Anacrusis

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Of Death Metal

Of Death Metal


“Once, I smasheth a rock oneth my heed,

And it doeth break on my heed.

What a Dwarfe Thynge.”

-Dwarfe Poem 1, by Irig Twain.


- Ink’s nonsense nightmares rumbled on - the usual fears, like unrelenting torrents, usually terrifying. Unusually, however, the torrents were not as pristinely horrible - there was a slight yet noticeable disturbance, like a steel pole standing upright out of a river’s rapids, and it split the foul waters in two. There was a presence. Something that fought against his indescribable terrors, and every time the nightmare changed, the presence was there. Ink wasn’t sure if he liked it or not - on one hand it was a change from the general scariness of sleep, but on the other hand it was a deviation from the norm.

Ink heard the presence say something, clear as day yet incomprehensible to his mind, as he was waking up, and all faded around him. He sat up in a sweat, gasping as if for air like he had been drowning. He was caught of guard by this dream, yet that’s all it was, a dream. The true horror was just about to dawn on him. The last thing he remembered was… Was… -

His head, which had rested on a sack filled with dry grass, hurt worse than usual. He cracked his dry eyes open, looking around his immediate room frantically, and for a split second he didn’t feel scared - he felt absolutely mortified. For the room was near black and smelled like rotting beasts and dank, mossy cheese. He thought, for an instant or two, that he was back home. It had all been a dream, hadn’t it? The World of Ahbon, the trees, the grass, the Arcade, all his friends were simply imaginary, weren’t they?

His breathing was heavy and his vision blurry from light-headedness and conjunctivitis, and the tears that momentarily welled up.

And he felt a cold hand touch his shoulder, sending a shiver through him.

“Welcome back, greensleeves.”

He almost couldn’t hear her through the frantic ponding of his own heart. His vision returned, reacquainted with the red glow of not just Coda’s hand, but a small flame that danced in the lonely embers of the fireplace across the room.

“Coda...” He exhaled, trying to calm down, “alright. I’m still here. We’re… alive…”

He pinched himself. He didn’t think he was dreaming.

“Speak for yourself!” Said Coda, keeping her voice as quiet as she could, which wasn’t exactly a whisper.

Ink, returning to his usual sad tone, asked, “Why are we still alive? We should probably be dead.”

“Yeah yeah, sure. Want a mushroom? They taste like dirt, but pretty good dirt if you’re hungry.” Coda held something out to him. It looked like scum that someone had scraped out of a mouldy, neglected kitchen sink.

“It looks poisonous.”

“Nah nah don’t worry, I checked.” Coda assured, “Now the box jellyfish, on the other hand…”

“Alright then.” Said Ink, and unsurely took the mushroom off her hands. “Now, can you please explain what the Devil just happened?” He urged. A loud snore like the engine of a truck startled Ink, it came from somewhere in the corner of the dingy room, but Ink’s eyes were still adjusting to the light and he couldn’t make out what was over there.

“And where are we?” He added.

Coda looked over in the direction of the snoring. “Yeah, your gramps sounds like a lawnmower with clogged with snot, or like a woodchipper gargling rocks, or someone jackhammering a drumkit, or like some really fat dude takin’ a -”

“WAIT, GRIM IS HERE STILL?”

“Yeah, he’s over there sleeping.”

Ink looked over, though not necessarily wanting to. “How are we alive?”

Coda cast her mind back a few hours to when they were fighting Grim, recounting all that had happened.

“Okay, so basically, this is what went down: -”

She went on to explain how Grim ceased his attack when he realised that Ink was a genuine Reaper, and that he wanted to talk with him, and how he had taken her down to the small village, and the cabin they were in currently. She told him about how Grim had been able to move a stone pillar the size of a small mountain by telekinetically. She also told Ink about her conversion with the skeletal Reaper after he had brough her to the cabin, and revealed to her that she was likely not from Ahbon whatsoever. The song she had been humming was Overworldish, and it was quite probable that she was actually dead, and through some miracle had escaped the grasp of ‘the One’, whoever that was. It was a lot to take in for Ink, so he set the thoughts aside for later, as he wasn’t in the thinking mood at the moment.

