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Of The Journey (Limbo)

Of The Journey (Limbo)

“Do not look for me ’neath the hollow trees my Sweet, because I am no longer here.

My designs are yours to keep, as for the world I fear.

Yet do not kneel at my grave and weep, because I will not be there.

I am with the bright breeze of sunlight and the creatures that you drew - I am with the ideas forgotten, and worlds discarded - I am with the five-pointed flowers of the chapters of before, where your heart lies - I am where you dreamed to be so don’t fear for me. I will meet you once again in fair time.

Look for me ’neath the lightbulb sun ’til it sets upon you my dear, down the end of Memory Lane.”

- Someone who died, probably.

Ink’s nightmares raged on - or so he wished, for this truth was far more bizarre that even his dreams, and equally as terrifying.

“Impressive, but don’t prolong this, kid. It’s no use.” Said the skeletal spectre beneath the hood. Bones had cracked against stone as he rolled across the stone-cold stone-floor, and the wispy crimson residue of Coda’s previous blast evaporated. Her attack had only propelled him, and he was still well intact.

She ran, and Ink thought that he probably should too, instead of standing around like a confused bale of sodden hay - though there were days where he truly felt like that’s exactly what he was.

And so they both ran, sprinting blindly across a completely flat floor in an absolutely dark room with no idea where they were going. Though Parallax floated up ahead, and they followed. “He’s trying to kill us!” Shouted Ink, his heart pounding in his head and only worsening his headache.

“What, the skeleton with the scythe that just tried to cut my head off? No way dude, are you sure!?”

The darkness ahead was no longer absolute - as before them a bluelit scape presented itself down below them after a sudden cliff edge up ahead. As they drew closer, they could see down into a sort of wide sinkhole-type landscape, with stony pillars that built up around the edges on different levels, it looked like the inside of a sort of crudely hollowed-out onion. Here and there, patches of glowing blue grass provided illumination. Parallax looked about, and wondered why the other two weren’t following him over the cliff. If only his dog-like mind could understand that they could not in fact float.

And they could run no further due to said cliff, for it was a long way down, and behind them still stalked the phantomly figure who Ink (though he didn’t want to believe it) recognised as Grim Reaper.

“I don’t like doing this, yah know?” He said with a voice far too guttural for someone without any guts, “My back ain’t as good as it used to be, and this certainly doesn’t do it any good. I’d appreciate it if you’d just lie down and wait for it, you know?”

“Bugger that!” replied Ink. There was nowhere to go - the cliff edge was meters away, and now giant black holographic barriers blocked them in, so that they could not run around the sides of the curved cliff. Coda’s hand glowed a brighter shade of crimson, and she stared Grim dead in the eye, not planning on dying.

“Wait.” Ink started, “You’re uh, Grim Reaper, aren’t you?”

Grim looked taken aback, “I’m The Grim Reaper. In another world, they used to call me Death Itself. How do you know? Actually you know what, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care.” He raised his scythe diagonally across his chest, and the blade suddenly seemed to stretch on to infinity.

“Well, I’m a Reaper too!” Ink blurted in a last-ditch attempt at postponing Death.

“Don’t be ridiculous, kid. They’re all dead.” Said Grim - staggered by what Ink had proposed but with no merciful intent. Though Ink had distracted him just long enough for Coda to quickly get in another strike - yet another crimson blast to his bony ribcage. Grim didn’t even flinch, and brought the scythe down. It cut through the air with a whistle, moving at countless meters per second through all spatial dimensions - and came to a complete stop a couple instants later with a little glassy clink.

Coda was alive, she found. Well, she wasn’t any more dead than she was not a moment ago, that’s for sure. Neither her nor Grim knew exactly why she still stood, for it took them a couple moments to see the translucent green barrier that hung in mid-air, right on the tip of the sickle’s blade. It flickered for a moment, completely unbreakable but only about the size of a saucer. A moment later, Ink collapsed and the barrier faded.

“Oh.” Said Grim, and the other, bigger barriers faded.

Coda struck again, and this time Grim allowed himself to be thrown aback by the force, and roll across the stone floor once again – though he had no guts, this was making hm quite motion sick. The scythe flew out of his hand, and clattered to a halt.

