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Of The Sporeful Dark

Of The Sporeful Dark

“Today a kind ninja told me a secret! When you see a bee lying under a tree, and it looks low on energy, give it a drink of juice that’s sweet or fizzy! Sometimes they look like they’re dying, but all they need is a drop of soda to be okay again. I’ll definitely remember this one!”

-A messy scrawl in a notebook found in a schoolboy’s abandoned locker.

The journey on the broom continued, until they eventually reached the mountains, their lavender snow streaking down the sides of blustery stone that blocked out the stars. The rain on Mulberry’s hat soon became a delicate, frozen layer, and a valley ahead seemed brighter than the others.

Between two jagged peaks, the snow was even heavier, and started to create a sort of clumpy, colder form of mist. Ahead there was a calm glow that was not of the same purple shade that shrouded the dark landscape, but in fact was a refreshingly warm yellowish hue. The source became clear when Mulberry came above the bottom of the valley to look upon what lay in between the mountains: a cosy town of weird-looking houses. They were made of a reddish wood, and spanned in branches off from a central wide boardwalk that carved a slippery path through the bottom of the valley - a highstreet of sorts, that was at the lowest point in the village, which was high in the mountains. It was a very high low highstreet.

The houses themselves clung to each mountain, and were primarily square-shaped, with large, flaying brims that fanned out on each floor. Some houses had lanterns that hung warmly from these brims, and the village as a whole didn’t look unlike a giant, beautiful fungal infection. Toven had seen it once before, which didn’t subdue his awe whatsoever.

Mulberry dipped down to the left side of the valley, and took them to a slippery street quite far up the side of one of the mountains. Not a single other soul seemed to be out in the streets, and the Witch led Toven down the precarious pathway and onto a wooden porch of one of the neat houses (Someone, somewhere in the village, was playing the flute). Tiny trees hung in boxes from the large brim that sheltered the pair from the snow, and Mulberry knocked on the door with a knocker that was modeled to look like some sort of winged serpent.

*Pok Pok Pok Pok*

“Now,” Mulberry began, “If Eigengrau has done what I have told him to, there won’t be anyone home and we’ll have to find accommodation elsewhere.”

“Of course, Eigengrau is not the most reliable with these sorts of things, so It’s more than worth a shot.”

“H-Huh?” Toven said.

At that, the door clicked before being opened softly. A warming light poured from the open door.

“Ah, well that certainly is no surprise. Hello, Shai.”

In the doorway stood a man of average height and a lean, muscular build. His eyes were kind, thin and brown, stupid yet somehow hiding wisdom and age despite his young complexion. Eyes that suggested he might have the wisdom and kindness to look for abandoned baby birds in their frosted nests, only to try and warm them up by baking them in the microwave. His cheekbones and face were relatively angular and long, and hazel brown hair flowed down from his scalp, trickling down over his shoulders as he bowed his head to greet the Witch and Toven.

“Oh! Hello, Eithne. It’s been far too long since our last words” The man smiled sweetly with his entire face - not just his lips, but through his thin, inclined eyelids that wrinkled in a way that made one feel comforted in his presence.

“Yes, I agree. Apologies for the surprise visit, I take it ye were packin’ to go meet the Professor?” Mulberry asked.

“Yes! I was ready to leave in a hour.” The man spoke smooth and effortlessly, yet in a strange manner, as if he had had a lot of practice in talking slightly wrongly.

“I called him straight away after I called you t’ tell him about our urgent matters concerning d’Hero.” She took an unstable pause, “Ah, I almost forgot!” Mulberry exclaimed, her brighter tones returning, “Toven, this is Shigenobu Yoshinjiro, yet call him Shai, for all of our sakes.”

The man bowed his head in a polite greeting, “Hi, you are Toven then? It’s nice to finally meet you!” He shook Toven’s hand with both of his.

“Auntie to-told me about you too, Shai!” Toven remembered Shai from Mulberry’s stories and he had heard mostly good things about this man. Though something didn’t quite add up - he looked way too young to be in any of those stories. He also seemed a little familiar, but Toven couldn’t place it.

Shai led them indoors and out of the cold, into a house that was spacious yet warm and quite cosy. A brown couch sat oddly in the centre of the room, as if it had just been temporarily moved out of the way whilst vacuuming the floor. It faced out a large glass window that took up enough of the wall to justify Shai’s reasoning for never throwing stones. Weapons lined the walls, though did not appear hostile and menacing but rather peaceful - katanas, other smaller swords, nunchucks, long-handled sabres, bladed metal circles, and in the corner was perched a tranquil looking bo-staff with a nicely-carved design on the ends.

Shai didn’t have much in the way of storage, so Toven and his aunt left their belongings in one of the other corners before taking their shoes off to enter.

