Episode 0: What Lies Below.
Updated: Jul 9
A rusty blue pickup truck pulled up in front of a two-story home that sat alone in a sea of ash and sand. A pale face leaned out the window and looked it up and down.
"This really the place?" The driver asked as he compared a digital readout to a paper map.
The passenger leaned back inside. "The coordinates are right."
The driver leaned across the passenger to look out his window. "We took a middle-of-nowhere job?"
The passenger shrugged. "Money's money."
The driver leaned back. "And boy do we need it." He folded up the map and jammed it into the glovebox. "Alright." Before opening his door, he leaned into the backseat to retrieve a crystalline guitar. The body and strings were forged from violet crystal while the top of the frets was wood as if broken off from a traditional guitar. Stepping out of the vehicle, he reached back in for a plain brown bandana he used to hold back his long, cascading dreadlocks. He adjusted his olive green cargo pants a bit and tucked his tan tank top into them.
The truck lifted a bit on its suspension as the passenger stepped out. A massive hulk of a man stood up and adjusted every inch of his attire. Sleeves rolled down, pantseem straightened, buttons in a row, not a single wrinkle in his purple silk shirt. He reached back into the truck for a black vest and jacket that he effortlessly shrugged onto his shoulders.
The driver rounded the truck and watched a moment as his partner put himself together. It was a lot to look at in this heat, but he knew well enough that what they perceived as hot was very different. Once the passenger's jacket was on, a series of small holes appeared along the back.. They glowed a bit like portals and through them came a flurry of tentacles.
"You good?" The driver asked.
The passenger gave him a firm nod as he adjusted a purple and silver necktie.
They approached the house, wary of their surroundings. It was unusual for a job to take them so far out of the way from civilization. Ordinarily they'd be working for sanctuaries or outposts, not lone houses lost in the wastes.
The driver moved as if his feet barely touched the ground while the passenger lumbered along behind him with heavy footsteps that kicked up dust onto his pristine pant legs. As they went up the short flight of steps that lead to the front deck of the building, they paused in front of the door.
"Warded?" The driver asked.
"Not that I can tell." The passenger replied.
With a nod, the driver knocked on the door. "S & M Spawn Management. We're here on," he glanced at the pad in his hand, "work order number 492675 on behalf of a Katherine Iris." He caught the shiver that ran down his companion's spine. "It's just a name." He breathed gently.
They waited a long moment with no answer. The driver tried to peer into either of the flanking windows, but they were blocked by black-out curtains.
The driver knocked again. "This is Jeron Miles and I'm here with Sylus Synclaire on behalf of S & M Spawn Management. We have a work order to be here. Please respond."
Jeron exchanged glances with his companion. "Check the parameter, Sy."
With a nod, Sy vanished from sight.
Jeron lingered on the porch, knocking on the door again. "If anyone's in there, please respond."
Sy reappeared beside him. "All windows are blacked out. There's a back door but it's locked. Second story has no external access point."
"Hm." Jeron knocked one last time. "S & M Spawn Management. Unless someone responds, we'll be on our way."
Sure enough, no response came.
"Alright." Jeron sighed as he turned around. "This place is abandoned. We're done here." As he made his way back to the truck, the tablet in his hand chimed. Looking at it, he found an update to the work order. A message. He opened it. "Help". He turned back to Sy. "Get in there." He barked.
Without a word, Sylus vanished again.
Jeron slowly approached the door, his senses heightened. He could hear some heavy clicks coming from the other side of the door before it swung open revealing Sy standing off to the side. Jeron walked straight into darkness. With a frustrated grumble he threw open the curtains to allow some of natural light in. The dim light of day cast long shadows across the room. It was dated to say the least.
"Mid century." Sy reported. "Mid pre-void century." He scratched the stubble on his chin. "Mid-20th century, specifically."
Jeron nodded as he reached for a flashlight in one of his pockets. Clicking it on, they could make better sense of their surroundings. To the left of the door was a stairwell and the room around them was cluttered Floral furniture wrapped in plastic. The room was cluttered and filled with all kinds of small tchotchkes. Every surface was coated with a thick layer of ash and dust.
Sy moved deeper into the room to a table covered in picture frames. Scanning them, he noticed that the same set of faces appeared in many of the photographs. He picked one up and studied it carefully.
"Family of four." He said. "Two mothers, a daughter, and a son. Pre-void attire." He cleared his throat. "Looks like there was a town here at some point." He placed the photo back down.
Jeron stepped up beside him. "You okay, Sylus?"
"Hm?" He turned to Jeron. "Oh," he forced a laugh. "You know me. I'm fine."
Jeron placed a hand on his back. "We can go by Omikron next time we're back east."
"No." Sy snapped. "No no no no no."