Coda also told him about how much of a tired old coot Grim was, and about his back pain, and how she was a little underwhelmed upon meeting the Grim Reaper, but told him that he knew of a way out of the cave.

“I threw his scythe off a cliff, so maybe now would be a really good time to... Y’know...” Coda drew her finger across her neck, and motioned to Grim.

“Didn’t you say he knew a way out?” Ink asked.

She nodded, “But we can probably find it ourselves.” they both looked over to the snoring Reaper on the straw bed.

Ink still couldn’t believe it. His Great Great Great Grandfather, the Grim Reaper. He almost didn’t want to leave - almost didn’t want to escape. Almost wanted to stay and have have a conversation with the skeletal man, though he knew better. Curiosity killed the cat, and Ink, though he hadn’t the foggiest idea what was going on and in fact despised cats, was beginning to enjoy life. So the two of them left the sodden cabin on the grey beach, and went to find the exit - Parallax followed silently behind, as usually.

First, Coda took them to the village, because it was disproportionate and cool. It wasn’t much though, only a few little houses and blue lamps ouside. They looked like dolls houses, tiny doors for tiny people. None of the residents were outside, to Coda’s dissapointment, and Ink didn’t care. What did this have to do with escaping the cave? Absolutely nothing! The Reaper looked to the dark, starless sky for any clues, then looked away. It reminded him of home.

No paths were apparent at first - the exit wasn’t exactly marked with a big, flashing “Exit” sign, and there weren’t exactly any maps either. They were in a huge cave, which had to be taller that many-a-mountain, illuminated dully by blue bioluminescent plantlife and Coda’s palm. The cliff that they had come down from was now inaccessible without Grim’s powers, though there wasn’t much up there anyway - no doors, no corridors, no starlight leaking through the roof, and no rivers. No signs of an exit, anywhere actually.

But there was a boat.

Yes, bobbing (as boats tend to do) just out from the shore near Grim’s cabin. It sat there and taunted the pair, as both bore dry footwear. But Coda didn’t care, and given the circumstances, neither really did Ink. As they sloshed through the cool waters, the boat drifted away.

“Is there a breeze?” Ink wondered aloud.

Coda shrugged, and advanced yet again upon the boat which, yet again, drifted away. In a circular motion this time. “Aw come on man!”

And again she chased it, ’til the cave sea made her swim for it, but as soon as she pounced for it, it shot forward and did a sort of, well, double backflip.

“Must be a breeze.” Said Ink, and yawned. As he, tiredly, looked across the coastline that curved into the obscure, he re-weighed the benifits of staying awake and looking for escape. “Did you say that Grim wasn’t going to murder us?”

Coda shot a couple bolts of red laser at the boat, but it dodged them, and she only evaporated the water underneath. “Yeah.”

So after another brief look about the place and discovering that the boat was the only apparent way away from the village, they ushered themselves quietly back into the cabin and within an instant of laying his head down on the pillow, Ink was fast asleep, and the two sleeping Reapers snored in unison.

“A’ight, you do that.” Said Coda, “I’ll wake you up if Gramps gets up. Or if I get bored or something.” She had been talking with Ink at the time of his departure to rejoin the plane of nightmares. Not a soul above a foot tall now kept her company, and she occupied herself by burning things on the smouldering fireplace as sleep didn’t come to her, and she sipped on Creature™.

