"Athos. Athoooos. Athooooooooooooo—"
"Good morning, Athel." The boy of seventeen murmured this, knowing very well that the girl on the other side of the door couldn't hear him. He lifted the arm that had been resting over his eyes during the night and stared at the closed barrier for a moment before sliding himself out from the sorry excuse for a blanket. The thing was ratted and filled with holes, just like everything else that he and his sister were given to live off of. Their clothes were the only decent things that they owned, and even then they only had an outfit or two for themselves.
"I brought your lunch!" When he opened the door, the girl behind it smiled and held out a sandwich filled with a meat of some sort toward the boy. Her hair was blonde, just like his, but fell down to the middle of her back in a mess of waves. Out from her hair poked a set of four tannish horns, ones that matched those of her brother. A tail of the same color swayed carelessly behind her as she tilted her head to the side, blonde bangs falling past a set of three gems on her forehead.
"Lunch?" The boy's own tail hung down behind his legs as he leaned against the door frame and allowed a sleepy yawn to escape his lips. "You mean breakfast."
"Nope! Lunch!" Stepping around Athos and into the room, Athel plopped herself onto the edge of the bed and set the plate beside her. "The mistresses left to gather some potion ingredients, I think. They said that it wasn't something we could help with." She kicked her legs against the side of the bed while she watched her brother. "Why do you still look so tired? Didn't you sleep last night?"
"Yeah. I guess they just overworked me last night." He continued to lean against the door frame, facing out into the hall with an almost lost look on his face. Covering up what their summoners had been putting him through was proving more and more stressful every time he spoke to the girl. He hated having to lie to her. He worked to place a convincing smile on his face before turning and closing the door behind him. "I'll try to go to bed earlier tonight, okay?"
"Yeah." Another word that made him want to vomit at that moment. He didn't sleep. Not often enough, anyway. When he did, he was screaming through the night thanks to inevitable nightmares. He was just thankful that Athel's room was on the other end of the… well, not quite a 'house.' The place that they called home was nothing but an excavated cavern with a few unstable walls and doors. It was just barely kept safe from the polluted that flooded what used to be East Haven. The siblings' rooms were by far the least impressive parts of the shelter. They were only servants, after all.
"Well, come on, eat. I brought you something to drink, too." Bouncing a little where she sat, Athel retrieved a small bottle from her dress pocket.
Athos paused on his way to the bed to eye the mysterious, amber liquid. "What is that?" Upon closer inspection, he could see specks of ruby floating around inside. "Did you take that from the witches' stash? Athel, you know we can't go near the potions without orders."
"This has been sitting around in there for ages! Ever since they summoned us, I remember seeing this bottle just sitting there on its own. They haven't used it yet, so I doubt they will. Besides, those nasty witches don't have use for something like this, anyway." Smile shining ever brighter, Athel hopped up from the bed and held the bottle out toward her brother. "The label says that it will make a person's dreams come true for a few minutes! Not dreams like goals, but you're actual dreams!" She brought the bottle back toward herself and lifted the tiny label hanging by a string around the cork at the top. "You're always telling me about your dreams. About East Haven being this beautiful wonderland, free of any mean old demon witches. I want to see it for myself, Athos. We can finally see it, and even feel it!" She removed the cork from the bottle and stepped toward him. "Even if it's only for a few minutes… Athos, this could be our only chance to have something nice."
He'd stopped listening the moment that she uncorked the bottle. "Cover it back up!" He wasn't going to let her know. He couldn't let her know that all of those dreams were just made up stories to keep her from knowing the truth. "You don't know how that potion works! What if it's not meant to be drunk? What if it's just—"
A reddish gold gas began to rise from the bottle's opening and filled the room. The two of them stepped back, Athel bumping against the bed and letting the glass container slip from her fingers as a result. The bottle rolled toward Athos, stopping at his feet and spilling all of its contents on the floor.
"Athel? Athel! Get out of here!" He could barely see her through the haze, which was just as thick as the fog covering the sector outside of the cavern.
"I can't see!"
"Hold on, I'm coming for you!" But before he could take more than a step, the fog was already beginning to clear. The sight that the smoke revealed wasn't that of the room they had been standing in, though. Instead, the two were staring into an exact replica of their mistresses' lair. It was a magical laboratory, of sorts. A section of the cavern had been cleared out and set up for the demons to practice their rituals without disturbances as needed. Something about it looked different from usual, though. Everything was shaking, and a heavy breathing could be heard throughout the place.
"Athel?" He couldn't see his sister anymore. All he was seeing was the familiar sight before him. The potion was doing its job. This was a dream that he'd experienced all too many nights in a row. A nightmare. A memory.