"Think about it." Jeron patted him on the back before wandering away.
Moving around was difficult with how much clutter there was. A stack of newspapers sat beside one of the floral couches. Jeron approached it, lifting the top issue.
"It was apparently 130 degrees Fahrenheit here in 2786." He snorted as he dropped the paper back down.
Sylus craned his neck upward. "Did you hear that?"
Jeron turned to him. "Hm?" He looked up to the ceiling. Upon focusing, he could barely make out the sound of something moving around on the second floor.
"I'll go take a look."
Before Jeron could respond, Sylus disappeared.
He continued wandering around the first floor finding various things of mild interest but nothing to help with their job. Just as he was entering the kitchen, he heard a loud bang come from upstairs. It was followed by the sound of a struggle. Jeron rushed for the stairwell and practically flew up to the second floor, guitar drawn.
A blast of violet light came from one of the rooms.
"Sy?" He called out cautiously.
A disgruntled grunt was all he got in reply. Approaching the room, he found Sylus standing over a pile of pillows and blankets with his tentacles out in a flurry.
"It was animated." He said flatly as he relaxed his posture and a wisp of violet light trailed from his eyes.
Jeron slid his guitar behind his back as he moved past Sylus and dug through the pile. At the center of it all, he found a carved crystal. He handed it off to Sy who examined it carefully.
"Hm." He muttered as he turned the thing over in his hand. "Either a witch or an archon." He closed his fingers around it and squeezed until it was shattered into dust.
"Thoughts?" Jeron inquired.
"Qaitax is informing me that this may be beyond our ability."
Jeron scoffed. "He underestimates us."
"True." Sylus nodded. "But he's also very protective of our body, so perhaps we should consider his warning?"
Jeron sighed. "Let's just check the place over one last time."
The rest of the second floor was uneventful. Making their way back down, Jeron continued his sweep into the kitchen.
"There's a draft." Sylus spoke as he followed him inside.
Jeron followed his gaze to a retro refrigerator. Opening it, he found exactly what he was expecting: Nothing.
A few tendrils slithered up beside him and pushed the appliance to the side revealing a simple wooden door behind it. Jeron pinched his nose.
"This is too cliché." He groaned.
"Now's our chance to leave if we want."
Jeron turned to Sylus. "What do you think we should do?"
"You. Not Qaitax."
Sylus took a deep breath and held it in his chest before exhaling heavily. "If there's any chance we can help someone, we have to at least try."
Jeron nodded as he threw open the door and cast his flashlight beyond. It opened to a stairwell leading down into darkness. He turned back to Sylus with a skeptical grin.
Sylus placed a hand on his shoulder before pushing past.
"You sure you wanna go first, Sy?"
"It's best if I do in case something is waiting down there."
"If you insist." Jeron fell in step behind him.
The stairs were minimal slabs of wood that creaked with ever step Sylus took.
Jeron was uncertain, but he could have sworn the walls were starting to narrow around them. He watched Sylus carefully. His stature gradually began to hunch over and his shoulders rolled forward.
Jeron placed a hand on his back. "You okay, Sy?"
"Uh," he cleared his throat. "I hope so."
The hall grew tighter and tighter the further down they went. Sylus began to realize he was on the verge of getting stuck. His breath became strained as the tentacles beneath his skin began twitching in fear.
"We have to stop." Jeron barked. "Let's go back. There's nothing down there worth this."
Sylus turned to look over his shoulder when a scream pierced the silence. He closed his eyes tightly. "Jeron we-"
"We don't have to do this." Jeron breathed. "Qaitax said so himself. We're in over our heads. Let's go before things get worse."
"But if we can save someone..."
"It's not worth it!" Jeron hissed. "Let's head back while we still can."
Taking a deep breath, Sylus pressed on.
"Sylus if you get stuck-"
"I'll take my skin off. It's fine."
"It is NOT fine!" Jeron snapped. "You can't just be shedding your form off for some random job!"
As if in answer, another howling cry came from below.
"We have to try."
Jeron took him by the shoulder. "Is it the kid thing, Sy?"
"Those kids are probably long gone and from the sounds of it, there's no one left to save."
"Live to fight another day, right?"
"I-I can't. I have to find out."
Jeron released him as he continued downward.
The narrowing became more and more gradual, but it didn't stop. Just as Sylus was certain he would have to reduce his form to a pile of writhing tentacles, the walls opened up. He stumbled forward a bit, clutching at his chest. Jeron reached out and grabbed him by the hem of his jacket and pulled him back onto his feet.
"Jesus." Sylus breathed.
A brilliant white light cut through the darkness revealing that they were nearly at the bottom. Two walls and a concrete floor awaited them. It was clear the light was coming from somewhere to the right. But as sudden as it had come, it went out and darkness returned.
