Anacrusis

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Of The Fall

Of The Fall



“That’s Cinnamon!” Said Shai.

“Does she sound mad?” Mulberry fretted.

“Yes. She screams!” Shai looked to the horrid sky, “Sounds like she has noticed a stranger in her home.”

“Us?” Mulberry hoped, and took to the air.

“No. Too far away. She must have -”

“Found d’Hero before we did.” The Witch turned around mid-air to face Shai with an ancient face, the wrinkles defining her seriousness, “So where is she?”

He crouched, a hand in the grass, and felt the last rumbles of the groundbreaking sound. “Follow!” He said, and led the way.

****

There was another ear-blending screech, and Ink’s heart fell, for this time it was louder - thus closer. “We should get back to the cave!” He shouted.

“Nah. If we do that, then we’re only going to have to come out at some point. Let’s go while we have the chance! Whatever that was, I’m sure it’s just chilled a razor-sharp tooth on a piece of particularly cold frozen dragon carcass. Come on!”

Ink looked back, though not too far. She had a frighteningly good point, so it would seem. Not about the whole chipped tooth thing, but about the fact that they probably wouldn’t get another chance at this escape. It was logical, though somehow absolutely bonkers. They were already half way across the ridge, and so they continued, faster than before, darting across the sickle’s edge to the low midpoint. Coda ran on up ahead, and Ink’s lungs went cold. He looked for another levitating pillar coming their way, but none were immediately obviously inbound. Their hurried sprinting slowed a bit as the grey peak drew nearer and the ground sloped Upwards. Soon, it became more of a climb up the thin passage of grassy clumps and stones - some of which were loose and unstable. Then, the ground shook again at the shrieking roar of the mighty screamer.

Hanging in there but only just, Ink’s foot slipped. Off a rock, and off the sickle’s edge mountain. He managed to catch himself, though his heart fell all the way down into the screaming Tempest beneath. He swore he could see something moving down there - something with three long, vertical eyes and spider-like limbs.

Hanging there but only just - one hand clutching a thankfully rough rock, and the rest of him left dangling - it was Coda who arrived to hoist him away from a fatal descent once again. She grabbed his wrist, and though no human of her stature would realistically be able to pull another up a cliff face as often portrayed in fiction, she did it anyway. Her hand glowed red, and by the power of a returning sun, Ink stood again on the sickle’s edge of a mountain ridge.

The ground shook constantly now, as the beast vigorously clambered up the side of the mountain. They saw a pillar floating close, and it looked to be coming closer. Roots dangled down from its clumpy mass of dirt and whatnot, and it was in fact on course to pass over the peak.

It might be their only chance. It was a race now, Ink could hear it, and feel it in his rattling bones as he scaled the cold, rough stones. A race between them, the shrieking beast, and the pillar. If any of the latter two reached the peak first, they were essentially and quite frankly, screwed.

His hands were blistering as he climbed but he didn’t feel it for the numbness induced by the cold and the adrenaline, and Coda at last reached the peak - the apex of the ridge, and waited for him.

They had beat the pillar. Now it was just race between the pillar and the beast, and thus second place would be the place to decide their fate.

The stone pillar wasn’t exactly putting in a-hundred-and-ten percent into trying to beat the beast however, as it couldn’t help but wonder, what was in it for him? As a mindless piece of floating terrain, it didn’t care about the fate of two adolescents, or even the fate of Ahbon itself. But, as a mindless and inanimate chunk of ground, it didn’t have the intelligence to give up either. No - it simply levitated closer to the eiger pair, drifting through the thin, grey air.

“Oh damn, look at that thing.” Said Coda, leaning out over the edge of the peak and peering down the shaking mountain at the approaching beast that scaled the side.

“It’s pretty fast!” She chuckled.

“Come away from there!” Ink warned.

“Hey come here, look at this thing.”

“No. I don’t want to look.” Ink’s eyes were fixed on the roots of the pillar, and his mind was elsewhere.

“Tsh, fine. You’ll never guess what it looks like.” She mused.

Ink groaned, as half of him started to accept what was - in his mind quite obviously - his impending doom. The other half of him was in full panic mode, which didn’t leave him much to reply with. Still, he said, “I’m not certain, does it by chance have long sharp claws, eight arms, big black eyes like gaping abysses, and is about the size of a two-storey house?”

Coda turned from the edge and shot him a look of odd surprise. “Dude…” She said, and her hair blew in the breeze as her words were briefly interrupted by the pillar, which dragged its roots at moderate speeds across the peak. Now was the moment - without looking up or down, Ink followed Coda and grabbed onto a thick bundle of the natural ropes and was away in the nick of time. The ground they had stood on disappeared beneath them, and nothing came to replace it but the jowls of a massive creature that was about the size of a two-storey house, had eight arms with long claws and dark, abyssal eyes.