° ° °

~~Spiders, Spiders as far as the eye could see or the brain comprehend, bottles of them breaking and unleashing a sea of legs, stupidly long and slender compared to their little pinhead bodies, like billions of hairs that clambered on top of one another, creating a living mesh, which Ink swam through. They softly crunched as the Reaper waded through them, and suddenly each and every one of them let out a wild shriek, like a million razorblades on a chalkboard. Then Ink was dragged downward, and drowned in them, spiders tickling his face and crawling insode his eyes, ears, mouth and nose. Through the blackness, images flashed through: lightbulbs in the dark, silent before they all burst simultaneously in a loud bang. An indescribably ancient and wrinkled face stared at him through the blackness, grinning until it’s mouth met it’s empty eyeballs and ripped the skin. It spoke like a headmaster, but the words were unintelligible. Eyeballs, eyeballs everywhere, rolling around, crushed under Ink’s feet oh Lord he didn’t mean it! The eyes then stood taller, as if held up by some sort of tower, looking down at him, judgemental as he balled up with nerves. a spotlight shone upon him. Sing. Sing for us! They all chanted, rats? No, tiny people ripping into his flesh, tearing with their incisors as they climbed inside his skin. He could do nothing about it, he was paralysed, he tried to run up the imense and impossibly steep flight of stairs to escape for he did not want to sing! Yet he never seemed to move - no matter how hard he tried he just slipped, sliding down as the smell of rotten wood and burnt flesh entered his nostrils. No. No this was not happening! He saw his family standing by the door, waiting for him to return. They waited with diamond eyes and dead faces. ~~

But suddenly, something cut through his nightmare.

~~ A vision - a sort of person, who stood on a rainbow lake. A black silhouette that was either facing the horizon, or directly at Ink.

“Hello?” He asked, “What are you doing here?”

The Silhouette just stood, deadly silent in the noise of Ink’s interupted nightmare. It stood there for a while in the viscous silence, blurry yet sharp as a knife. It screamed, though the scream was not that of a living being, no. This was a metallic, overdriven scream, like a tortured robot, or the devil’s malfunctioning radio, or… ~~

A blistering guitar solo, as played by a crimson hand and its partner - a chewed, cracked-fingernailed, though otherwise completely normal - hand. Ink awoke fully, still surrounded by damp darkness and the feeling of being home, though it was far louder than home, as Coda had been given an instrument. It was an electric guitar, made entirely of old bones and odd strings that glistened like strands of cobweb.

Ink teetered on the line between musical appreciation and annoyance - it was a cool solo and all, but it was far too loud for Ink’s sleepy ears.

She stood with it in the middle of the room, and Grim seemed just as startled as Ink - eyesockets wide, perched up in his straw bed.

She played a whole-tone-scale descent of the fretboard, and slammed her pick across the bottom three strings to mark the end of the solo, and let out a satisfied exhale. She had kind of expected an applause of some sort. Though all that came was a sleepy nod from Ink.

“That’s… Mine.” Stated Grim. He was correct! See, he had created the instrument back in the Overworld a very long time ago, though he had never known anyone to play in such a manner. The “electric guitar” was an invention of his that had come about when he had experienced a human orchestra, and found that the guitars were far too quiet. Of course, Grim’s guitars were obviously not electric (as electrical power hadn’t been harnessed yet in the Overworld) though had the same overdriven, distorted tone. His guitars were actually powered by pure evil, which naturally made people associate the sound with the Devil before actual, not-so-evil electric guitars came about a couple centuries later.

Coda set the thing down, propped up against what was probably a table. “Mornin’.”

The events directly after this were sort of blurry for Ink, and although meeting Grim was certainly something he had expected to be memorable, their breakfast of weird mushrooms, grass, and a chewy, bland, tasteless, see-through meat was interrupted by intrusive thoughts of nothing-in-particular. Ink daren’t touch the unappetising blue oysters.

“So,” Grim began, “How’s home doin’? I didn’t think it would’ve survived this long”

Ink scratched his eye, and replied “Hm? Oh, I wish it hadn’t.”

“Heh, I see. Hasn’t gotten any better then, ah?” He put his hands behind his head and lay back on the straw bed.

“No.” Ink replied, not wanting to add more to that response, for that would require thought on the matter, and the matter of Ink’s Home was quite unthinkably horrible.