Ink was still breathing, which was a good thing. Coda kicked him in the side, though he was out cold. “Hey, skinny!” She called to Grim, “Wanna explain what the Hell you just did to my friend?”

Grim pushed himself up off the ground, with sore bones. “I didn’t do nothin’, he did it to himself.”

“Yeah right, says the guy who’s trying to kill us an’ ain’t even hiding it.”

The Reaper came closer, scythe still in hand and gaze affixed curiously on Ink.

“Nope. Stay back, punk.” She said, “If you come any closer, I’ll let Parallax have at it.” The dog’s feral eyesockets narrowed and he let out a dry growl. “Gimme that.” She pointed to the dark scythe that lay a meter or so away from the Grim Reaper, who started to glanced at it. He was in the motion of bending down to pick it up, when Coda interrupted, “Actually nah, you know what? Leave it dude, I’ll get it myself.”

Grim backed off and Coda collected the scythe with a crimson hand, and carried it to the edge of the cliff.

“Hey, what are you doin’ with that?” Grim protested, “That blade is my only -”

She threw it as far as she could off the edge of the cliff, and it rattled down below until it was out of hearing range. Whatever it was to Grim, she didn’t care.

Grim sighed. It’s not like he couldn’t retrieve it later, though the grass near the shore of his cabin was needing a good trim, and thus was his plans for that evening.

Down below at the floor of the great bowl-shaped chasm lay a field of glowing blue grass like a lapis furnace. Pitched atop this field sat a little village far away, and the chimneys were made of cold stone, and roofs of long-dried vegetation.

But Ink was still unconscious, and now Coda was attempting to drag him across the stone towards a grassy patch not too far in the distance, and Parallax helped as best as he could. Grim just stood and watched, not quite knowing what to do with himself. He couldn’t kill another Reaper - there too many answers he had to reap for grim questions, and his curiosity was as expansive as his ribcage was hollow. Besides, even someone like Grim can be grazed with a touch of sentimentality upon discovering that he has a great great great grandson. “Hey you uh… Need any help with that?”

Ink’s head bounced off a couple small stones as Coda dragged him by the ankles. “Nah.” She said.

“He’s over exerted himself, so he’ll be out for a while. I could carry him down to my cabin, where we could get him something better to lay on. There’s tiny insects all around ’ere that would not hesitate to crawl into your boyfriend’s ears and hollow out his skull.”

She groaned and looked down that the village. How were they even going to get down there?

“Alright,” She began, “Sure. Help my lift him.”

Grim nodded and approached slowly - he grabbed Ink’s wrists and hoisted him onto his bony shoulders with a pained grunt, and Coda looked on with caution. “Gnats!” He cursed with clacking teeth, “My back ain’t what it used to be.”

They walked around the rim of the bowl-shaped chasm, out over the edge to where the rocks became uneven and blades of blue grass started to sprout from the crevices. They were reminiscent of something, though not quite. Coda hopped across the larger rocks, though her and Parallax kept a watchful eyesocket on the skeletal Reaper as he carried Ink through the tricky pathway and half-collapsed when they reached a lush, flat patch of grass. A tree stood silently awaiting them in the centre of said patch, and its roots dripped off the cliff edge like lifeless yet slenderly smiling tendrils - its blue leaves drooped and twisted the eye like a great sickly kaleidoscope, and the whole thing had a vaguely fungal shape to it. A strange and slightly terrifying spectacle for any other witness, though Grim simply used it to support his frail bones when getting up, and Coda looked right through it and deep into the future of the Universe - figuratively, ’course. In other words, it was nothing very special to her. Parallax nestled himself in its thin leaves, and it gave a silent and drawn-out hello.

“You wouldn’t help an old man up, would you?” Grim chanced after catching his breath.

“Hell no.” Said Coda.

Grim grimaced from under his hood, thrust himself upright, and stretched out his back. “So what are you supposed to be anyways, kid?” He glanced at her red hand, “Some sort of thief?”

“What? Nah, I’m the Hero of the Universe.” She simply put.

