“We owe you an apology.”
Kanuva glanced at the six Cleansers, all sitting on the ground in a circle, having not said anything for hours. Five of them were still silent, the light missing from their large, crystalline eyes. Only the red and silver Cleanser seemed to be active.
“You owe me an apology?” Kanuva asked, curious what this being wanted and why it was apologising. This particular Cleanser was called Cleanser Kal Wehl-Tah, but everyone else just seemed to call it Tah, or simply referred to all of them as Kal.
“We do. We thought you were just going to help us get rid of an Apocalyptic. We didn’t imagine we’d be locked in a cell for quarantine reasons.”
“About that, why ARE we locked up in a cell for, as you said, quarantine reasons?”
Tah’s eyes flickered. Kanuva did his best to concentrate on the Cleanser’s eyes, and not the sharp, unmoving teeth where its mouth should have been. Something about the Cleansers always seemed a bit off. They were almost completely mechanical, save for their organic brains, which were only protected by a thick sheet of metal and not much else. Yet these Cleansers had emotions and felt pain.
“The Decay Lords are incredibly cautious when it comes to unknown beings. In this vast emptiness, there’s a horrible thing called Corruption that will… do horrible… things. And we also have Voidborns, creatures born in the vast emptiness, which will try and turn all those into themselves. Basically, everything is infectious and can be infected. Even biomechanical beings such as yourself.”
“They think we’re infected?”
“Maybe. What we call Apocalyptics, Decay Lords call… uh…” Tah’s eyes dimmed. It was almost as if the Cleanser wasn’t there briefly. “Well, they are considered something very dangerous, to the point that the local Decay Lords had to call in backup.”
Kanuva frowned underneath his mask, looking away from the Cleansers and towards the door. The Imperator of Light had a LOT of unanswered questions. But what bothered him the most was how much this team of Cleansers seemed to have… grown? Changed? Settled?
“How long have you been out here, Cleanser Wehl-Tah?”
“You can just call me Tah, you know. As to your question? It’s hard to tell. Time as an object doesn’t really exist. The best we can tell…” Tah paused, clearly calculating something. “In a unit of measurement you would understand, about 17 years.”
“It doesn’t feel like I was gone for-”
“That is the time since the universe ended and we were brought in as Decaylings. You were gone for… well, much, much longer than that.”
Tah paused. “The knowledge might hurt you.”
“I want to know.”
“You do not.”
“Why would you care if you hurt me or not?”
The Cleanser made a clicking noise, almost as if it was frustrated. “We don’t want to hurt you, because, despite our past issues, we respect you as a fellow conscious being.”
“You… respect me?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t we?”
Kanuva shrugged. “Well, everyone always considered you as baddies. And, I have to admit, I kinda just went along with that. Never really… considered you to be as conscious and individual as us Imperatorai were. And you now work here, with all these Decay Lord beings?”
Tah nodded. “We do. We actually specialise in saving those who get infected by Corruption and Voidborn nonsense.”
The Imperator fell silent, eyeing the Cleanser awkwardly. He had misjudged these beings. The other Cleanser was correct, they really were just doing their duties. But this red Cleanser had shown something else. That they were remorseful and had changed to redeem themselves.
Tah watched Kanuva briefly, curious what the Imperator was thinking about, then turned back to his fellow Kal, dimming his eyes as he did so. After a brief moment though, his eyes lit back up.
“Because of the Apocalyptic, you probably won’t be able to go back to that nice Life Goddess you were talking to. And, worse, the Thantir, the Decay Lord group we are a part of, is going to be disbanded. Us Kal were considering leaving anyway. But… Well, Koh and Leh, they… both wanted me to ask you whether you wanted to come with us?”
“What?” Kanuva gasped, unable to hide his surprise. “You want me to come with you? Where… where are you even going?”
“We’re not sure yet. We just… didn’t want you to be left on your own.”
“Being trapped on your own, out here in the nothingness that is the Periuniversal Void, is one of the worst things that can happen to you. Sparing you from that fate is the least we can do to make up for, well, making you alone in the first place.”
Kanuva’s confusion turned into a bit of a smile. “That’s very kind of you all, considerate too. But I think it’s better that we not spend eternity together.”
“Understandable…” Tah seemed to sigh, but exhaled no air.
“That being said, I’m sure I can stick around with you guys for a little bit, at least until I get my bearings around here, assuming that’s fine with you six. After all, once we get out of this place, I could do with… doing something different…”