“So you threw yourself into the portal of Cocytus, knowing fine well that it wasn’t active, and even still that you weren’t gonna survive in the Overworld?” Grim asked.

“Yeah.” Ink could feel Coda watching him as she ate, wary of the depressing atmosphere.

“I don’t blame you. I got out, collected souls, tried to blackmail the Otum God’s with ‘em, didn’t work, ended up here. Got trapped down’ ere by a bunch of freaky wizards - Probably the best ending I could have hoped for, you know? And that was when I thought it couldn’t get any worse! Hah! I know I ain’t the healthiest looking fella myself, but by the looks of you it seems everyone there is more dead than alive, and you’re a Reaper, too.”

“Mh.” Ink replied, and scratched at a patch of sporotrichosis on his forearm.

“Anyway, how do we get out of this wretched place?” He asked.

Grim cocked his skull and gave a sarcastic tut, “Ready to leave your old man so soon, huh?”

“Well, you’re not exactly on for first impressions.” Ink sleepily replied. He placed an empty slate plate on the ground, for where else was he to put it?

“Heh, good point. Yeah I’ll show yah the way out, you ain’t ready to retire yet kid, Heh. But when you are, just go crap in a wizard’s slipper and you can be sure that they’ll send yah down ’ere!”

Ink was no longer planning on retiring. Ever.

Then, Coda took a final sip of get another can of Creature™ and said, “By the way I have no idea where Parallax is.”

- and so the next thing Ink remembered was leaving the dark cabin in search of Parallax - for where had he gotten to? Coda had said that he had been missing all night, ever since they had tried to look for the way out. She still carried the guitar with her - yet another skeletal friend that would follow her to the Capital, and a tooth-like plectrum wedged in it’s strings. A tooth-pick, if you will.

“Why didn’t you just look for him earlier?” Grumbled Ink, clutching his head as they walked up the shore to the blue grass.

“What, and leave you alone with that murderous Skeletor-lookin fella?”

Ink stuttered, for this response - whilst in his mind completely logical - had shocked him a bit. At first he couldn’t pinpoint why, but soon came to realise that he found it odd to know that she cared at all, though he didn’t know why it was odd.

“Mh.” He said.

[The town was in chaos, everyone hiding in their homes out of fear of their new tyrant leader, Ferrous the Rider. The one who rode upon that horned beast, the flying biter, the white dragon, the great tail-docked bone-to-pick serpent. The green eyes of the beast loomed above the streets now ruled by it’s rider, the dictator that struck fear into the hearts of the weak and strong, young and old Whill-o. Nobody dared question, let alone challenge his authority. They locked their doors as the chilling sight of their mighty ruler prowling the street. A symbol of fear, authority, and above all, dignity!! ]

“Come on, you.” Ink said, picking the little blue person up off of Parallax by the head.

The little person was kicking and lashing out at Ink, trying to break free. Ink crouched and put him down gently on the thin street.

The tiny humanoid pulled out a pin-sized dagger and stabbed Ink in the finger before before he could stand up again.

“Ah! You little twerp!” Ink sucked on his pricked finger, and Coda kicked the tiny man like a football, who screamed a tiny scream and disappeared into the grass.

“There he goes!” She said, and gave Parallax a boney noogie before pointing to another Whill-o who had come to celebrate the departure of their tyrant, “Hey look at this one, how far do you think it’s guts will splatter if I stomp on it?”

“I don’t think that really -” Ink began, but was interrupted by Grim’s call:

“Hey, you kids coming or what?”

And so they left the village, and headed towards the shore with hopes of seeing the surface again.

[ As the giants left, Ferrous found himself betrayed, alone with tears in his black, selfish eyes. He looked away from the giants, towards the ever-growing crowd of villagers. Dropping his dagger, he turned and ran from the village, never to return. The villagers pursued him through fields of blue grass, eventually loosing him when he reached the end of the grass and continued running. The others dared not follow him into the dark.]

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