Of Waking Up, And Several Weird Lightforms.
Exactly one infinity away, Coda’s sense of sight and hearing are scolded by an obnoxious light that blares and shrieks like gargantuan razorblades on the cosmic chalkboard. This light, star white and grim, soon refracts into small morsels of many colours, like orbital christmas lights.
Ink awoke as he usually did - slowly, reluctantly, sore-headedly, and whilst lying down. It took him a moment to realise that some things in the world were not quite as they usually were. For example, the agonised, gargling, near whispers of the remaining denizens of Heck were now but ghostly memories in the Reaper’s ears as opposed to present perceptions. That and the interesting texture of the ground were the most noteworthy things he had picked up on thus far. And the air; it didn’t smell putrid anymore, perhaps just the slightest bit stale.
The darkness remained however, and the Reaper's usual headache was more distracting than normal.
“Woah…” Someone said through the pitch black.
Ink yelped in startlement and his internal organs dived to take cover in his throat of all places, as if a ribcage was not the more suitable place for them when danger struck.
He tried to run, before his feet even had the chance to wake up, and he fell forward, making an audible oompfh sound when he landed amongst weird flakes of what felt like thin leather spread out on moist grass. He picked himself up and started running again. But where to? Even though Ink thought he had gotten very good at seeing in the dark over the years, his vision was that of porridge! He had no sense of direction.
“Bye, then.” - It was a girl’s voice.
Ink crashed face-first into something hard, cylindrical and wooden, and felt his head graze against its rough surface. He stepped back, clutching his cranium.
“You’re not even gonna say sorry?" Said the voice from behind him, "Dag, man. That’s cold. You're cold in the soul, my guy.”
“What do you want?” the Reaper called out in pained expression. There was blood in his hand, he could feel it.
“Dunno, an apology maybe…? Hey, you seein' this too, dude? This whole lotta nothin'...? Where are we?"
“You tell me!” Ink replied through his teeth.
“My head hurts, you know?” Replied the voice, “That’s your fault. You know?”
“Oh.” He uttered uncaringly in reply, what a coincidence.
And then, there was a moment of dead silence…
Far, far above, beyond the hearings of anyone, the air blew forward in time to whisper in a different tense to nobody within its own universe. It pointlessly explains that Ink is a Reaper, as is already known – not the infamous skeletal Grim Reaper, as that happens to be his great great great grandfather. It observes that Ink has flesh (though admitted not much of it) and skin which had been greyed by toxic living conditions. For whatever reason, the gentle breeze further states that Ink is the prince of Hell, which in his time is not a very good thing to be, as his world – known to some as the Dimmer - is in a state of decay and ruin. All being part of its royal family has ever gotten Ink is a high rock for him to sit on whilst the world comes to an anticlimactic end, and quite a dramatic title. The great infernal fires of Heck, the ruby city of general suffering all-round (also once famous for its delightful piemakers) burnt themselves out long ago, and Hell has run cold and empty since. That mysterious cylindrical chasm Ink fell into used to be the portal to the Overworld (known to its population as Earth), but the teleporting liquid that once filled it has been missing for millennia. It is not known what lies at the bottom of the hole it has left, as nobody has ever seen the bottom before, and nobody ever will.
Anyways, that’s enough for now, thought the wind as it returned to its initial time, settling back in past-tense. It cleared its throat and sat attentively, because the moment of dead silence was over.
“Who are you?” Was what Ink finally uttered, struggling for words.
“I dunno, I don’t really remember anything. Probably cuz you crashed into me head-first in that wacky firefly tube thingy.” She, too, was clutching her head. “I think my name was like… Coda, I think.”
Weird name, that. Thought Ink Reaper.
But his thoughts were interrupted by a brilliant light, blue and pure in the corner of his vision. It seemed to emit a sound like a spoon sliding down a glass pane, for some reason. Ink saw weird shapes illuminated for a second before he instinctively covered his eyes. One of these shapes he noticed was alive, and happened to be just as, if not more confused than himself.
Coda was the first to confront the blue light source, and her eyes adjusted to the surroundings quicker. As she approached the spectacle, she saw that the light was in fact a little flower - happy and glowing, greeting the pair warmly to the world.
“What is that???” Ink pondered intensely, the intensity of his pondering defying the conventional laws of punctuation.
Coda shrugged, “A flower?”
Out of some intrusive and almost alien impulse, she crushed it in her palm. Its head gave a weak squelching sound and the light disappeared, wisps of it escaping from between her fingers. All became dark again.
“Well, there goes that.” Said Ink, a bit disappointed. He had never seen a flower before. “Are they abundant?”
