In the dreams of one, away back to the beginning casts their memories’ reach. Back past the swirling lights, back through the blaring light and into the outskirts of a small town above a fire on a world that happens to take on an unusual, curiously spherical form. It reaches back into the kitchen cupboard of one’s life, rummaging for the pickle jar - as that is where it knows they keep the secret stash of goodies. As a train rattles by outside, memory tragically reaches past the golden Pickle Jar of Purpose and accidentally grabs the two remaining mouldy pretzels from three Christmases ago - the Mother’s hatred and the death of the Father.
Ink’s twisted nightmares rambled on as they always did, reciting the same fears as always. The usual monsters intruded on his unconsciousness, illogical yet terrifying forms that varied widely and conveyed horrors that pulled on every dissonant string in the Reaper’s brain.
He was overwhelmed by a suffocating sensation, which was in fact not a normal fear of his that popped up in his dreams. He awoke, but the world was brighter in his dreams. Not even Ahbon’s stars or the Dimmer’s auroras were above him, and he felt grit in his conjunctive eyes as they tried to close again, hard lumps of rock pressing on his head. Ink groaned and pushed the stones off his face, and beheld a crimson light.
“Dude, I thought you were never going to wake up. Jeez.” Coda said, another small, jagged rock ready in her glowing hand to drop on the Reaper’s head.
“I almost never did, because of you!” Ink gasped, grit in his nostrils. “Why did you do that!?”
“Hey, trust me It was a last resort!”
Ink held his head in his hands and groaned a long, drawn - out groan. It was cold here, wherever they were.
That was a good point - where exactly were they? Sitting on a cold hard ground for a start, thin walls that drizzled cool dew from a roof that hid out of view. It was a chilling ravine - a natural cave corridor that led to nowhere visible, an endless passageway stretching on up ahead. Behind them was a dead end where stones had collapsed and completely sealed off whatever lay in the other direction.
“Where’s Toven?” Ink asked, after remembering what had happened just moments before. The side of his head was bleeding, and it stung, but it was bearable and presumably just a cut.
“I dunno man, he’s not here. It’s just the three of us.” She scratched Parallax’s bony head with grubby nails, producing a sharp sound that make Ink’s knees weak.
“Do you know what just happened?”
Coda shrugged. She did not. “Hey can you hold this for me?” She held out Normonty’s detached glass eyepatch, which leaked a black, sticky fluid. “Sorry, it’s still got some minister juice on it.”
Ink hurled a stone at the wall opposite him, which was only a couple of meters away. It bounced and ricocheted into his shin, and he dropped to the ground in agony and general distress. “DAMNIT!”
Coda decided just to set the eyepatch (which was really more like a big useless monocle) down on the ground for the time being. “Yo that’s gonna bruise.”
“Thanks.” He pulled his knees to his chest and buried his face and wished for the world to go away, but seconds later Coda rustled a bag of cinnamon rocks on front of him, and did not allow him to fall into sleep.
“Come on,” She encouraged, “There’s only one way to go.”
And she was right, for behind them was a dead end, and ahead? Who knew, but it was open, and was the only feasible direction of travel.
Parallax led the way, and Ink followed, hastily chewing a cinnamon rock. after a while of walking, the dog stopped mid-air, staring into the black distance. If he had ears, they would have been pricked, and if he had nostrils, they would have been flared - though antlers turned like aerials towards a mysterious source, and he continued his quiet floating.
-That was ominous- Thought Ink, and was too tired to question it.
The ground became less and less even, the walls less and less uniform and straight and the dew began to form puddles in places. Eventually, as the pair continued on sore feet, they reached a pool of water. He didn’t even set foot in the liquid, yet it sank Ink’s heart. Not that it were to stay that way, for Coda’s light shone brighter, and there appeared a different route before his grey eyes - a small rocky plateau that bridged around the edge of the cave to the other side.
Coda hummed to herself as they shimmied across very carefully, and Parallax dipped his head in, looking for small water creatures to pretend to snack on, yet he found none.
And as they left the barren waters behind, a pair of long stalactites that were droplets away from meeting their stalagmite floor-mates passed on either side of them like guardians to a gateway to a village of their own kind. For beyond them was a swarm of pale, glistening spikes that extended from the roof and from the ground, and joined in places. The roof was still high yet visible now at least, and the walls expanded.
But they continued on in the same direction, stalactites passing in a crimson light like vocal cords that bunched up in areas, or like sharp, chilling bloodstained teeth. Not much happened for a while, and Ink wasn’t really much for conversation, and the next bit of excitement came when the pair came across a strange device embedded into one of the larger stalactites - some sort of mallet. A hammer that stuck out of the rock, attached to a box that had almost been completely engulfed by the growing mass of minerals and amberat. It was obviously very old, and abandoned. A single wire extended out of the mallet’s box and disappeared into the roof.
