Anacrusis

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Of The Journey (A Rock And A Hard Place)

Of The Journey (A Rock and a hard place)



The road wheezed a cold, dry wheeze. It was a desert - cold and made of stone, a rock desert between a road and a cold place, a cold rock between a desert and a road place, a road between a rock and a hard journey, and the cold nightmorning air was setting upon the taxi. But the chill was not that of the abyssal surroundings, no…

Pier was far behind now, and as they drove further inland the sea became a silver band on the pale violet surroundings.

“So,” Said the well composed-sounding taxi driver from the other side of the grating, “where exactly are you going? I mean, you’ll have to give me a little more than simply ‘Bloody drive, anywhere but here’. She tilted her large-rimmed hat around slightly.

Ink was already asleep.

“That big purple star over there, I think.” Said Coda, “Can you take us there?”

“I can, but I’ll have to stop at the next services station to buy more Creature™. It looks quite far away, doesn’t it? I hope you have the funds.”

Toven had no doubt that he did indeed have the funds.

Parallax clacked his dry teeth in a skeletonly manner.

“We should be there within the week, I’d hope.” Said the Taxi Driver, who is probably called Rose.

“I’m Rose by the way.” she said.

And the pair introduced themselves, telling Rose about their journey so far, and the sleeping Reaper, and their mission to Atlantis to return the sun to the sky, to which Rose replied, “Ah. What I wouldn’t do to see the sun in the sky. Pier would certainly be a great place to go, I would imagine. Sandwitches would be had, I could finally learn to enjoy iced tea by the riverbank, Fergul’s flower garden would look splendid. Not to mention how much more fun our shinty matches would be on a Wednesday! Mmh, I can’t wait!”

A while later, The Driver coughed to clear her throat. She pushed a button and began turning a dial on her dusty car radio. “My name is Rose, so you can stop calling me ‘the Driver’ if you wish.”

“... B-but we h-haven’t been calling you that...” Toven stuttered nervously.

“Oh. Are you quite sure? I must just be hearing voices again.” She shook herself.

Toven laughed, finding it a tad concerning.

“How about a nice radio talk show?” continued Rose, glossing over it. “Perhaps some Classical music? Jazz? Maybe something calming?”

Toven liked a lot of music, he didn’t really mind so he let Coda choose.

Rose passed a few different frequencies, though none were to the Hero’s liking. Then, the dial shifted very breifly past a split-second of a tune that hit her ears with an iron shovel. She knew that song. It was just a split-second of music yet so familiar to her, but just like that it was gone again. “Wait go back!” Coda yelled.

Rose stopped turning the dial, turning it back again. The song came back on for another half second before dissappearing into a boring talk show, a single voice speaking about some new invention or something.

“hey you went past it!”

“Oh, I did? I apologise.” Said Rose, reversing her actions, more slowly this time. The dial rotated ever so slowly as nothing but static could be heard once the voices of the talk show faded away. She kept turning, but nothing happened and the static continued. Then came a classical frequency, some sort of violin concerto was playing. “This?” Rose asked.

“Nah! There was something... Else, like, in between those two.” Coda insisted. “I swear, I recognised it!”

“Alright, not to worry.” Rose said, confused. She switched between frequencies to no avail. “But you do realise that there is nothing there but static. That’s a vacant frequency.”

Coda could have sworn she head a song. She even remembered it now, she knew it, she knew the words, the melody, the blistering guitar solo... But how? How could she remember?

“Perhaps we just got out of range.” Rose offered.

“Yeah... Could be.” Said Coda, disappointed.

Forgetting about the radio, the journey carried on well - the taxi was in good shape, it had passed its MOT - every now and then another car would zip by in two bright lights and a gust of blackness, and the awake two took turns of Toven’s handheld games console as Parallax watched with two plasma emerald eyes.

After a while, he got tired from floating and perched himself on the taxi floor where no ants ever dare live, spinning around in a circle like a real flesh dog getting comfortable before closing his eye sockets.

Ink bathed in churning, nonsensical nighmares. This was nothing new, and he was only used to it and thought nothing of it, assuming everyone else in Ahbon slept like this. What was new to him was being awakened so forcefully and abruptly - this time with a painful kick in the shin. The darkness faded until the Reaper opened his eyes upon the lit interior of the taxi, which to Ink was the strangest shaped carriage he had ever seen.