“Heh, so they tell you.” He waved a skeletal hand in a graceless yet mystical manner, and the air cracked and the ground buckled - a pillar of rock broke away from the cliff, its top the grassy patch they stood on. The gigantic pillar of stone they stood on started to descend, and for a moment they accelerated downwards before their pace steadied. Noiselessly, tonnes of mountain moved like moist, primal, voodoo-magic elevator. Slowly. It would be a couple minutes ’til they reached the bottom, and Grim settled himself down by the tree.

“I’m sorry about the whole ‘trying to kill you’ thing.” He hazarded, though didn’t really commit to the words.

“Yeah yeah,” Said Coda, “Whatever. The only reason I’m letting you live is for you to help me lift this dusty green sack of sticks.”

Grim grinned - for what else was there to do with a face like his - and said, “You’re pretty brave, I’ll give you that.” He paused, and sighed, “Anyway, if anyone here is a dusty sack of sticks, it’s me. He’s just… Frail.” Grim looked at Ink’s pale face with sad wonder. “I ain’t going to take your soul, not under current circumstances anyways. You can rest easy eh?”

Coda took his last statement with more than a pinch of salt, but looked towards the ever-closening village and said, “Yeah. Besides, you ain’t the first person to try murder me today.”

And they sat in moderate silence, and Coda swung her feet over the pillar’s edge. Ink slept still, and Parallax hung like an ornament from a thick branch above, and smelled something odd in the distance, before returning to his owner’s side. The bottom eventually neared and the pillar’s descent slowed as it fit itself into a crack in the ground, leaving about a foot between itself and the rest of the cave floor.

“Mind the gap.” Said Grim as he heaved Ink’s arms back onto his shoulders. They stepped out over the gap - which was unseeably deep, and onto a cobbled path, which led to a bridge over yet another, larger gap. A small wooden pole by the bridge’s other side bore only one old arrow-shaped sign, the words “Limbo Village” carved into it. The cobbled path wound through and around not-much-at-all, and eventually around a pile of large glassy shards and onwards towards Limbo. As they got closer, Coda could see that the town was not quite like most real towns she had seen in the past - though to be fair she could only ever remember seeing one. What was peculiar about this town was that the houses in it were many times smaller than the average house, and the taller ones struggled to reach above her waist. It had been a lot closer than she initially thought - the size peculiarity created an optical illusion of sorts. The grass around it was very well maintained, and neatly cut short.

Anyways, from out of the houses came little blue and slightly glowing people - some who carried burning torches and tiny kitchen utensils, the rest carrying pitchforks (well, for the average-sized person, just normal forks really). They wore tiny Amish hats with buckles and shirts with suspenders, and the other half wore little dresses and bonnets, a select few were infants. None had any facial features, but they were obviously quite angry.

“The Whill-o don’t like you.” Explained grim as he carried Ink through the little street, which he and Coda could only walk single-file down. As she followed and waved carelessly at the angry bunch, Parallax greeted them with a cautious snort and nudged a couple of them with his snout - though none gave a very substantial response.

“Careful not to step on any, right?” Added Grim and painfully readjusted his grip on Ink. “They take forever to forgive you, and even longer to mop up, the luciferin-filled five-inch-tall suckers.”

“Sure.” But she had already unknowingly crushed a old farmer’s plough, trod on a couple bystander’s feet which now oozed a bioluminescent liquid, and completely pulverised a lonely butcher who despite having looked both ways down the road times over, had failed to ever look upwards before crossing. Miniature stacks of smoke rose from a couple of the chimneys and curved around Coda’s fingers as she touched them.

But soon, they left the village behind and Grim led them to a place that was less illuminated, and Coda lit her own way.

“Welcome to my place.” Said the Reaper, “Now I dunno what luxuries you kids have these days but hey, this is home to me. I’ve been living here for three hundred and twenty-five years.”

“Dude I would kill to live in a cave like this! This is badass!” She marvelled at what lay beyond - a very high roof dotted with glowing blue bulbous plants, and a sea of sparkly liquid that stretched into darkness. On it’s shore was Grim’s grimy cabin, though Coda hadn’t even seen it yet. “It’s a bit blue though, which ain’t really my favourite colour.”