Coda shrugged, “Probably?” She didn’t know what abundant meant.
Just then, a new light introduced itself in the form of Coda’s plant-squishing palm. It glowed red, as if someone was shining a bright torch from underneath it. Nice! Red happened to be her favorite colour – or at least, it was better than blue. She couldn’t quite remember what the other colours looked like.
"And what’s that?” Asked Ink.
“My hand? Come on man, are you stupid?”
“…No? I just… This is my first time in the Overworld. I wasn't aware that these sorts of things were quite so luminous here.”
Coda gave him the look of total confusion and wondered if this whole thing was some kind of fever-dream. She thought about trying to wake up, but dismissed the idea. She was curious to see where this dream went, if it were a dream at all.
She shrugged and held up her glowing hand to the forest that surrounded them.
It was dense, hollow, and short. The trees stood in a perfect circle around them, and in the middle of the circle was a stone well with a few odd leathery flakes on it. These flakes, Ink came to learn, were called leaves. In addition to that there was a roof of dense branches not far above their heads which quietly dripped these odd leaf things, and not a sound came from within the woods.
Out of curiosity, Coda dipped her boot into the murky water held within the well. It was only a few inches deep.
“Is that where I came from?” Ink asked.
She shrugged and tried to step back into the weird well-portal, only to get rather soggy boots. Not a very good portal – or well, for that matter.
“If it is, I don’t think we can go back to whereverthehell... Come on,” She shuddered, observing the unnaturally low forest roof, “let’s… you know, get out of here.”
After loitering around for a bit, the pair found an opening in the trees that had not appeared to them before, as if the forest itself had shifted, sentient and helpful. Helpful, yet eerie.
They stepped down into the avenue - a dark, gnarly street of dusty trees paving their way.
Ink’s initial desperateness to escape home began to wear off, as he became certain that he had done so already, and realistion soon set in. He began to have less panicky thoughts as he strolled through the darkened tree place, all of which were intermitted only by sheer silence.
I've never met someone so cheerful. He thought, they must be ill.
The whole question of "What now?" evidently hadn't occurred to him yet, as it was hiding, scared to happen upon his conscious thought. It knew that when it did so, its carrier might just have a heart attack and die, and so it doddled in limboistic unoccurrence.
I had no idea Overworlders had such bright palms. But then again, our history books haven't been updated since who-knowshowlong ago.
Coda, he saw in the dim, crimson light, appeared to be of similar age to Ink. She had short, dark hair, and a fairly average face, if anything it was perhaps slightly rodent-esk with strange red blotches here and there that looked rather itchy and gross. She had a missing top tooth to the right of the front two, he noticed when she sneered, and a cracked one on the bottom row. Coda was of modest stature and wore a dark hoodie and brown shorts. Overall, she was the strangest thing Ink had ever seen.
The pair walked some more through the corridor of wood, when realisation began to fall upon Coda, thoughts now coming to her through the silence. Again, nothing much happened between these unsolicited thinkings.
What the hell? And also, Why’s my hand doin’ that?
She looked around again, squinting at the redlit brances.
Where am I?
Her gaze wandered to Ink, who looked like he needed some sort of greasy fried food with buns and a beef disc. What was it called again? She couldn't remember. But essentially, the point she was trying to make to herself was this: he looked frail, weak, tired and skinny, and his greyish face appeared dull and glum, with glazed bags under his grey, grey eyes, indicating recent tearfall. He was wearing a dirty green hooded robe that was frayed around the bottom, and it had a weird symbol on the back that Coda couldn’t make it out in the low light. A sorry state for a person to be in indeed.
“Hey man,” she started, “What’s your name?”
Ink took a moment to realise he was being asked a question, and another moment to remember what Coda had just said.
“Uhh, Ink.” He replied, head in the proverbial clouds, “Ink Reaper.”
“Pfft, Reaper?” She gave him the disbelieving look a mother gives a child when they say they’ve just slain the easter bunny.
“Nah you look more like a gardener, or a edgy leprechaun, or like, some sorta depressed old frog wizard.”
“Mh.” Ink said, and continued walking into the crimson mist. Soon, the leaves made like cereal and lost their satisfying crunch to moisture. Not long after, the air lowered into a fog that swirled thickly at their feet with sparkling crystals forming in it due to close proximity with enchanted grass. The forest roof heightened, and the sky became visible. It was a long strip of stars against very dark purple that extended down the avenue like a ribbon of speckled blackness, a star larger, brighter and more violet than the others far in the distance. Ink stopped in his tracks at the sight.
“Sorry,” He said, eyes glazing over again as starry as their beholdings, “Can we just… Wait here for a moment?”