“I’m up.” He grumbled, with aching eyes.

“Cool.” Said Coda, who gave him one more kick for good luck. “We’ve broke down.”

The side door opposite Ink was wide open, and the vehicle was static on the side of a road. Outside, the lights that lined the long road (which still lay flat for miles in any direction, though there were mountains in the distance and the sky was a brighter shade of purple than before) lit up a stone desert, baby purple rocks that lay about as far as the eye could see. All were covered in a thin frosty layer, and a chilling draft swept into the taxi and turned back on itself.

“Brilliant.” Said the Reaper with a sigh.

“Rose is out tryna fix the engine, and I think T is out there too, cutting his nails or something.”

Ink pulled his hood down, though was mildly surprised to find it already down. “How long have we been on the road for?”

“’bout half an hour.” Coda sipped on a can of Creature™ energy.

Through the taxi’s metal grating and the condensate-gathering front window Ink saw Rose slam the vehicle’s bonnet, before giving him and Coda a concerned look. In the torchlight, Ink could see that their driver was a pale-faced woman with thick, black eyeliner and a rather abnormally large hat. Tied around its crown were two ribbons - one red and one blue - that draped down, halfway to the ground. Her suit, dress and hat were both an alizarin crimson colour, her hair a light tea green and curly.

“Looks like we’re going to have to wait for the Automobile Securing Service to get here.” Sighed Rose, coming back around into the driver’s seat. The rim of her hat bent as she came through the door. “They’ll be at least a couple of hours I’d imagine, considering we are in the middle of the Rockies.”

There was a small chorus of groans, all from Ink and several other imaginary complainers.

“But not to worry!” Continued the Taxi Driver, “I know a place, not a five-minute walk away from here where we can get some shelter whilst we wait. Quite a lot of shelter, actually.”

Coda sprung up before Rose could say any more, and her hand flashed a bright red.

“Ooo, my favourite colour!” Marvelled Rose.

“Show me the engine.” Replied Coda.

****

[About twenty-five minutes ago, The Sleepy Box, Pier, the Silvercoast, Ahbon.]

Tripphire sat with tears in her eyes on the shabby hotel bed, her helmet in her hands staring back at her. She shared the pristine, foreign-smelling room with Irig but had ordered her to wait outside on guard whilst she talked to the Captain. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to press that transmission button. What would he say? What would he think? This was Tripphire’s one shot at proving herself - she wanted more than anything to become a great Lieutenant. Why did the Queen have to choose her for this mission? She was farther away from home than anyone she knew had ever been. Far away from her barracks, far away from all she knew. Even farther away from Aui.

Aui, the one of which she had fallen for. Aui, the one who tragically had absolutely no idea that Tripphire had fallen for her. Aui, the one who had went on a voyage to visit her sick grandmother in Antlewick whilst Tripphire had been away on her previous venture, leaving only a note outside her father’s workshop. And the Lieutenant cursed the world for that. She cursed Aui’s sick grandmother.

How did she get here? No, really. How? She wasn’t even a good throwaway-cadet before she got asked to join the Queen’s guards. When the Captain found that she had failed and let her target away with a vital component in the mission - the soul-trap dagger - she would be permanently excluded from the Royal Army at best.

At worst.... Who knew?

-Defeated… By a couple of children!-

"BLAST IT!" She cursed, and stabbed the bed with an empty fist, a sickening reminder of how she had disgracefully lost her blades.

She stared at her helmet again, its empty eyes staring back.

The Captain was the very centre of Otum’s army - the Big One, the Boss, the one who was above all except Queen September herself. Legend has it that he is the last of a race long gone, extinct and originating in another world. The Captain had been an astronomically good military leader in his life, and an even better one in death. They say he had died just before the Angel - Reaper war began, and since then he had led the forces of Otum as a lieutenant, in Tripphire’s position. When his leader could no longer fight he took up the position of Captain, leading their army to victory, toppling the dark forces of that wretched underworld. He was a legend. And Tripphire now had to tell him of her faliure.

She dried her eyes and tried to think of herself as a lieutenant. She was a lieutenant, she told herself. From the slightly open window came a small gust of cool air, which brushed against the white curtain like a ghost. Tripphire didn’t notice or care.