Sylus glanced over his shoulder.
Jeron turned off his flashlight and put it away. "Shall we, then?"
With a nod from Sylus, they jumped down the remaining stairs. Quick to their feet, Jeron brought his guitar to the front and Sylus unfurled his tentacles.
Jeron quickly played a tune that formed a ball of violet light before his instrument. With a wave of his hand, it drifted into the room, illuminating their immediate surroundings. Somehow the darkness beyond was thick enough to consume his light. With a scowl, he stepped forward, ready to play another chord.
A clawed hand slid into the light, dragging with it a mangled alien form. Big round eyes surrounded by tattered feathers, its face vaguely resembled a human, but was too far corrupted to still be one.
Jeron raised his hand to play the notes that would end the creature, but Sylus put a hand across his chest.
"Not yet." He murmured as he stepped forward into the light.
"You have come." The maimed creature croaked. "Our master knew you would."
"Are you Katherine Iris?" Sylus asked.
"Am I? Was I?" It reached out again with its claws, dragging itself further into the light.
Sylus stepped back.
"Oh good Lord." Jeron breathed.
Tattered remains followed the torso revealing the lower half of the creature was gone.
"I was, wasn't I?" It croaked. "Or was I?" It shook its head. "It is hard to remember sometimes..." It trailed off as it dragged itself forward again.
"What happened to you?" Sylus demanded. "Who is your patron?"
Its claws scraped across the pavement. "I do not know."
A second pair of yellow eyes lit up in the darkness. Towering spines slipped into the light and hovered just above the dying creature.
"Please." It squawked. "Do not let it take me again!"
The spines slammed down through its flesh, dragging it back into the darkness. A terrible screeching sound filled the air followed by a low sob, a snap and finally silence. A small ball of yellow light rose up from the floor.
"This one will serve the Watchers." The creature in the dark squawked.
Sylus' eyes burst alight with a brilliant violet glow as he lunged across the room, tentacles unfurled.
"Sylus!" Jeron called after him, but it was too late.
Shrill screeches and deep grunts came from the other side of the light. Jeron cast another orb and sent it toward the sound of the fight. Sylus was on the ground, leaning up on one arm while the other had become an unraveled weave of tendrils wrapped around the torso of a grotesque monstrosity. He had its long, spindly arms and tattered wings pinned to its body. Thin, gangly digitigrade legs dangled just off the ground. It's limbs tapered out into sharp talons it tried to use to slash at Sylus' tendrils. Instead all it could manage were superficial cuts.
"Tougher than you think, eh?" Sylus tightened his grip. "End it Jeron!"
With a nod, Jeron began playing an aggressive tune. The creature shrieked and squawked and scratched at Sylus' grip.
"I'm losing it!" Sylus snarled.
"Almost... There..." Jeron struck one last booming note. A wave of crackling electricity shot across the room and straight into the creature's head, tearing it from its shoulders. The writhing didn't stop, though. With the force of the blast, it managed to loosen Sylus' grip just enough to slip a taloned hand free, tearing his tendrils as it went. Sylus cried out with an inhuman roar as he fell onto his back.
Jeron quickly conjured another spell in an attempt to restrain it. The ash around them formed into crystalline hooks and chains before shooting across the room. They wrapped themselves around the creature, dragging it to the floor.
Sylus scrambled on top of the thing. Forming his remaining arm tendrils into a fleshy blade, he struck down fast and hard into its chest. It gurgled and screeched in response as a yellow fluid poured from its decapitated neck. It writhed and shook as Sylus tore through its flesh until it finally fell still. Lifting his blade out of it one last time, he shook off the liquid before allowing it to reform into the vague shape of a human arm. With a heavy sigh, he stood up and staggered back. Jeron reached out to catch him.
"An archon." Sylus breathed as he turned to face him. "We killed an archon."
"A-any idea who their Lord was?" Jeron slung his damaged arm over his shoulders.
A clawed hand twitched as it laid on the floor. Sylus reshaped his blade as he readied himself to lunge for it. His hesitation gave it just long enough to grasp at the yellow light that floated nearby. It slammed the orb into its chest and in a flash of light, its wounds were healed and its head was back on its shoulders.
Sylus lunged for the creature as Jeron tried to summon his chains again.
"Weak." It squawked as it vanished in a flurry of xanthous feathers.
Jeron's chains wrapped around Sylus' body sending him to the floor with an unceremonious thud.
"Shit!" He hissed as he played another song to return them to their ashen origins. "Sylus!" He knelt down beside him. "You okay?"
Sylus groaned as he leaned up on one hand, shaking the other out until the blade reformed into fingers.
Jeron took him by his good arm and helped him to his feet. "Shit, I'm sorry, Sy."
