Of The Can't (And Protonal Réunion)
"For breakfast I had a stone toad
That bit me back
I hiteth the bugger with a hammer!
What a Dwarfe thynge."
Dwarfe Poem 2, by Irig Twain
~ "Who are you?" Ink said into a dream, six-hundred-septillion steps away from reality. There, a presence sat shyly away in a vivid room corner, as of overly-sensitive to all sensations of life. It didn't open its mouth, but spoke directly to Ink in his mind.
"I'm Absentis Sanguine" It said weakly, "But call me something shorter, I suppose."
Ink was half-surprised to hear a response, though startlement did not wake him. The room around him couldn't help but build itself in his imagination - a nice room with an open balcony, that looked out onto vivid, vibrant landscaped beyond.
The visual form of the figure in the corner known as Absentis changed rapidly, never settling on an appearance, and flickering like a broken simulation.
"I don't remember what I look like." The boy explained.
"Where… Are we?" Ink asked. It was a silly question - he recognised the place. It was the inside of his own imagination. "Actually, don't answer that, I know where we are."
"It's likely just the shock of being dead making you ask stupid questions." Said Absentis.
"I'm dead?" Ink asked. It was a silly question, as he recalled what had happened the instant before he arrived here. Of course he was dead.
Absentis paused, "No." He said, and chuckled. Was that what humour was? He couldn't remember. "But you should be, because I should be. I saved you. My bones are gone, but from within your head I stopped your death fall." The mass in the corner settled on a form and curled out of a fetal position. It was a boy around Ink's age, perhaps slightly older, but nothing else could be made out except the stars in his hair that was either short or not short.
"Right… Do I know you?" Ink asked, a bit bothered by the boy's sudden appearance in his head and too surprised and dreamy to feel grateful. He stared out onto the balcony and pondered over the vivid landscape that he saw outside. The dream was losing its lucidity. "Are you some sort of memory? A figment of my imagination? Have I finally lost not just the plot, but the whole bloody story?"
"It's nice here." Replied Absentis, ignoring him. He also stared out over the balcony.
"Mh." Ink said. "Who let you in?"
Absentis said nothing - suddenly after a wave of rethinking the imaginative world, they both sat on the edge of the balcony and watched the moon set on a bright pink and orange sky as a rainbow city twisted below. "everything here seems surprisingly real. You must spend a lot of time here." Another pause came as a pink ribbon drifted by.
"Am I going mental?" Ink asked. The landscape contorted and suddenly Ink turned to face Absentis in a black void with no other distractions to their conversion. "What in mud's name are you? And why are you here??"
The void rippled, and Absentis only stared. He looked the Reaper in the mind's eye for an unknown period of time, with pitch brown irises, as he recalled. Eventually, everything faded and tore itself away from Ink's view. The void went from pitch-ass-black to eyelid-black in an instant.
"Looks like you're waking." Said Absentis, "Goodbye, Reaper." ~
Ink wanted to talk back, but before he knew it he was tossing and turning on some sort of strange bed with a face full of snow.
"Get up, asshat!"
Ink wiped the freezing ball of snow off of his face before opening his gradually unconjuncting eyes which still held small particles of dirt that scratched the surface of his eyeballs when he blinked. "Coda!" Ink shouted, frustrated.
"What?" She stood in the corner of a wooden room, snowball in hand.
"Why must you plague my mornings with these rude awakenings?"
"Dude, It's the early afternoon!" She swung her arm back, taking a step in his direction. "Get up!"
Ink raised an arm in defense, "ALRIGHT! Alright, I'm up! Don't throw that thing!" He sat up from under a thick sheet, noticing the strong, woody scent of the room. A pleasant, fresh yet almost overwhelming piney smell. He clutched his head, which was not as sore as usual but still held a dull ache. He rubbed his eyes, sitting on a tatami bed. Lying there was, despite the cold face, the most comfortable experience of his life.