“This is Lieutenant Tripphire giving a status report.” She said, and raked her brain for all that had happened since she had left Otum.

After about thirty seconds of painful silence she repeated her message, this time remembering to press the transmission button. But again, thirty seconds passed with no response. Did this thing even work? Part of her hoped the response would never come.

But the silence did not last forever - as from out of the in-built headset speaker came a grotesque auditory monster, the likes of which Tripphire did not expect or hope for.

“--Tr--hire. Why hello there.” It was not the Captain who had answered. It was the General. Though he served under the Captain, the fact that it was him who had answered was somehow far, far worse… For his was the dentures that pop out on purpose, his was the nostrils like rancid, unswept chimneys, his was the hair that greyed at the age of twenty three simply because it was tired of living on such a horrid creature.

And his was the evil crown of charcoal that left a dark mark around his cranium, and everyone could see it.

“Hey. I would like to give you a - ”

“Yes, yes! - -- - Status report, I know - - heard you the first time!” His snappy voice nagged, like wire wool on her eardrums.

“Sorry General, Sir. My connection is a bit wacky.”

“What sort of - - acky to use when - - - ’re General!? And - - - checked the broadcaster but I can’t - - - just something wrong with your ears I’d imagine. What - - have to report, lieutenant?”

Tripphire gingerly walked him through the events of her mission like a scared rabbit walks a hungry dog through a park of starvation. She told of the incident with the crow, of what had taken place at the witches house, of the drowning of Kry, of the disarming of the whole squad, of the long journey through the night and the crew’s lack of sleep, all whilst he listened. Silently.

“... We ran into some more dificulties recently, General, Sir.” She continued, keeping her brave front. “I managed to locate our target! But then...” Tripphire told him about the small fight, and exactly how they lost to a couple if children. She told him about the loss of their crucial and only remaining weapon - the soultrap dagger - and how they were now staying a night at the Sleepy Box hotel.

The general remained silent.

“That is all, General.... Sir. Hello?”

“... Lieutenant Tripphire Onyx of Criochan, daughter of Clem.” He stated, his sleazy voice gone sinisterly weak with laughterous undertones. His vocal cords sounded slender and tense, ready to poison the Lieutenant through the headset.

“Y-yes, Sir?”

“You are a fool to report such a situation. An honest fool, but a damn fool nonetheless.”

Tripphire let out an involuntary whimper.

Then he started to laugh in the horrid way that he did, “A piece of advice for you Lieutenant… Run. Run and never return to Otum. If you actually value your pathetic, low existence, run and hide where nobody can find you and never come out to see the daylight again.” He chuckled, “Oh, as soon as I heard of Kry’s death I knew the mission would perish. He was the only one with any sort of sense about him!”

Tripphire numbly stared out of the flickering window and into the pitch-black ocean in a despairing trance, her watering eyes paralysed. There was nothing in her head at that moment.

“Now I know why Her Majesty September decided to send you! It was for our own amusement, to give us something to laugh at.” He chuckled, and Tripphire could almost smell his acrid breath. “A joke.” He ended.

And like a sickle through the last thin fibres of Tripphire’s pride, the General masterfully cut her entire being down with three words, three devastating slashes.

“You’re finished, Triclopse.”

That night, from out of the Sleepy Box’s third-floor window came a lieutenant’s helm of Otumnal design. It hurled down to the cool sand below in a shower of broken glass and came to rest far past the hole where a blind man still was digging through the world, near enough to the lapping waves of the sea.

And the tide was arising.

The Sleepy Box’s bathrooms have those sorts of taps where one must lift the chrome top of the tap like a lever before any water comes out - they may be pushed from side to side to change the temperature. This is not a contraption that is known to many an Otumnal race, and that is why the Triclopse saw static in the corner of her vision when she near enough split her head on the bathroom tiles after trying to force the lever farther sideways. Feeling dazed, angry, lonely, useless, etcetera she attempted to take a well-needed bath and think about as little as possible.

But she could not escape the feeling impending doom. The General would send another squad in good time, there was no doubt about it, and by the sounds of things they wouldn’t be taking Tripphire back with them.

Not alive, anyway.

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