with Cassidy is over, he’ll have served his purpose. Save for that of the sum of his nutrients.”
Saari ran her fingers through Sylus’ hair, “You must rise above him. You are the better person and you know that.”
“Am I?” he forced a laugh, “I’m really not sure…”
Saari’s gaze wandered away again, “You never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to. You never made me bend to your will. You always told me I was free to do as I pleased and you never did anything to prove that to be untrue… You… You were always kind to me. Treated me like a person. Forget what we have in common, I roamed these halls with these horns and no one would even look at me. Brother Johl… He always said… I was a mistake. That I should have never been the Voice… That he’d make me earn the respect of the Brotherhood and that it would not simply be handed to me like it was my predecessors. He made me grovel. He made me bend before him. He forced me…”
“Saari…” Sylus breathed as he pulled her in close, “I know… Please… Don’t relive it…”
“How can I forget?” she was nearly sobbing, “I was so close to ending myself, Sylus… I was so close to doing something so utterly forbidden by my people… I had no control… Brother Johl used me in every way he could. My lord seemed distant and uncaring… The people… The people wouldn’t even look at me… Until you came along…” she touched the broach gently, “You changed all of that. Not Brother Johl or my lord or the people… But… Just you…”
Sylus gazed at her in dismay, “Saari…” he breathed again as he held her head to his chest.
“I never want to feel that way again. I will never let anyone put me in a place like that EVER again,” she sobbed, “They killed him, Sylus… Brother Johl killed Mero… Why… Why did he have to do that… Why…”
“I don’t know, Saari…”
“I want him dead as much as you do, if not more! But… He…” she leaned away to wipe her eyes, “He serves a purpose…”
“A purpose he will outlive someday… And when he does, I will be there. I can promise you that,” he smiled at her.
She forced a smile in return.
“Look at us,” her voice shook, “Bonding over the idea of killing someone… What is wrong with us…”
Sylus laughed, “I’m not one to easily wish death upon someone. I mean… Remember when we got back to my place? Remember that shitshow? I should have killed them both but I let them go… Why?”
Saari shook her head, “I would have supported you if you chose to devour them.”
Sylus laughed again as he shook his head, “In front of Daniel?”
They both laughed weekly.
“Sure he knows now, but what kind of an impact would that have had on him?” he chuckled, “Dad’s been gone for years. Comes back a monster and the first thing he does is eat his mother?” He guffawed, “Not exactly the right impression!”
“But… But the things… Those things… She…”
Sylus raised a hand to stop her, “I had no idea at the time. Trust me, that changed a lot of faith I had in her and I do sometimes regret just letting her leave, but in the end I’m just glad it’s over and that Daniel has a good therapist helping him recover.”
“To be fair, I’m not sure your son wouldn’t have been grateful on some level…” Haurex interjected.
“She’s gone from our lives. That’s all that matters,” Sylus spat without turning to him, “She knows it won’t end well if she ever shows her face again.”
Sylus and Saari both sat a moment longer in silence observing the small memorial to the lost.
“We should go now…” Sylus said slowly.
Saari nodded in agreeance.
Standing up and turning to leave once more, Haurex called out to them again.
“Tata for now!” he waved to them with a golden handkerchief he’d drawn from nowhere.
Sylus merely glared at him one last time before finally leaving the temple.
As soon as they stepped out of the temple Saari audibly gasped.
“M-my eyes…” she waved her hand in front of her face, “I-I cannot… See…”
Sylus glanced back into the temple. Haurex was nowhere to be seen. He sighed heavily.
“He did say it would only last until you left ‘this place’,” he helped her retrieve her horns from her sash, “And Voidlords are incredibly vague yet literal…”
Saari shook as she tried to tie them back onto her head. It wasn’t fair… She thought she’d have her sight longer… He lied… The Voidlord lied… But… He didn’t… She knew Sylus was right. That didn’t change the painful nature of the sudden return of crushing nothingness.
It was a somber moment of Sylus helping Saari put her horns back on before they were able to continue on their way. She remained silent all the way back to the tram.
Doing his best to recall Nico’s instructions, Sylus turned the tram back toward earth.
