Updated: Jun 30
Sylus seemed a bit more relaxed in the elevator as we made our way up to the ball room. He still fidgeted a bit, but it was a far cry from last night. When the doors slid open, he stepped out pretty normally.
“Feeling better, then?” I nudged him lightly.
“Good morning!” Madame Telvas emerged from across the hall in another emerald dress that this time cut off just above her knees. It had ruffled layers trimmed with gold. She wore the same hat as last night. She approached us with her arms outstretched. “Welcome welcome!”
“Good morning.” I bowed my head.
Sylus did the same without a word.
“Came prepared, I see.” She motioned to the guitar strap across my chest.
“Is that a problem?” I cocked a brow.
“Not at all. I would do the same. Now then. This way please.” She motioned for us to follow her.
“I thought we were supposed to be meeting Samuel.” I said.
“Oh he’s busy orchestrating your meals. Come come. I’ll take you into the dining hall.”
We followed her through the door on the far side of the ball room and down a hall. She opened a door on the right revealing a room that consisted primarily of a long table lined with chairs. The furniture was all a matching shade of wood with gold trim. The rest of the room mimicked the gold deco style of the rest of the building. Green tapestries included.
“Sit wherever you like.”
Sylus and I took the two most immediate chairs from the entrance.
Telvas made her way around the table. She moved so gracefully that it was like her feet didn’t even touch the ground. She sat down in a chair across from us and leaned on the table with her elbows, steepling her fingers beneath her chin.
“I hope your accommodations were to your liking.”
“On to business then?” I pulled my chair in and folded my hands on the table.
“After breakfast.” She smiled.
“How did you know I was a spawn?” Sylus blurted out.
“Oh, yes, well, I know you were trying to hide it, but I’m afraid I have my ways and while you made a valiant effort, there was no way you could fly under my radar.”
“And what are your ways?” Sylus sneered.
She leaned back in her chair with a smile. “I’m sure you’ve noticed Stratica is home to both humans and spawns.”
“Samuel told us as much.” I replied.
She nodded. “I make it my job to know who is residing within my sanctuary. I’ve grown adept at understanding the myriad of nuances that come with spawns existing as humans. I have to know how to care for my people. All of them. So as I said,” she looked Sylus dead in the eyes, “I have my ways.”
He glared at her.
“But if it would make you feel more comfortable,” she continued, “feel free to keep your guise up in public. No one will notice, honestly. You pass for human very well, Mr. Synclaire.”
His glare deepened.
“Ah!” She sat up in her chair. “Food has arrived!”
A very full plate of hash and eggs was placed before me alone with a plate piled with bread and a jar of fresh jam. I watched as two people lifted a ham hock off a trolly and set it down in front of Sylus. Telvas, on the other hand, had a bow overflowing with fruits. Several pitchers of water were placed on the table.
“Dig in boys!” She chimed as she began poking at her meal.
I dug in immediately. I had no idea I was that hungry, but apparently I inhaled the entire dish in a matter of minutes and then proceeded to chug an entire pitcher of water on my own. Once I was finally finished I turned to find Sylus’ plate empty as he sipped from a glass of water.
“How was it?” I poked his side.
“I’m pleased to hear as much.” Telvas replied as she popped one last grape in her mouth.
A flurry of people came through and removed all the plates and replaced the empty pitchers with fresh ones.
Telvas leaned on the table. “On to business then?”
We both turned our attention to her.
“As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Stratica is a bit of a unique sanctuary. Our exports afford us a certain level of comfort many would struggle to match. One could argue we won the lottery when it came to location. But that’s not all that makes us the prosperous sanctuary you see around you. We have an entire subterranean farming system that supplies plenty of food for all of our people.”
I raised a brow. “Where did you manage to get the DNA for crops and animals?”
“We bartered for them. Specifically with Auburnia. We furnished them with tools and tech they needed and in return we received live specimens as well as DNA for reproduction purposes. Anyway,” she continued. “We recently had an incident that’s begun causing issues with our supply line.”
“And that is?” I was growing impatient.
“Wild spawns have found their way down into our farms and several of my people perished as a result.”