"I-I'm fine." He grumbled. "Just," he groaned, "a bruised ego."
"And a pretty messed up arm." Jeron examined the wound. "Here." He sat Sylus down and crouched beside him. His fingers danced across the strings of his crystalline guitar playing a mournful song of distant hope. A gentle aura of light moved between the instrument and Sylus' injury. The smallest fibers of his tentacles began lashing together, sealing his wound shut. Sylus closed his eyes as he hummed along with the somber tune. The light grew more intense until it encompassed his entire arm. Jeron played the last few notes with reverence as the light faded. Sylus flexed his arm with a smile. Jeron leaned in and kissed him gently on the forehead.
"Let's get you out of here." Jeron breathed as he began leading Sylus back upstairs.
The trip up had been much easier than down. The trip was shorter and there were no walls around them the entire way.
"Here." Jeron sat him down in the passenger seat of the truck. "I'm gonna go back in and see if I can find anything of value to pawn off."
"Scavengers, now, are we?" Sylus chuckled.
"Certainly not above it. I'll be right back." Jeron tapped the roof before heading back inside.
Scanning around the first floor, there appeared to be nothing of value. Sentimental values to someone long gone, perhaps, but monetary? Unless they could haul out and find a buyer for mid 20th century furniture, it looked like they were out of luck. With a defeated sigh, Jeron turned around to leave. As he did, he spotted something on a table just inside the door. A wallet. Shame and embarrassment filled him as he picked it up and sifted through the contents. Cash and cards. Active cards. Whoever owned this had been very much alive very recently. He held the wallet in his hands for a long moment, staring into it. A sanctuary permit sat in the driver's license window. Katherine Iris gazed back at him. The distorted face they'd seen in the basement barely resembled who she once was. Short brown hair, piercing green eyes, sharp smile. Jeron closed his eyes as he slid her ID out of the wallet and put it down on the table.
Sylus sat in the car aching from head to toe. The fibers of his attire were already on the mend and thanks to Jeron's magic his body was well on his way to recovery. He sloughed off the jacket and vest and tossed them into the back seat. It wasn't like him to be so careless with his clothing, but his mood had deeply soured. He rolled up the sleeves on his purple silk shirt and leaned on the window sill. He greatly doubted Jeron would find anything of use in that dingy hell hole. He sighed as he reached into his pants pocket and withdrew a photo of his own. It was from a time long past. Before the Void. Before the world had pretty much come to an end. A boy, no older than ten or so, sat on a concrete stoop outside a brick townhouse. Disheveled blonde hair rested scattered around tired blue eyes. He smiled though. Sylus smiled in return.
"I miss you, Kiddo." He breathed as he ran his thumb over the photograph. "Someday." He breathed. "Maybe."
"Hey." Jeron said as he approached the truck. He leaned on the window and held up the wallet. "It's loaded."
Sylus shook his head as he rested the photo in his lap. "She won't be needing it anymore, will she?" He replied somberly.
"That's what I figure."
Sylus shook his head as he slipped the photograph back into his pocket. "Let's go, then."
Without another word, Jeron put his guitar in the back and got behind the wheel. They pulled back out onto the road in silence.
"I'd like to get cleaned up." Sylus muttered. Yellow stains speckled his pale skin.
"We'll find a place." Jeron replied.
"Hm." Sylus turned to look out the window.
Silence was just beginning to set in when Jeron spoke up again.
"What did we see in there, Sy?"
"An archon with what appeared to be an unwitting thrall." Sylus looked down at his hands in his lap.
"Wonder how long she was like that..."
"Long enough to start forgetting herself, but not long enough to forget she was someone else at some point." Sylus clenched his fists.
"Who's archon do you suppose it was?" Jeron pressed.
Sylus craned his head back against the headrest of his seat. "Qaitax knows."
"He's not telling me."
Jeron scoffed. "And why not?"
"He's afraid of what that kind of information'll open us up to."
"Isn't it better if we know?"
"He thinks not."
"Alright. Fine." Jeron spat. "Then when is the right time?"
Sylus rolled his head from side to side. "I don't know, Jeron, and I'd really rather not pick a fight right now."
Jeron shook his head. "I know, I know. I'm sorry, Sy."
"Don't be. I know it's frustrating."
Jeron reached over and placed a hand on the larger man's thigh, squeezing it gently.
"Vegas isn't far." Sylus muttered.
"Indeed it isn't." Jeron returned his hand to the wheel. "Fancy some neon lights and all-you-can-eat buffets?"
"You know me," Sylus chuckled, "that's all I ever want."
"What about a comfy bed and a bath?"
"With you?" Sylus gave him a wry smile.
"Of course." Jeron smirked.
"That's what I thought." Jeron chuckled. "To Vegas then."
Sylus smiled. "To Vegas."