After they had all sat down for a nice breakfast at home, the children ran back to their rooms. Sylus retrieved the Book of Bahn from beneath the couch. The cover was a leathery material stained red, but it wasn’t completely red. It looked as though the coloring had been splattered on. Sylus tried not to read too deeply into that. On the cover was what looked like a planet and wording of a language he didn’t understand.
“It is Bahn,” Qaitax said aloud.
“Can you read it?” Sylus replied.
“With some time and effort… perhaps… My knowledge of mortal languages is severely lacking…”
“See what you can do,” Sylus requsted.
Saari approached from behind. Sylus turned to show her the book. She couldn’t truly see it, but it radiated an ill-feeling. It was as though Sylus was holding a spot where light could not go. It stood out boldly in its emptiness.
“This book is as terrible as Haurex suggested,” she muttered, “It consumes the very light around it.”
“Do we really think giving this to Cassidy is a good idea?” Sylus sighed.
“There’s nothing I can’t handle,” Cassidy stood at the top of the stairs. She pulled a pose of confidence, but it was clear by the look in her eyes that she was less than certain.
“Cassidy…” Sylus slowly lowered the book.
“I don’t want to be alone anymore,” she began wringing her hands together, “I’ve been alone for so long… I miss you guys when you’re gone… You’re… You’re the closest thing to family I have… I… I want to stay here and not hurt you anymore…”
“What about your parents?” Saari asked gently.
“What about them?” Cassidy scoffed, “I don’t even know what they look like… The only way they talk to me is in letters they leave on the table. I never see them… I never hear them… They come and go and never say a word to me…” Cassidy was growing increasingly upset, “I don’t care if they never see me again! They never saw me before! I don’t even know them!”
“Cassidy is family, Dad,” Daniel came out of his room and stood beside her.
Sylus turned to Saari. They both turned to the book.
“We don’t know how dangerous this could be, Cassidy…” Sylus sighed.
“I’ll take my chances,” Cassidy stepped down the three short steps with much emphasis.
“Cassidy…” Saari sighed, “If you are certain…” Cassidy nodded firmly, “Then we will take you to Brother Johl. Should anything go wrong, or you feel unwell, we will stop the process immediately.”
Cassidy bit her lip.
“Don’t worry, Cass,” Sylus smiled broadly, “If he does anything even remotely uncouth, he knows what’ll happen to him.”
Cassidy found the strength to smile.
“Hey Cass…” Daniel shrunk back behind her, “I-is it okay if I stay here?”
“Of course!” She smiled more sincerely, “After last time…” her mind wandered a bit before she decided it was best to not address it again, “I’ll be back soon!”
Daniel turned to his father. Sylus knew well enough that Daniel was petrified of ever going back there. He also knew well enough, that he was part of the reason…
“You’ll be alright alone for a bit?” he winced a bit.
“Sure! Mom used to leave me home alone all the time!” Daniel quickly realized that particular answer wasn’t the best support of his argument. He saw his father’s entire demeanor sag. He was quick to offer real assurance, “I-I mean… Um… I’ll be okay. Don’t worry! We have food and water and snacks and milk and power and video games!”
Sylus laughed weakly, “I believe you, Dan. See ya later then?”
Daniel ran up to his father and hugged him tightly, “See ya later…”
Sylus lifted him off the ground and squeezed him tightly before placing him back on the ground.
“You’re the man of the house, Dan. Invite Quip in if you want…”
“QUIP CAN COME IN!” Daniel shouted.
“FOR NO!” Sylus replied, but it was too late.
Daniel had pushed past them. He stood outside on the porch calling for Quip who came bounding across the yard. Daniel invited him in, but he remained just outside the door glancing up at Sylus.
“He won’t come in unless you say he can,” Daniel turned to his father.
Sylus gave a short laugh, “You can come in, Quip. I don’t want Daniel to be by himself.”
With a curt nod, Quip stepped into the house.