“... That’s incredible, man. How’d you know?”

“Blooming climb for god’s sake!” He yelled, and started climbing before his hands froze and shattered and he plunged into infinity.

The monster perched itself thunderously on the peak of the ridge, and clawed at them with an extended, withered white arm like a bone. It shrieked in rage when it fell just short of grasping Coda’s hoodie that blew like a hero’s cape.

She and the Reaper continued to climb until they had reached the uneven top of the pillar, which was quite a nice place actually. There were a couple of normal little flowers, a thick tree stump with lots of littler trees growing out of it, some grass and a few red toadstools which Ink lay down on, in tears.

“Alright.” Breathed Coda, a little out of breath. “Good job, man.” She caught her breath and added, “That was fun, huh? Just like in those cool comics!”

Ink didn’t say anything, and only hugged the floor and basked in the feeling of not being dead.

She sat down beside him, “Hey buddy, you good?”

Just then, as from across a monstrous chasm came some strings. Strings of sticky, spindly material as shot from the pointy fingertips of the beast. They stuck to the slice of land below, and strained as the pillar jolted, sending Coda to the ground with her bag and guitar breaking the fall. The island came to a halt, and the monster reeled them in like a spider.

- What now?? -

The pair got up as soon as the ground was at least standable, and faced the terror. Indeed it had eight arms - skeletal-like, with fingers that spun webs, a skull-like head with two long fangs and three vertical eyes like great tears in its head and the fabric of space itself. It wore a piece of torn and faded purple fabric over its skeletal body, from which screaming mouths and eyes erupted every now and then and disappeared back into its bones.

Ink had had quite enough of this, but as tired and as ready as he was to just lie down on the ground and forget the world, he wanted to live. He looked for any possible escape routes, but there were none. The creature pulled them closer, and Coda clenched her fist, ready to strike the creature. Parallax just floated there, not doing much.

Then suddenly, his master whispered something in his, um, ear-socket? He followed Coda’s whispered directions, and floated up to the beast - and flew slightly higher to look down upon the thing.

“What’s he doing?” Asked the Reaper.

“Well,” Began Coda “I thought since they’re both skeletons, they might be able to figure something out between them, you know?”

Ink watched as Parallax - a grain of dust in comparison - hovered above the beast, and neither of the two skeletal enigmas were enthusiastic about negotiating.

“Coda, that is…”

“The dumbest idea you’ve ever heard? Yeah, don’t worry about it.” She had a better idea - one that had worked before in a similar situation regarding a talking tree. Her plan? Violence.

Parallax returned a moment later having done absolutely nothing to quash the monster’s wrath.

A boney hand gripped the pillar like a microphone - well more like a bar of chocolate as its entire face split down the middle to reveal a maw that cannot be described in mere words, and it moved in to take a bite.

Its jaws were scorched with the power of the sun in Coda’s fist, however, and it recoiled with a burning mouth. A boney claw reached out and slashed at them, though Ink cast a holographic shield - albeit slightly late - and its razor sharp pinkie finger cut a single hair from each of their heads.

And Coda struck again, too. Like before, her fist glowed a bright crimson, outshining the world ’til Ink had to cover his eyes, ’til the beast’s abyssal eyesockets lit up, and struck with all her might a blow that sent shockwaves through the air.

An explosion of red circles was the last thing any of them saw until their eyes recovered. The floating island-pillar they had been standing on had been obliterated by the blast - they had guessed that much - and the feeling of rushing air came over them both as their sight returned. The beast was nowhere to be seen, but worse horrors became apparent.

They were falling, down through the freezing air, down at terminal velocity into the unknown that probably had a hard floor.

Coda watched herself fall towards certain death, but doubted that this was the end. It didn’t seem like the end at all - she was the Hero, of course. She couldn’t die.

Ink wasn’t so sure. To him, the situation was far more dire. This was the end, there was no question about it. With no known afterlife for a Reaper or Dimmer-born, many questions still burned forever unanswered in his skull. But it had been a good run - at least he would not die sodden and miserable like the rest of his family. He got out. He saw a world worth seeing, made friends worth befriending, and all in all he would die perhaps not happy (in fact quite annoyed that he was dying in the first place) but at the very least alright-ish.

Though the fate of the sun rested on his shoulders. Ahbon was far from lightless and lifeless, yet a sun would be a fantastic addition to its beauty. He decided that he ought to at least attempt to save something in his final moments. This was why he focused his attention on Coda - who fell below him and as the ground approached, and he reached out to attempt to telekinetically slow her descent. The chasm ended in a dried up and crusted cold desert - it was close enough to see this now. Ink felt the drag on his soul as he drew upon every last morsel of his brittle bones, and successfully managed to slow Coda’s speed by about 10% for a couple of seconds. Meters now from the hard chasm floor, Coda was picked up by a large, blurry white shape that darted out of Ink’s vision before he could register what the shape actually was. He then passed out cold as his head ran empty, and his consciousness dissipated again into the Finest Oblivion.