And it wasn’t long before Toven was fast asleep on the couch, long past his usual bedtime.

“Don’t worry,” Said Shai to Mulberry a couple of minutes later - they were on their way out, “He will be safe in here. My brother sleeps now in the kitchen room, so you shouldn’t fear any attackers.”

Mulberry nodded and looked to Toven, “I know. I figured Arashiko had come to visit - I can tell by all d’weapons.” She smiled, and then Shai grabbed his bo-staff, and they left Toven and Shai’s sleeping brother for the slippery, iced streets. Shai had also grabbed his FatBit, which he had become rather obsessed with in recent months - a sort of small rubber watch that calculated how many steps he had taken today, and told him how fat he was getting. However, the FatBit was in shock - its calculations told it that Shai had taken twenty five billion steps today, and it was seriously considering retirement and giving itself up to the recycling plants of Lower Atlantis. They left the street, climbing down a flight of slippery wooden stairs before joining the icy highstreet that led to the edges of the valley. Curiously, they travelled away from the purple glow, towards the darker side of the mountain. It had stopped snowing, the flute had gone quiet, and Mulberry passed Shai a book - a book that she had taken from Normonty before turning him into a large, grotesque sort of newt. “This is what we’re dealing with.”

Shai inspected the fake, or rather, rewritten Divinum Opus - which was the generally accepted holy book of Ahbon. Not only did this version not bear the usual peel-off stickers just inside the first page, but the handwritten pages revealed troubling messages, and a completely different side of history that the Divinum Opus did not tell. Shai’s troubled eyes peered at the Witch. “This is -” He began in horror, though failed to find the words.

“Like I told ye on the phone, I found it in Normonty’s hands. I never trusted dat feller.”

Shai had no idea who Normonty was, but he didn’t like him, or his handwriting. Yet they continued for another while in silence with their backs to the world. The last houses saw them depart into the darkness, and Mulberry cast an orb of light above herself to light the way down the mountain. Nobody ever walked this way, and nobody really wanted to - for beyond was danger, and almost certain death. Lest you were Mulberry or Shai, of course. A frozen wind swept up like dust from below, carrying a fungal aroma.

Mulberry took two ribbons from her hat and dabbed a few drops of liquid onto them from a small bottle she produced from her robes. She handed one to Shai, who tied it into his hair, and placed the other back on her hat. Suddenly, the fungal aroma was gone. The Witch specialised in what was known as Kotodama, one of the magical persuasions that involved using words to cast spells of power. Shai, whilst being magically able, had never really used kotodama that much - he had mastered the art of persuasion, a far more peaceful use of calcium during battle (as all magic is drawn from the bones). It was this ability to influence and negotiate with even the sturdiest of souls that Mulberry had come to Shai to help. He also lived in Yama-an-dè, the nearest village to the Monument, which was a gateway into Limbo, a back door of such. This was where they were headed, as it lay near the bottom of the mountain, in the dark and toxic mushroom wastelands.

But the mountain still stretched below, and there was no time for a stroll. This was why Mulberry took to the air on her broom, and Shai swiftly bolted down the precarious rocks with ease. It was hard to see, even with Mulberry’s cast light, though Shai had mastered not only the art of persuasion, but also the ability to echo-locate (When you have lived for thousands of years, why not learn how to echolocate?) and it turned into a sort of race to reach the bottom.

The snow passed below like lots of very cold speeding sheep on dark grey motorcycles in a hurry to ascend. Soon, the snow faded as they swept down like a pair of avalanches. Instead the mountain became covered in a sheet of solid ice with natural jagged spires that threatened to impale them on their quick descent, and the cold was growing. The rough and unpredictable mountain stretched downwards for kilometres - for what lay beneath was below sea-level, and as the gradient of their descent evened out and gorges appeared, so began the mushroom forest. Ammonia rivers wound down to where no light ever shone, white and poisonous crystals lining them, and foothills bore forests of gigantic, toxic mushrooms all twisted and such - the only scrambled life that could survive in such disillumination. The air was toxic, but Mulberry’s spellbound tartan ribbons would let them breathe for long enough. She found Shai a few moments after reaching the bottom, though neither could decide on the winner of their little race, so it was passed off as a tie.

The mushrooms - known as the Bolbalor - were massive() . As tall as buildings, and wide enough to block the pair’s view of the hilltops above, which were illuminated purple for miles in either direction, though none of the light making it to the landscape below. But even though they were shrouded in darkness, Mulberry knew that the fungal bodies only got larger and denser that farther into the dark you travelled. From above the fungal roof of the forest, you could see right across the sky above the forgotten world - starlight brightening the dark blue clouds - yet the farther out one looked, the more spaced-out the stars got until there were no more on the black horizon. These were known as the Outlands.