Daniel immediately invited the voidspawn onto the couch. Quip was quick to comply. Sylus fought the urge to discourage the gaunt on the couch, but then again… There sat Mr. Skitzel on the arm rest giving zero cares about the alien creature that had just entered his home. Sylus sighed in defeat.
“We’ll be back soon!” He called back into the house as the three of them stepped out.
“Okay!” Daniel called after them.
Sylus could hear his son trying to introduce Mr. Skitzel to Quip. He glanced in the window to find the mighty gaunt cowering away from the domesticated feline. Sylus laughed to himself before continuing on his way.
Sylus slammed the book down on the table just inside Brother Johl’s hovel.
“There it is. The Book of Bahn. Now, do as you promised or you will never see the sunrise again,” Sylus was quick to assert his control over the situation.
“You brought the girl?” Brother Johl replied as he sat up from his reclined state in a dirty red chair.
Sylus stepped aside to reveal Saari holding on to Cassidy by her shoulders.
Brother Johl smiled.
“I missed you, little one,” his tone was uncomfortably soft.
Sylus was quick to react by wrapping a tendril around his neck, “Don’t. You. Dare.”
Brother Johl forced a chuckle. Sylus’ grip tightened.
“Kill me and you can figure these ancient magics out on your own. Good luck!” he was barely able to squeeze the words out of his air restricted lungs.
With a snarl, Sylus released him.
“Not even your Voidlord could help you with the words of long dead mortals,” Brother Johl laughed, “Now, on to the topic at hand.”
Brother Johl retrieved another book that he placed down beside the Book of Bahn.
“These are the sister tomes. The one I have provided contains a more plain text, yet overly simplistic explanation of the purpose the Book of Bahn serves. This is the book that lead me to this more… encrypted tome’s existence. Now,” he opened the Book of Bahn. He cried out as he was forced to look away. “I cannot… see what it contains… Perhaps… The Voidlord?” he pushed the book toward Sylus.
The pages were clear enough to him. Incredibly intricate designs born of circles, lines, and symbols he couldn’t quite understand.
“You are looking for something that resembles this,” Brother Johl opened the second book to an earmarked page. Within those pages were the pictures he had taken of Cassidy’s back. Sylus was quick to retrieve them while he wasn’t looking. They felt… Soft… Sylus visibly cringed.
Having no trouble handling the Book of Bahn, Sylus took it into his hands. There were so many sigils that closely resembled the one he was looking for but it took a while to locate the one that matched exactly. All the while, Brother Johl stared smiling at Cassidy, trying to start a conversation while she refused to respond to him in any way.
“Here,” he placed the book down next to the accompanying tome.
Brother Johl begrudgingly returned his attention to it. For a moment, he struggled to focus on the page. His eyes kept darting about and closing tightly. Eventually he turned to Cassidy.
“May I see your back, my dear?” his grin was the least comforting thing anyone could ever want to see.
Cassidy turned nervously to Saari who knelt down in front of her. Closing her eyes, Cassidy lifted her shirt. Taking the Book of Bahn into his gnarled fingers, Brother Johl studied the two sigils.
“Yes… Yes indeed… This is the one… Unfortunately,” he leaned back into his filthy chair, “This will require an alteration of the branding via, well, more branding. Is this something you feel you can endure, little one?”
Cassidy glanced between Sylus and Saari.
“You don’t have to do this, Cass,” Sylus smiled at her.
She shook her head, “I do. I want to…”
Sylus nodded to her.
“Can you stay here like this, Saari?” Cassidy asked weakly.
“Of course, Cassidy. I will remain right where I am. If you need to squeeze my arms, you may. I know this will not be a pleasant experience…” Saari tried her best to retain her strong composure.
“If you want to stop, just say so and we’ll make sure it stops,” Sylus added.
Cassidy nodded to him.
“Then I shall retrieve my kit,” Brother Johl sighed as he went to the back of the barn
It took him a while to return.
“Why can’t her hurry up…” Cassidy was almost in tears, “I don’t like waiting…”
Saari looked up to Sylus who turned to the dark recesses of the barn.