But in his dreams, the same presence he had felt in his mind earlier came to him. It leaked alien emotions - sorrow and grief for things Ink didn’t recognise, and immense determination to live. In the absence of consciousness, the spirit took over Ink’s mind and body. And just as his head was inches away from becoming something that resembled the contents of a jar of raspberry jam and broken eggshells regurgitated onto the desert floor, every molecule he owned froze completely within an instant.

A moment later, he dropped onto the crusty dirt without grace.

Moments later, Coda located him, and hopped off of Parallax who had grown quite a lot bigger all of a sudden. She skidded to him on her bare knees and was relived and somewhat surprised to find that there wasn’t any blood or stray brains splattered about.

****

“There they are!” Shouted Shai about half an hour later, pointing across the tangled black tomato bushes to where the crusty desert began. Under the moving shadows of the tall levitating pillars of land high above, Coda dragged the Reaper through the dry dirt. He was breathing and alive, though she had contemplated digging a large hole and burrying him anyways.

She saw something approaching on the grey horizon, and flung a red laser at it.

Mulberry swerved on the broom, and nearly lost her balance.

“Calm ye down, lad! It’s me!” She called.

“Oh. Hi!” Coda replied. She recognised Mulberry now that she had gotten a little closer.

The Witch approached and dismounted her broom with a sigh of relief.

“Sorry ’bout that,” Coda continued, “I’ve been fighting a lot of skeletons.”

Mulberry nodded apologetically, “I see. Speaking of,” She turned to Shai, who was just about to catch up, “Shai! You go find Cinnamon, I’ll meet ye at the door.”

Shai nodded, ran straight past, and jumped inhumanly high ’til he was out of sight.

“You’re that badass Witch lady I met earlier.”

“That I am, lad!” Mulberry swept her eyes over the scene, finding Ink lying motionless. “What happened?”

Coda sighed, impatient to recount the events that had led up to this point. “Well, there was this minister freak who -”

“No no, I’ll hear about that on the way up, what happened to him?” Mulberry asked.

Coda paused, then shrugged. “I dunno. We fell, pretty far.” She glanced up at the broken islands above, “And my dog here swooped in...” Coda looked to Parallax, who had returned to his normal size whilst nobody was looking. “...Yeah, well, I don’t know what happened actually, but he’s alive I think. And I’m…” She looked inquisitively at the Witch, “Well… dead, aren’t I?”

“Ah,” Mulberry smiled faintly, an slight sadness in her eyes. “so you figured out how you ended up here?”

“Oh come on dude it was obvious! I woke up with no memory of what happened before next to a freakin’ Reaper and now I got some sort of superpower, right? And a cute skull dog! This is obviously the good afterlife, ain’t it?”

The witch chuckled, “I’m afraid, this is not the good afterlife.” She looked to the sky, “Or necessarily is it d’bad one. This is just Ahbon. People live ’ere, and people die ’ere, you are just one of it’s residents now. And before you ask, yes - since this ain’t Heaven or Hell, you can die again here if you tried. You are not invincible.”

After the events that had just transpored, Coda had a hard time believing that last statement. Mulberry

“I didn’t want to have this conversation wit ‘jeh so soon, of the fear of spoilin’ your journey. I was just going to send ye back to yer life in the Overworld once this is over wit’ no memory of ’dis place, but ah’m afraid I have a bit of bad news about that…”

****

“Goodness Cinnamon, what have you done? This place is mess.” Shai sighed, staring at the boney leviathan. He hopped across the floating debri of the crushed spires, towards the beast.

He stood before the Mother-arikumo, raising his hands to it in a calming, assertive manner. Cinnamon lowered her agitated head toward him, her many hands supporting her weight on the islands she had collected and combined into a throne to sit upon.

“Easy, easy now. You have made a mess, dear. I know you do not like small people, but what did I say about attacking the strangers?” He reached out and touched the bottom of Cinnamon’s mandibles. “Only the one with the black cloak, okay?”

Once fully calmed, Cinnamon bid Shai farewell and crawled back down the mountain into her fourth-dimensional habitat, where her children slept inside massive flesh-eggs, waiting to hatch. Shai reunited with Mulberry on the exit-door-plateau, and introduced himself to Coda, and to the sleeping Reaper who hung draped with unconscious hands on the Witch’s shoulders. He wasn’t one for conversation, Shai could already tell.

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