I leaned back in my chair.
“For now, I would like the two of you to visit Sub-Stratica and speak to Yulia Grange, the manager of the system. I then want you to go down and investigate the spawn entry point.”
“It’s not like wild spawns to force their way into a sanctuary.” Sylus mused aloud. “The magic tends to keep them out no matter how low they try to dig in.”
“Precisely. Which is why I called for help. Though our invasions have been small in scale, the fact that they are happening at all is deeply concerning.”
Sylus scratched his chin in thought.
“Is there something you’d like to say, Mr. Synclaire?”
“Not yet.” He replied slowly. “I’ll have to get a better picture of the situation before I can make any comments about it.”
Telvas nodded. “Samuel will escort you to a changing room where you can get into your uniforms.”
“Uniforms?” I snorted. “We don’t work for Stratica.”
“As long as you’re here under my request you do.”
I glared at her.
“Now. Off you go.” She flicked her wrist at us. “Samuel will return you once you’ve changed and I’ll equip you with your tools for the job.”
Turning around we found Samuel standing in the doorway. Sylus and I exchanged glances before following him.
He lead us into yet another green and gold changing room. Hanging on a rack before us was a pair of jumpsuits. Not my taste, but I knew the second I laid eyes on them that Sylus was going to have some kind of visceral reaction. Sure enough when I turned to him, he was biting his lip holding back what I was sure would be some kind of mortified scream.
“I’ll be waiting outside. Join me when you are done changing. Leave your current clothes on the table and they will be laundered and returned to your room.” With a bow, Samuel stepped out and closed the door behind him.
Sylus took a deep breath.
“It’s not that bad, Sy.” I picked up the smaller suit.
It was a very dark, muted grey material with a single zipper up the front and no fly to be seen. On the back was a rather large patch of a minimalist rendition of the skyline of Stratica with the words “Prosper All or Prosper None” written around it. The buildings were green, the sky was purple, and the lettering was gold. Garish as hell. The accompanying knee-high leather boots weren’t so bad though.
I turned to Sylus holding the suit under my chin. “It’s pretty sterile but not bad. I wouldn’t wear it if I had the choice, but it doesn’t look like we do.”
He was still frozen in place with his hands clenched at his sides.
“Come on, Sy. Neither of us like this. Just put it on so we can get to work and get out of here.”
Sighing, he finally took the larger suit off the rack.
“I don’t want to be seen in this.” He grumbled. “I need form and fit, not a sack of cloth.”
“Just go with it, Sy. We’ll probably never see any of these people again once the job is done.”
Once we were changed, we stood in front of the mirror.
“God we look terrible.” I laughed.
“So before we head out, is there anything I should know?”
“Telvas seemed to think you knew something. Is this something I should know?”
He exhaled deeply. “Sadly, I can’t say much about it.”
“It’s for your own safety. Once I have a more solid understanding of the situation, I’ll let you know, but until then, I’d be needlessly putting you in harm's way for a hunch.”
“You know I can handle myself, Sy.”
“I know. I don’t doubt your ability, but if this is what Qaitax thinks it is, we’re up against something we’ve never faced before.”
I glared at him. “Then shouldn’t you tell me so I know what it is rather than be surprised?”
He faced me fully. “Here’s the thing, Jeron. If I tell you anything about it, it opens you up to attack. Until I’m 100% certain, I won’t run that risk.”
“But you will tell me, right?”
He shrugged. “As dangerous as it would be, I’d have to. We’re partners. You’d have to know what we’re dealing with.”
“Fine. But I expect to know before Telvas, got it?”
“Oh you will.” He chuckled.
For a brief moment I considered using our conduit to scan his thoughts, but he’d know I was in there poking around. I didn’t want to betray his trust like that so I just accepted that he’d tell me when the time came. Until then, I’d leave it alone.
I watched in silence as Sylus’ tentacles wiggled through the fabric of his jumpsuit. They never left any holes or tears and it took me years to figure out he was poking tiny holes in the Void to let his tendrils pass through his clothes. It never ceased to amaze me.
“All set?” I said as I slipped my guitar strap over my head.
Sylus nodded in reply.