They sat in silence for the duration of the trip. Saari did her best not to look in Sylus’ direction. They remained in silence upon landing at the works. They remained in silence as Nico approached them both upset and excited to see them.
“What happened? Do you have it?” he panted as he ran from the control tower. Upon seeing the look of dejection on both their faces he added, “Is… everything okay?”
Sylus turned to him, “Just some… things… I guess,” he held up the book, “Mission accomplished though!” he forced a cheery tone.
Nico knew something was very wrong, but he knew it wasn’t his place to ask. With a forced smile, he saluted Sylus, “Welcome home.”
Sylus returned the salute, “Thank you, Nico. I know you put a lot on the line to be here…”
“She called,” he sighed, “I wasn’t home. Where was I…” he laughed weakly, “I lied. I lied to my wife…” he sighed heavily, “Oh how I know that will come back to haunt me…”
“Blame it on me, then,” Sylus laughed, “That’s the truth!”
“Yeah but… I could have said no… But I didn’t. And you know why?”
Quip walked to Nico and sat down beside him. Nico began absently scratching the top of his head.
“Because I love what I do. I love being a Void Technician. I don’t love being the only one, but I do love the work,” he smiled, “Maybe someday there will be others, but until then?” he looked down at Quip who had his tendril tongue hanging out of his mouth, “I can’t say no when I’m needed,” he turned to Sylus.
“Even if you lose what you love?” Sylus said softly.
Nico sighed again, “What good is my talent if I can’t use it to help? Ezzy understands… She really does… She knows better than anyone… But I can’t walk away from this… I can’t… As much as I hate the idea of losing my family…” he stopped scratching Quip’s head, “I just can’t say no… This is my calling. My passion. Ezzy and Matteo both know that…” he laughed somberly, “They know that…”
Saari turned to Sylus for the first time since she’d put her horns back on. She’d done her best not to look at him for fear of seeing that old blob of nothing in place of the sight she’d tried so desperately to memorize. She stepped back in shock and surprise. Sylus turned to her.
“Are you okay, Saari?” he laughed weakly, “I mean…” he had noticed her unwillingness to look in his direction, “I mean obviously not but…”
“I can see you…” she breathed.
Nico looked awkwardly between them.
“See me?” Sylus replied in confusion.
“Y-yes… I-it is you… Y-you are a bit distorted, but… It is clearly you! I can see you Sylus! I can see you as you are! You are blurry, but it is you!” she cried out with joy as she jumped up to wrap her arms around his neck.
Sylus smiled as he lifted her into his arms.
“I knew the Voidsight became stronger the more I knew or experienced something, but I never… I never thought…” She hugged him tightly, “Now I know I’ll never forget,” she breathed into his neck.
“Oh but I’m sure you’ll regret it someday,” he laughed nervously before placing her back on the ground.
“Never,” she slapped him on the chest.
There was a mutual sigh between the three of them.
“Nico, you’re free to go,” Sylus announced.
Nico sighed, “Don’t hesitate to call in the future. Even if I bitch and complain… There’s nowhere I’d rather be than this hellhole,” he smiled before turning to Quip, “You’re the weirdest dog I’ve ever met, but that doesn’t change that you’re a good boy.” Quips stumpy tail began wagging uncontrollably. Nico patted him once more before turning to leave.
“The kids!” Sylus called out, remembering they’d left the children with Jeron, “Oh god… I hope we didn’t scare them for being gone so long…”
Saari smiled, “I am sure Jeron took good care of them. Besides,” her smile grew, “He’s good with children. Much like you are.”
Sylus gave her the biggest grin. That was the highest compliment he could ever receive from anyone.
“Come,” Saari put her arm around his waist, “Let us return home.”
“We should get Cassidy taken care of…” Sylus sighed before realizing how selfish that sounded, “But I can go one more night no problem! Let’s go have a celebratory dinner and then home to bed because I’m bushed…” he forced a yawn.
Saari was already well aware that Sylus probably wouldn’t sleep tonight, but they’d already been through so much that any more would tax both of them too hard.
“Dinner and bed,” she replied, “That sounds nice.”
She leaned on his arm as they walked out of the Void Works with Quip not far behind.