Coda loitered by the door with dark bags under her eyes and hair washed and damp. Ink needed a shower, or to bathe in water that wasn't murky and dirty for a change, preferably warm water - bathing in which was a new and seemingly delightful concept to him. He got out of the bed, still wearing his robe, which still held his pens and sketchbook and the letter for Claudia.
"Toven's been wating for you to wake up, yah know." Coda said, eating snow. "Just like him to worry, huh?"
Ink nodded - he had only known Toven for a couple days, though the invertebrate boy's first impressions had suggested he would often do such a thing as worry for others.
He stood and followed Coda out of the room, into a short hallway with watercolor paintings of mountain flowers on the wall. Each signed by the same person underneath, but Ink couldn't read the signature. The house smelled of lunch, the sounds and smells of frying food coming from somewhere - the kitchen, Ink presumed. The hall led to a living room, with weapons on racks stood up against the wall, and glass windows all across one side looking out onto a purple-lit landscape below. In the center of the room, facing the window, a sofa from which Toven's head popped up, and he smiled. He greeted Ink with a hug, and made sure he was alright. The three of them sat on the sofa and talked about their individual ventures, about what happened to the minister and Rose, and about Grim and Cinnamon. Ink was informed of their location, and Coda told him about the journey out of Limbo and up the mountain.
"It sucked! Dude I had to sit behind you on Mulberry's broom cuz Parallax wouldn't magically grow again! I dunno what his deal is…" She glared at the dog who loitered in the corner, then she sighed and changed topics, "Hey Ink do you like it here?"
Ink looked around the room, that Coda wasn't necessarily referring to, "It's adequate." He understated due to the grumpy earliness of his morning.
"Good, cuz Mulberry messed up."
"How so?" Ink asked sceptically, remembering who Mulberry was. "Is she here?"
"Y-yeah, she's i-in the kitchen with Sh-Shai." Toven responded.
Just then, Mulberry waltzed on through, wearing her pointed hat, boots and dress.
"Shai," She said, "Is our host."
The witch walked past the sofa and stopped by the window, staring out towards Atlantis.
"Oh." Ink looked around the room at the various weapons on the wall, that were reminiscent of the weapons from 'Sidewalk Brawler' - the game he had sucked at back in the arcade. "Is he a ninja?"
Mulberry cackled, "Of sorts." She made a three-point turn to the Reaper ,"Did ye hear of my discrace?" She asked.
"What happened?" Ink asked, and Toven seemed to curl up within himself.
"I 'ad to break d' well after Otum sent a squabble of fools t'rough, ye see, to stop reinforcements arriving. Coda told me that you encountered them in Pier. I disarmed them of what I thought was all of d'eir weapons, but I never expected a group like theirs to be trusted with an enchanted dagger. Speaking of which, d' you still have it?"
Ink faltered. "No, I got rid of it."
"I threw it into a deep pool in a dark cave." Ink explained.
Mulberry's face lightened, "Good, good." She turned towards the window again, going quiet.
"So you destroyed the well? Is that it?" Ink asked.
Mulberry sighed, "No, I'm afraid there is more. After I broke the well, I got attacked and overwhelmed by a larger gang of Otum's soldiers. Real, proper soldiers this time. I fear they are heading to Atlantis, and they seek you, Coda. Once they have your soul, they may call their General and return to Otum without requiring the well as a portal."
Coda smiled, optimistic as usual, "Yeah, but we can take 'em"
"I'm assembling the Senate Eterno, a group of powerful, unnaturally long-lived peoples who promised to come together in a situation such as dis. A group of which I am part of, as is Shai."
Mulberry's eyes looked sad, but why?
"The senate will deal with d' attackers. Hero," She looked to Coda, "me, myself and Shai must keep ye safe and under our wing until we reach Eigengrau, where the rest of the Senate Eterno should already be."
Coda clasped a tight fist on front of her face, red and glowing.
"I'll help you guys fight!" She said.
"No no, ye can't. You must live to return our sun, so stay safe, got it? Toven, I wish for you to stay with seamstress Grace for a while, you understand?"