"Athel! Close your eyes! Can you hear me? Don't watch!" There was no response. The scene just continued to play out. He could hear his own yell filling the room as the view was distorted. The version of Athos that they were seeing the memory through was shoved back onto a table, and the sound of rattling chains implied that he was being forced to remain there. Before him stood three women, all of their faces wrinkled with age and glowering down at the boy.
"Years, and still no progress."
"Maybe it's those polluted mutations of his. We shouldn't have sent him out there to fight them. This could ruin everything."
"No, it has to work. It WILL work! We just need to push him further."
"He has to be the answer! It has to be him!"
"Soon we'll be able to see our master!
Another scream filled the air, and more followed after that. Athos bit down on his lip as he watched, fearing for how his sister was reacting to seeing this.
She never had a clue. He'd hid it from her all these years. The demons had given him and his sister life for the sake of awakening some 'ultimate nightmare' being. They always described it as some great demon that would put an end to the polluted and give them eternal life, but he knew well enough that it was all made up. The three were insane, they always were. Delusional. And he'd been tortured for years to feed their wasted efforts.
"Please, be over… Stop it…." He murmured as he watched the entire scene ripple in the air around him, but it wasn't over. The location shifted to his bedroom again, but he could see himself standing in before a shattered mirror. In his reflection was himself, stripped down completely and covered from the chest down in bruises, slashes, burns, and gashes that continued to ooze with his blackish blood. The smoke from the level three mutations on his neck and wrist was slowly filling the room as he watched his reflection, and soon everything went back.
The torture, the after math, the pained screams that Athel had never managed to hear were cycling one after another until the visions finally came to an end. When they did, all he could see was his horrified sister standing before his bed, eyes wide and frozen with fear from the events that she'd just witnessed.
"Athel, I…" His breath shaky, Athos took a step toward his sister, only to be blown back by an unknown force. His back collided with the wall in a loud CRACK, and the smoke from his mutations began seeping out and filling the room for real this time. The boy murmured a low curse and looked up at his sister from the ground where he now sat, but his sister wasn't the only thing that he saw in the room anymore. Something black and shadowy stood there, its body constantly morphing where it stood. Every so often a mouth or eye would open on a different place on the 'body,' and it continued to grow and fill the room with its presence. He recognized this, too. It wasn't the scene that he was used to seeing it in, but the creature was one of many disturbing images that his mind had managed to give birth to after torturous experiment sessions.
Dark eyes shooting wide, Athos struggled to bring himself to his feet as quickly as possible. His sister was there, screaming, backing against the wall as the creature reached out for her. He ran toward it, but his feet seemed to carry him nowhere. No matter how much he ran, he didn't get any closer.
He could only watch the shadowy beast engulf his sister.
He could only hear the sickening ripping of flesh and breaking of bones from inside of it.
He could only wish that what he was seeing was just another nightmare. That the potion had only made him fall asleep, and none of it was real.
But it was real.
When the three old demons finally stumbled upon the scene, they didn't make an effort to put it to an end. They didn't scold Athos for what was happening. They only got on their hands and knees and bowed. Surely the being before them was the demon that they were so intent on bringing to life, right? The moronic witches met the same end as Athel, and when it all cleared, Athos was left alone with nothing but the blood and remains of the four. Alone with the realization that his sister wasn't coming back. That he wasn't going to wake up from this nightmare.
He remained locked up in the cavern by himself for weeks before there were no longer enough provisions in the place to keep him going. Eventually, it became obvious that he had no other option but to leave and try to find survivors in another sector. Sector Three was hopeless, and he knew that, even without ever leaving the confines of the cavern without the witches' accompanying him. He just had to get somewhere…. He needed to stay alive and keep the memory of his sister alive with him.
With the only remaining gem from Athel's forehead now placed on an old glove on his mutated hand, he took his leave from the old cavern and ventured out into the canyons of Sector Three. The mutation on his neck had only begun to continue spreading slightly without the witches' magic to suppress it. When he came to Sector One, he was hiding out in abandoned buildings and fighting off the bird-like polluted with everything he had in him before he was found by a group of RAIDers. Rather, he found them.
There were just two out on the job, one of which had broken a leg during a struggle with the level ones, and the other who was hanging by the skin of his teeth trying to protect the former. When Athos stepped in to rescue the two, he was led to Midhaven and presented with a position in RAID. He continued to take it upon himself to put his life on the line for his teammates, the memory of his sister serving as a reminder that he wouldn't let anyone's life end on his watch again.