“Here we are,” Brother Johl’s voice echoed from the depths as he trudged back to the front, “Here we are!” He pulled a stool out and sat down right behind Cassidy. He placed a candle on a table beside him and leaned a short metal rod that was vaguely shaped like a pencil tip into it. “Gotta get it cooking,” he explained.
Leaning forwards, he began tracing the marks he’d make with an inked quill. Sylus was quick to step up right behind him. Feeling his closeness, Brother Johl sat upright, the back of his head hitting Sylus stomach.
“A reminder,” Sylus smiled down at him.
Brother Johl cringed, “A few steps back, if you would? I need room to perform my art.”
Sylus took one step back and moved no further.
Brother Johl snarled a bit as he returned to his work.
The feeling of the quill almost tickled, but Cassidy wouldn’t let it get to her. She wouldn’t let that freak hear her laugh or even stifle one. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to treat the feeling as though it was pain. After a few long moments, Brother Johl sat back.
“That should do it,” he sighed as he put the quill away down beside him, “Now,” he put a glove on his hand before reaching for the hot brand, “It would be an understatement to say ‘this will hurt’, but that’s the best warning I can give. Do try to hold still, will you?”
Cassidy nodded slowly as she bit down on her lip.
Brother Johl wasted no time putting the metal to her flesh. He grinned every time the hot iron touched her skin. Cassidy couldn’t help but cry out in pain. Tears flowed from her tightly clenched eyes. Saari moved closer to her, pressing Cassidy’s head into her chest. She could feel the child trying not to shake uncontrollably. She looked up to Sylus who stood behind Brother Johl with a look of pained concern on his face. Saari ran her fingers through Cassidy’s wild hair.
“It is okay, Cassidy,” Saari cooed into her ear, “It is okay…”
Cassidy managed to nod.
Brother Johl would have to pause every so often to reheat the brand all the while Cassidy was struggling not to tell him to stop. Each time the freshly heated brand made contact with her flesh, she cried out. Over time, the pain would numb down, but it was still almost too much to bear.
After what seemed like an eternity in hell, Brother Johl leaned back. He glanced between the Book of Bahn and Cassidy’s back. He took the tome up into his hand and leaned in closely. He seemed to be studying every minute detail.
“Ah!” he announced before grabbing the brand one last time. After a few small strokes, the Mist filled the room. It was almost instant.
“Well it appears I’ve at least broken the original branding. Let us see if I have bestowed upon our little firebrand the powers I intended to. Here,” he closed the Book of Bahn and offered it to Cassidy.
She could barely turn away from Saari. Her back was in such pain that any movement at all was harrowing. She looked between the book and Brother Johl. He smiled his uncomfortable smile as he motioned for her to take it. She hissed in pain as she moved her arm to retrieve it.
“Open it,” Brother Johl’s eagerness to see the results of his work was clear in his voice.
With a slow nod, Cassidy opened the book. Her gaze was locked. She completely pulled away from Saari and began flipping through the pages.
“I-It’s beautiful…” she breathed, “It’s like… I can hear them…”
Brother Johl sat back in his chair with a satisfied grin on his face.
“I know nothing of the dangers of that book,” Brother Johl smiled through his cocky grin, “All I can suggest is that you try not to lose yourself to it, little one…”
“Don’t. Call. Me. That!” Cassidy bellowed as she turned to a very specific page in the book. In a matter of seconds she’d managed to take up the inked quill and draw a sigil on Brother Johl’s bald head. He was silent. His eyes bulging out of his head. Cassidy examined the quill. “I like this,” she reached for the inkwell, “I’ll take them both. Thank you, Brother Johl,” she bowed curtly.
Brother Johl found himself unable to respond.
Sylus laughed uncontrollably, “OH HOW THE TABLES HAVE TURNED!” he slapped Brother Johl on the shoulder, “Oh what must it be like, Brother, to be bested by the vulnerable you’d usually prey upon?” he stepped in front of Brother Johl, “Can’t feel that great, can it?”