Toven nodded sadly. Something didn't make sense to him. His great aunt had never mentioned this whole senate buisness to him before. And he hadn't know anything about her unnaturally long life prior to recently, so why was she just telling him all this now? His aunt felt more distant than usual.
"And you, Reaper. I don't know what you may do, it is your choice from here. But know that we must leave shortly, I want to be at Eigengrau's tower for breakfast tomorrow mornin'." Mulberry said.
Ink nodded. In this situation it would be wise to complete their journey as soon as possible. What would he do, he wondered.
"I understand that ye may not wish t'continue travelling with d'Hero after what ye'v been t'rough, which is alright." She shrugged, "I also understand that you may want to bathe before deciding either way?" Mulberry asked him. Ink wondered if that was more a recommendation than an offer - he had not showered in Tabbe's hotel, and he was regretting that.
"Mh." He replied, standing up from the sofa.
"Make it quick, lunch is almost ready. We'll be headin' out after that." Mulberry said. "We can't afford to rest long." Though something in her ancient bones was itching. It was true, they couldn't afford to rest long, but that wasn't all that urged the Witch back to activity.
Mulberry showed Ink to the bathroom, which unknown to him was quite unusual. See, it was a circular room with a central, wide shower head set in the roof, the floor beneath it was a criss-crossed wooden drain. The Witch gave Ink a towel and soap, and the Reaper nodded quietly to thank her goodbye though still had no idea how to turn the shower on, which was only the norm for anyone showering as a guest in someone else's home.
But when he found that the turnable circle on the wall had in fact two layers - one to control the power as opposed to the central heat-altering one - he found that it had been far worth the effort. The water was warm, an experience that was completely and brilliantly new to Ink, and with the addition of soap
As he washed, he suddenly recalled his dream, though he wished he hadn't. Immediately wanting to pass it off as just that - a dream - and continue to enjoy his shower, the thought lingered and grew in his mind until he finally caved and thought it through with some tough, thorough thought. Was there really someone living in his head? Was this Absentis person really there, or a strange conjuration of his imagination created by the rough sleep schedule and constant exhaustion? Perhaps something in-between? He tried to communicate with Absentis, closing his eyes and calling out his name in his mind, but to no avail. Nobody responded. How had Ink survived the fall? Was it Absentis' doing? If so, could he see what was going on in the real world through Ink's senses? What were his physical limits? Could he see what was Ink was doing right now? Could he here Ink ask these questions to himself?
All these thoughts plagued him, disturbing, simply new confusions that had been added on top of his already confused mind, and it was all rather frustrating him a bit.
The Reaper thought it best not to think about it. He was probably going delusional - it was just a weird dream, he told himself. He had passed out during the fall, so Coda or Mulberry probably saved him.
After his well-needed shower, the Reaper left without using shampoo, for it had a funny name and he had no idea what it was for. What in Hell was a dermatologist, and why did a tenth of them recommend against using this shampoo?
At the dining table, Toven, Coda and Mulberry had lunch with Shai and his twin brother, Arashiko. Arashiko, who was physically similar to his brother but not identical, with lighter hair and a stubblesome beard. He seemed friendly, but the quiet, gruff sort of friendly that would not crack a smile so simply. The dining table itself was a light wood with rubbery mats on which one would put their plate or bowl or block of cheese to avoid stains and to increase its grip on the table. Snow patterned down outside a long, rectangular window that let in, and added to, the soft light of the mountain village.
The Hero sat between Mulberry and Toven and ate like a feral and starved singularity - this was the best food she could ever remember tasting.
"You will give you a stomach ache!" Warned Shai.
"I already have a stomach ache," Replied Coda, "It's called hunger!"