“Mh.” Said Ink, “What do you suppose it’s for?”
Coda didn’t really know, “Well, not much I guess. Not anymore, anyway.”
Parallax examined it with a tap of his teeth - it didn’t seem to taste very nice.
They all shrugged as best as they could and left it behind.
Shortly after, the walls expanded even farther, and the spikes on the roof and ground began to subside. Eventually nothing but smooth stone paved their way into the ominous, and Ink suddenly felt very unnerved. Afraid of what his echo might sound like, he dared not speak, and afraid of never turning back around again, he dared not look back - he followed the skeletal dog farther into the dark, an ever glowing red light still by his side when from out of the blue Parallax stopped. His head darted around, like a fleshier dog searching for squirrels, and eventually he decided on a direction and shot off at twice the speed that he had been floating at up until this point. The pair ran after him, and found him again moments later, still and staring at something - more rock.
But this particular rock was rather interesting - for it towered a great many feet high, slender and solid like a prison tower. It had four flat sides, and the top was also flat and bare. Looking up, the pair could see an eye-shaped glyph carved into the rock about a foot below the flat peak. It stared straight ahead, unblinking yet emanating an eerie presence.
“Okay.” Said Ink, “I really don’t like this place.”
The Reaper’s face was grave with fear, fear that ran deeper than that simply induced by a creepy rock in a creepy cave. He walked around the structure, and hesitated with his fingers in the air over whether or not to touch the thing. It seemed pretty real, and he knew exactly what it was.
“Oh wow, scary. Another rock.” Coda said.
But the Reaper’s terror was real, “That’s no ordinary rock… It’s a Monolith.”
“It’s a Reaper thing. Not good.” He put simply, before shaking himself out of his temporary state of horror and gave a slightly better explanation: “Only a Reaper has the ability to make one, but I didn’t think anyone ever had.”
“So, Reaper powers, eh?”
Parallax was satisfied with his find, though was sniffing something else in the stationery, breezeless air.
“Well, you know how us Reapers were once supposed to guide deceased souls from the Overworld into their designated Afterlives?”
“Well, it’s a sort of like a spell that we can use if we are in danger that creates a big rock, called a Monolith. Capital ‘M’.”
“Oh.” Said Coda, “Cool, but… Why?”
Ink massaged his head and exhaled, “It is supposed to hold the souls of the deceased, to stop them from dissipating into the Finest Oblivion.” He placed a hand on the jagged stone, and what could only be described as a chill ran down his spine. “Only a Reaper can break this spell, and carry on guiding the soul to their resting place, to carry on the previous Reaper’s journey. But see, to my knowledge, nobody has ever used that spell, because to do so without a proper need to is punishable by total solular dissipation, and nobody to my understanding has ever had a proper reason to. That is why I’m sure this one is fake.” He sharply retracted his hand, and shook some sense into his brain. “That, and the fact that no body from the Dimmer has ever even heard of ‘Eh-bone’ or whatever this world is called.”
“Damn,” said Coda. “If nobody’s ever done it, then you should try and break the spell!”
Ink shot her a cautious look.
“You know, to be the first one ever to break a Monolith!” She stared the rock in the eye, but it was wooden.
“Nope. Not happening, I am sorry. I don’t even know how.” Ink reached into his hood, and then into his ear. “I don’t know that trick.”
“Dude, I mean, you could try a sledgehammer? Honestly that would be the first thing I’d try if I had to break a magical thingy, like an enchanted dagger, or a portal, or whatever.”
Ink didn’t reply, he had become rather disturbed by Parallax’s very ominous gaze into the blackness. Antlers pricked, and eyeballs as green pinpoints of light, definitely focused on something.
“That’s not good.” Said Ink.
“Yeah, they say dogs can smell evil. But then again, they can also smell snacks, and pigeons and squirrels, so it could really be any one of those things.”
They stared out across the crimson, flat floor and into the blackness - and the blackness replied. “Sorry kid, I’m afraid I ain’t any of those.” It said.
Ink’s gunky eyes were wide, though not nearly as wide as those of who approached from out of a crimson-lit void. For those dim eyes were that of a skeleton, its robe a worn purplish shade of black that was torn around the bottom.
And as the phantomly figure stalked noiselessly nearer from out of the murky air, it carried with it the grim blade of death - sad, and lifelessly poised with its curved blade angled like a depressed scorpion’s tail towards the duo and their phantomly dog.
“I guess that stinkin’ Priest sent you here, ah?” He stopped, still near the edge of the radius of the light, and gave a sad grunt, bowing his head in apology. He lifted his scythe from where it rested on his bony shoulder. “Welp, let’s get thi