“If I understand this correctly, he is paralyzed for twenty-four hours. The text specifically reads, ‘exactly one local solar cycle from the time of casting’. I’d take that to mean a day,” Cassidy closed the book.
Sylus was grinning uncontrollably.
“If you want to eat him, now’s the time. He can’t fight back,” Cassidy turned to Saari, “I’m sorry I got tears all over your shirt…”
“Oh, my dear, please do not worry about that,” Cassidy smiled, “How is your back feeling?”
“It stings a bit still, but nothing like what I expected… It’s already starting to feel better!” Cassidy beamed with pride.
“Should we eat him, Qai?” Sylus stood before the immobilized Brother Johl.
“You know what my answer is these situations…”
“Has he spent his usefulness?” he turned to Saari.
“Perhaps…” she said slowly.
“Hmm… But should I…” Sylus knelt down to be at eye level with Brother Johl, “Should I eat you, Brother? Or should I leave you be in your squallor?”
“I can read all the books now,” Cassidy mentioned as a supporting point, “This book taught me how to read almost anything!”
“Then what usefulness do you have left, Brother?” Sylus grinned menacingly at him.
Unable to reply in any form, Brother Johl was left helpless in his rancid old chair.
“Or,” Sylus stood up with a groan, “I could just leave you here to rot.”
This is entirely unfair. Why even ask me if you aren’t going to listen to me?
Qai, Qai… Listen to me. It’s more fun when they squirm, no?
Qaitax gave a solid impression of understanging and approval.
Saari stood up with a smile.
“Are you feeling well enough to walk home?” she asked gently as they stepped out of the barn.
“I actually feel great!” Cassidy cried out, “I can’t wait to show Daniel all the cool stuff I can do now!”
“He might be jealous,” Sylus laughed.
“Nah. He can talk to Quip. I can’t do that…”
“Y-you knew about that?” Sylus was caught off guard.
Cassidy nodded, “He told me a while ago that he can talk to Void creatures. Sometimes they don’t answer clearly, but he said he’s learning how to talk to them better. He says Quip is a really good boy who always says nice things about the rest of us.”
“I-How… How had I have never noticed that…” Sylus felt ashamed that he’d never seen this side of his son.
“He… He hid it from you… He was afraid you’d be upset…”
“Why would I be!?” Sylus cried out.
“Because… He thinks it happened because he spent his whole life in the Mist… He didn’t want you to feel guilty for leaving him here where he picked up weird super powers,” Cassidy suddenly realized she was crossing a barrier by disclosing all of this, “Please don’t tell him I told you… He told me to keep it a secret… Don’t be mad, please?”
“Mad?” Sylus laughed, “How can I be? I’m just sorry he had to tell me and I never noticed…” he sighed heavily, “I’m a cruddy parent, aren’t I?”
Cassidy shook her head, “He was just worried he picked a bad time to tell you. He also said the voices have been more clear since he visited the works. He said they were mumbles and mutterings before, but now they form actual words.”
Sylus couldn’t wait to sit down with Daniel and talk about everything with him. He knew he’d cut him short at the Works, but time was of the essence… He tried to shake his disappointment in himself for not taking the time to really listen. There was time to do that now. Time he’d use wisely with both of his children.
Cassidy smiled. She was the happiest she’d been in a long time.
She suddenly became acutely aware of the world around her feeling cooler than it had before. It took her a moment to process that she was standing in the Mist. It was no longer parting for her. She could finally go home to the Synclaire’s without hurting anyone…
“NOW I CAN GO HOME WITH YOU AND NEVER LEAVE AGAIN!” she cried out.
Sylus laughed heartily, “I guess we’re stuck with you, then, aren’t we?”
“FOREVER!” Cassidy bellowed at the top of her lungs.
“What if her parents return?” Saari whispered into Sylus’ ear.
“We’ll deal with that if and/or when the time comes. There’ll be some questions they’ll have to answer before I even THINK of letting them take her back,” he whispered back.
“Let’s go get Daniel and Quip and go to the Diner! I want to show Jer, too!” Cassidy began marching toward home, Sylus and Saari in tow.