She stabbed at the food with the weird sticks Shai had provided her with. She felt she had seen them before, but she couldn't quite remember their name, like a faint memory from a past life. Most things were like this for Coda - the world around her was filled with things that were only half familiar, things that she didn't quite remember, but that weren't at all alien to her. Coda knew she had had a life before she woke up at the well, but remembered only tiny fragments of fragments of information. It was a strange sensation, discovering the world again, but she smiled through it. It was fun, and interesting, and no matter what happened before or what happens after, she was happy in that moment. Prior to waking up in the well, her life must have already been pretty awesome - why else would she have been the Hero, the messiah, the chosen savior that the profecy foretold? As she finished her ramen, she concluded that she had to have been a dragon-riding warrior, or a space pirate, or a famous rockstar, as this was what she would have wanted to believe, and so why wouldn't she? Nevertheless, she chugged down the seasoned juice left in her her bowl, and started on the juicy, cut meat and salad.
"So you two are like, twins, right?" Coda asked.
Shai nodded, "We are identical!"
Arashiko shook his head and grunted.
"And we have the typical semi-telepathic twin connection too," Shai continued, "sometimes we even finish each others-..."
"..." Said Arashiko, staring without will into his brother's eyes.
"..." Shai motioned to him, though somehow kept completely still whilst doing so.
"..." To his brother's dismay, Arashiko took another bite of fried mackerel.
A silent while after, Ink finally stepped disturbedly into the homely dining room where everyone was packing up to leave - and had to crunch on a solid block of instant noodles, as lunchtime was now in the past yet he was hungry in present.
Shai had taken a long stick from the wall as a weapon, and tied it to his rucksack. Arashiko bore long swords that curled outwards at the end like a tiger's claw, and he strapped them to his back. Both twins had days worth of foodstuffs and supplies stuffed into their rucksacks, which were large and square-shaped. Mulberry had her broom and snacks, and Coda had her guitar and her little red bag. Toven had his broom, and Ink had his dagger, sketchbook and questions.
They walked out into the cold air, where a light snow was falling from the sky. Ink stopped in his tracks, startled, and questioned what in the blue blazes was coming out of the stars.
Upon getting his explanation, he cautiously left the porch, and almost fell on the slippery boardwalk, which was covered in snow that had been disturbed by footsteps. As they got down into the midst of the village, the snow became more and more packed into the wood as a result of more frequent disruption. The snowy mountain peaks on either side watched as down through the buildings they walked, and into the middle of the village where the houses opened onto a large landing, with a fountain in the center. The only reason it had not frozen over was it's constant flow. The highstreet was clad in beautiful overhead lanterns that emanated a warming glow and bore intricate little carvings. Their light alone was enough to make Toven feel warmer. Though wrapped in a down jacket, he shivered like a leaf stuck in a drain during a blizzard.
Speaking of leaves, a pair of black leaves blew across the path.
Mulberry gave Coda's guitar an odd look. "You're lookin' a little encumbered, dear Hero. Perhaps it'd be clever t'just leave it behind? It will be safe enough in d'home of the twins."
"Nah It's all good! I can carry it!"
"Are ye quite sure? It may weigh down on you." Mulberry said. The guitar was a little big and clunky, not the best thing to be carrying down a snowy mountain with the looming possibility of an attack by experienced soldiers.
Coda opened her mouth to speak, but Toven intervened, "I'll take i-it. I'm n-not carrying anything he-heavy." He no longer carried his bag of food, Shai had that covered.
Mulberry would have laughed, but much of her cheer and lighthearted nature had been temporarily banished by the dullen situation, for Toven's skinny arms could never lift such an instrument.
Then, Arashiko insisted that he take it. Mulberry, thinking this was a good idea, convinced Coda to hand it to him. He took it. Gruffly.
"It's alright, once this ordeal is over you will be able to play it all ye want, and we'll all gather 'round t' listen." Mulberry sighed.
Coda nodded. There was trouble in the witch's voice as if the thought of this being over filled her with a certain guilty dread or grim uncertainty.
She was surprised at how light her bag had become, which wasn't necessarily a good thing. "Hey man, is there any stores around here that sell Creature™?"
"Hm? 'Fraid not, young heroic one." Mulberry smiled, "Haven't ye figured out how to take care of that yourself?"