The Monument was hidden inside a ravine, a deep crack in the ground that held the door into Limbo. The Bolarbor had grown over the top of the ravine more so than the last time Mulberry had seen it. From deep down within the roofed Bolarbor forest, she couldn’t see the ravine entrance anymore, and had to rely on Shai to know where it was.

“Somebody should really tidy this place up a little.” Said Mulberry, knowing fine well that she was the last person who you would expect to hear such a thing from.

“I cannot. To harm the forest for existing as it does, is to harm the nature of existence itself.” Shai said, feeling very ‘at one’ with the forest.

“Get over it, they’re mushrooms! They’re all connected anyway; it would just be like giving the Bolarbor a haircut.” She was right, the Bolbalor was all connected by a deep root system that went deeper than one might like to know, and so technically was all one being. “Well, I suppose you don’t believe in haircuts eid’r now do yeh? Not goin’ by d’looks of yeh.”

The Monument wasn’t far from here - though it was harder than usual to locate due to the entrance being shrouded in mushrooms. The Hero had come, so perhaps the return of light to Ahbon would cease the growth of the forest - It had only appeared since the world had went dark all those millennia ago. He did not want to harm the Bolarbor, nor did he intend to, but Ahbon needed its sun back.

“The Monument should be right here,” Said Shai, and fell straight through the mushroom floor.

Whilst unexpecting of the fall, he landed gracefully on the smooth floor of the ravine, which was only a couple of meters wide, though unseenly long. Down into it they strolled, like ants in a crevice, and eventually the light above the Witch’s head caressed the face of a single carved slab of metal attached to the left wall. It looked like a decrepit gravestone, so rusted and eroded that it looked just like the stone behind it. The text was hardly readable, but Mulberry remembered what it said.

“Here, you find a door into a cosm between worlds, so beware the strange and the wicked. It is not recommended that you continue, for if you lose your way and end up on the flipside, nobody who lives will see you there or ever again. Don’t get lost in Limbo.”

Above the metal slab, the last crest of Umelaron was hammered into the wall. A simple golden butterfly, angular yet graceful to represent a school of thought that saw its final semester all too long ago. The gold crest was not eroded and rusted like the metal slab beneath it, it was clean and could have been freshly forged.

“Well, here we are. Shall I do the honours?” Mulberry asked.

“If you are wanting to?” Said Shai.

Mulberry pivoted around on her feet a hundred and eighty degrees to face the opposite wall. She noticed that it had been graffitied over recently - some unreadable but cool-looking text, and an obnoxious message in yellow paint that read: “Darnell’s Graffiti removal services! Only ≛90!”

Shai was visible agitated by this, “No respect!” He shook his head.

Mulberry was more concerned by the fact someone had been here at all - and forgot to leave a phone number next to their obnoxious company promotion. Moving on, she walked up to the wall and knocked a couple bars of a 5:4 polyrhythmic pattern.

“Who knocks upon my wall, and breaks my peaceful abeyance?”

The voice echoed through the ravine, as if coming from a person standing far away, but from experience, Mulberry knew it was just the door.

“Yoshinjiro Shigenobu and Mulberry.” Announced Mulberry.

“Of course. And the password?” Asked the door, it’s voice like a whisper from far away, yet loud enough to sound uncomfortably close. It was... Discombobulating to say the least.

Shai spoke this time, “Stale eggs and lamb.”

The voice grew loud, yet somehow still a distant whisper.

“No! It has changed.”

“It’s changes every time! This is not fair!” Shai protested.

Mulberry threw up her arms, “Just let us in ye bleet’n arsecrack o’ a ravine, you know us for pete’s sake! You can see who we are!”

“I don’t have eyes, how can I be certain that it’s really you...?” Said the wall.

“Come on, really? Last time the password was ‘password’, and before that it was ‘cave with a K’. Listen here, you jobsworth! The entire future of Ahbon is at stake here, and I know you have a sad life being a literal slab of rock and all, and this may be your sole purpose for consciousness, but you just have to understand that if you don’t let me in, I’ll come back with a warrant and force my way inside! Would you like that?”

“Is that even legal…? Ohhhh, arrrrghmmm…!” Groaned the wall, “Oh, go on then.”

The wall opened, feeling absolutely useless and depressed. A door-shaped rectangle of completely white light flashed in the wall, and a moment later a slab of rock swung open, spilling blue light across the ravine and onto the crest of Umelaron, and onto the monument below.

Two silhouettes walked on through the blue door into Limbo - cautiously, as always, and were suddenly in a corridor of blue light. “What time is it?” Asked Mulberry.

Shai sniffed the air, “Probably quarter past Nothing o’clock.”

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