Dayko, test pilot and youngest son of the Phan royal family, sat in quiet contemplation with his head resting on his knees. His perch at the peak of the palace afforded him views across the landscape in every direction. His  next test flight – possibly his last test flight – was due to take place shortly, and Dayko took a deep, trembling breath. He raised his horned head and looked outside, reminding himself of the stakes involved.

Lightning flashed constantly across the sky of dark turbulent clouds, reflected in Dayko’s sad, red eyes. He noted the acid rains had ceased, for now, replaced by falling ash. Neither rain nor ash doused the burning oceans, however. In a desperate twist of fate, those plains of burning pollution, along with the constant flashes of lightning, provided the only light in a world where all forms of energy and industry had failed.

Dayko’s eyes widened in surprise as he checked the time. He could just make out the melting mountains on the far side of the bay. Near midday, visibility was typically restricted to just a few strides… a result of the ubiquitous blood fog of his fellow Phan. If a random vacuum tornado descended near you, explosive decompression was the best outcome you could hope for: any other option was too painful, too gruesome.

A successful test today meant saving Dayko’s people from the nightmare existence they eked out on this planet. Failure meant months of agony and rehabilitation, then tweaking the ritual and trying again… should time permit before the complete implosion of his world.

Dayko stood and extended himself to full height, then strode purposefully to the chamber. He had work to do.

* * *

Dayko swept through the formalities – signing waivers, drinking the ritual tea, and dressing in the formal white cloak which looked so stark against his black scales – then climbed onto the onyx slab. He cast his gaze around the room, nodding at his mother and sister. Dayko exchanged desperate glances with his team of chanters, and a hush descended on the chamber as he laid down and closed his eyes. Even the booming thunder gave a brief reprieve from its onslaught, adding to the solemnity of the occasion.

“You don’t have to do this,” Dayko’s mother whispered ineffectually, clasping her hoofs together in despair. “Someone else could do it.”

After a few moments of silence, the chanting began. Dayko relaxed and let his training take over, allowing the ritual to open his mind to the portal inside. He no longer fought the pain of transference; instead, he wallowed in it. Bright lights flashed in the darkness behind his eyes, and waves of nausea washed over him. Before long, the light source became steady as the pain and nausea eased. Dayko opened his eyes and smiled.

Dayko had emerged in a world of light and colour. The sky was blue, and there were rolling green hills as far as the eye could see. He looked at his hands, so pink and frail.

“I’m sorry,” the girl – the owner of the eyes he now shared – said. “I want to help you, but they won’t let me.”

* * *

“The power of Christ compels you!” More chanting, another ritual. This one designed to slingshot Dayko back to his home planet. “The power of Christ compels you!”

Pain wracked Dayko’s body, his shared body, and he loosened his grip on the girl’s mind.

“Don’t go,” the girl hissed through gritted teeth. “You can beat them this time.”

“I can’t let you suffer for me,” Dayko replied.

“The power of Christ compels you!”

This pain is nothing compared to the pain of your people. The girl now used an inaudible, more intimate form of communication. You can do this. We can do this!

“The power of Christ compels you!”

Hunkering down, Dayko sent silent thanks to his host. It wasn’t the power of their Christ which compelled him to leave: it was their passion, their hatred, their fear. But mostly, it was the thought of the girl’s suffering. However, if the girl could endure their torture, so could he.

Dayko lasted several hours, but not a moment passed in which he didn’t thank the girl for her sacrifice. As the men in black turned up the intensity of their ritual, the girl’s skin burned and blackened. She screamed relentlessly with pain. Eventually, she said one word to Dayko: enough.

He instantly released his hold on the girl and snapped back to Hell. He didn’t know which would be worse: his months of recovery, or the look of disappointment on his father’s face. Lucifer was desperate to save his people from the aftermath of the Angel war.