The Reaper led them down onto a shore of pearlescent sand - littered with blue oysters that gathered to form ritualistic circles in places - and opened the mouldy cabin door. The underground sea smelt musty and old - like old books but worse, like cabbage-juice stains on the clothes of the elderly. The cabin smelt worse, like mould and foul things that living beings shouldn’t really be inhaling. Inside was a damp floor, and a fireplace that looked as if it were only there to be a spooky prop to add to the grungy atmosphere, for dry bones had no use for warmth or light.

“I don’t suppose you have a lighter, do you?” asked Grim, and Coda replied by firing a beam of concentrated light into the fireplace, which instantly caught fire a bit too well, and the moist fungal wood half-exploded. Though, the fire roared within a couple seconds and everything was quite alright. The Grim Reaper lay Ink on the floor, and headed off to a cupboard on the opposite end of what was a disgraceful excuse of a kitchen. Taking this time to examine the house, Coda saw alit in dull crimson: a mossy door a-rotting, a table made of dried fungus bound with tight dry plant fibres, and a straw bed on the far end by the window that was just a hole in the cobbled stone wall. It almost looked as if he had built the place himself.

“Built this house myself, I did.” Said Grim when returned with a sack of dry kindling, “The many gathered souls inside me were always past their prime, though these old bones got old, and I decided to come here to rest.”

“So this is like, your retirement home then? Nah I totally get it man, mass genocide sounds real tiring.”

Grim lifted Ink’s head, hands still affixed under Coda’s surveillance, and placed the sack of dry kindling under his head. “Eh, that genocide they tell you about is extremely exaggerated. I may have collected the souls of the elderly and the ill, but their souls weren’t going anywhere better.”

Coda still didn’t really understand much of whatever had been going on with the Reaper’s world, and hadn’t really cared until right now, where she hadn’t much else to do other than listen to Grim’s words. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Huh? Haven’t you heard, kid? Well no, I don’t suppose you would - it’s not like they teach it in school here or anything. They say that the technology of the Overworld has allowed humanity to live on in a forever-world, and their souls persist there after death, which is a complete lie. Last time I was there they had barely progressed past the bronze age, nevermind achieving immortality.” The Grim Reaper collapsed onto the bed like a wooden marionette who’s strings had been cut, and scratched his skull with a sound that set one’s teeth on edge. “Nah, people are still dying. Something’s keeping them there, something so stretched out, like a net over the entire spherical world. Something not just dark, but absorbent to light. And souls, apparently. I bet it’s that damned Queen’s doing. I could have saved them, brought them to their afterlives by reaping them on the spot, not letting them linger. We could have reignited the whole Dimmer’s economy, rebuild the system together. But no, she said, ′we don’t want your cold-blooded genocide’ they said, ′go take a hike up a bison’s rectal cavity’ they said.”

“Yeah I dunno what you’re talking about.” Coda replied, and rummaged through her red bag for some Creature™ and for something to snack on. She heard waves lap slowly on the tideless beach outside, and smelled something burning somewhere - perhaps the Whill-o were having a barbecue, or a witch’s execution, or a viking’s funeral, or a burning village. Or perhaps it was simply the fireplace which she had lit not too long ago that burned nicely and gave off a lonely warmth. How desperately she wanted to go out and explore this cave, to go meet the voiceless village people, to see what lay at the boundaries of this part of her journey and find her way back to the surface. To go run across the dull sand, and throw bones for Parallax and scream into the maw of the cave and hear her delayed echo return altered by the unknown. She wanted to do all this, though she couldn’t. Something was stopping her. Not the door, nor the warmth of the fire, not even Grim, but some part of herself that she was only just uncovering for the first time in her recollection.

Her eyes met Ink - a face that could suck the life out of even the most morose of boring paperweights, though he looked quite serene at the moment. Probably because he was unconscious.

A can of Creature™ opened with a hiss under her cracked nail, and Parallax nudged for attention.

It was to be a long and boring night, she thought. But tomorrow was another day, and it would come, and it would be fantastic, awesome, some might say epic! This was but a small detour of the Hero’s quest.

She hummed to herself the only tune she could remember - the only fragment that helped her see into the ever blurry image of her life. The tune didn’t echo in the cabin, but when its melody was interrupted by a delicious sip of Creature™ Energy, it continued from a different source - Grim. He hummed the next couple phrases before adding, “You ain’t from around this neck of the woods, are yah?”

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