"What do you mean?" Asked Coda.
"Well," The Witch cast her mind back to fond memories, "The Lord used the sun to create a great many things long before it was cast away. I can imagine that ability will'ave passed onto you. A small can of fizzy juice can't be too hard to magic up?"
The Hero sensed a sliver of challenge in her voice as the purplish snow lifted and revealed the world.
"Can't you create things, young lad?"
"Sure I can." She punned, and created a glowing red, holographic can of monster in her held-out palm. Though it was just that - a hologram, a ghost of what is not, simply a fuzzy red light-form containing no liquid. Soon after, it exploded. "Dag."
Mulberry shrugged, "Ah, not t'worry, then."
"Amazing!" Marveled Shai, "Your light is the purest I have seen, Hero! You have a very strong soul. Very impressing!"
Coda gave the man a confused look in return, "Huh? I mean, I it would be cool if I could actually drink it." She tried again, but still the can in her hand was simply made of light.
"Yes, but…" Shai closed his eyes and smiled, and Arashiko groaned a little, for he knew that face. His brother was about to spout some spiritual nonsense. "For true creation, you need to have power and both light and the dark in you. A soul with only one can never create, but you have a lot of power and a lot of light."
"Ok," Said Coda, "How do I get dark, then?"
Shai held a serene smile, "You must first cast shadows, young one, and then you must speak into them, and convince them to join you in spirit. The shadows can never be forced." In reality, he had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
"Right." Said the Hero, as Mulberry pulled a ribbon from her hat.
The Witch crumpled it in her hand, and from her fingers a real-ass can of Creature™ came into existence, which she gave to the Hero.
The group of six continued until the edge of the valley, where the long path down the mountain began. They were nearly level with the purple star of Atlantis but not quite - it towered as high as the mountain peaks above.
A phonebox was set at the side of the path before the archway that marked the end of the town. Mulberry told everyone to stay by the arch and they did so, waiting for her as she used the phonebox.
Her conversation with Eigengrau was short, a quick catch up on how things were going concerning the Senate.
"... Three so far," Eigengrau informed, "Thill, Moriam (The Moron) Mann, and I managed to... pull Radarine from the fashion industry..."
"right-o, well both twins are on their way. What's happening in the factories 'den, now that Radarine is with you? Does she have a replacement?" Mulberry asked. Radarine was the artificial intelligence built to control many of the factories of Ahbon, however she had developed a particular interest in fashion and spent most of her time dwelling within and directing the great, mechanised loomhouses of the fashion industry.
"Yes... Remember W.I.R.A.? I reavtivated... Her."
"Oh, Eigengrau, are you sure that's safe?"
"It will be... Quite safe so long as she stays... Occupied and uninterrupted." Eigengrau wheezed, the sound metalic as if it were cast though a large, aluminium tube.
"If you're sure. Anyway, I must get going. See you soon, y'old pug-arse."
"Be fast. I will... Be waiting here, Eithne." He assured. His voice had softened since last time, as if some tiredness had put a damper on his usual grumpy pessimism. He left the Witch's call without telling her of the fire he saw on Pier earlier, as they had no time to lose on the details. And the Professor gazed out over the tiers of Atlantis and into a smokey pillar that rose from Pier's ruins from which other Senate members had already recovered as many civilians as they could. The arsonist squad had fled amongst the chaos, and not even Radarine could locate them. Under some sort of cloaking spell, Eigengrau presumed. He took a metallic puff of his pipe before clasping his fabric hands behind his back. Arrangements had been made, lanterns had been lit clearly across each of Atlantis's six bridges across the far-below water, and phones had been called to all of the other settlements of Ahbon with orders to evacuate their citizens and head for the Capital. Robotic drones governed by Radarine stood guard by the bridges, awaiting the inevitable flow of people that was soon to come from the surrounding forest roads.
The Professor turned away from the balcony and back to his millennia-consuming paperwork, confident in his plan to save the world.
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