Anacrusis

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Mulberry

Mulberry



Somewhere in Ahbon, a scared courier in the form of a first year University student carries an urgent message. He finds himself in a rather spooky part of town, but fears what may happen to him if he does not get this little envelope where it needs to be far worse than the slimy, cobbled darkness around that speaks in shady murmurs and gruff chuckles that seem to gather up behind him as he walks swiftly by the alleyways. Finally, he comes upon the subway station, and hears the grunts of his followers as they fall unconscious behind him. Turning around, he is relieved to at last see the unmistakable pointed hat, grey boots and hair so knotted and tangled it appears to be forming branches and growing odd fruits. He hands over the message, bows, and finds himself back in his dorm upon raising his head.

And tomorrow soon arrived with a crash, bang, and bright flash o’ emerald light from outside the mill-house. It woke all: Coda, Toven, the surrounding birds, even a few rocks opened a stony eye before returning to their slumber that would continue until the bitter end of all things, when they would awaken and seek a new universe - a new world - to be a part of.

(This is what meteors are, you know!)

All awoke, all except Ink Reaper, who lay still drooling face-down on a comfy stone floor.

“Mu-Mulberry’s back!” Enthused Toven, rubbing his eyes. “St-stay here. I ca-can’t wait to intri-ind-intrr-rr-... You to…” In his sleepiness, Toven was lost for words. “I’ll be a se-sec!”

“Yup!” Coda stretched, “I’ll wake up Greensleeves here.”

And that she did.

Meanwhile Toven excitedly ran to hug his great Aunt, who was dismounting her broom as if it were a floating skateboard - or at least he tried to - she was extraordinarily tall. She always had that distinctive old person smell of used fabric but with a hint of leaf smoke and red cabbage amongst some other interesting plants. He looked at the large plastic shopping bags which she carried. It was quite a bit more than what she usually bought.

“D-Did you get the dry ban-na-nn-na slices!?”

“Lad, I got extra!” She exclaimed, propping her broomstick against the firewood hut. (She would have invested in an electric fireplace, but the trees around the area were very old, and required constant trimming to make sure they don’t merge into a singular wooden being which would be very, very catastrophic - so, she might as well make good use of the wood.)

“I take it ya got company, aye?”

Toven’s mouth hung open, “How di- did you know?”

The Witch propped up the edge of her hat that was drooping and ancient like her face, and sighed like an annoyed bellow. “yer auld Professor sent one of his scrawny little wealthy undergraduates down t’ the subway wit’ a letter. What a cruel prank on his part, I’ll have t’ have a word wit’ um.”

“O-Oh.” Said Toven. He had heard how dangerous the subway can get, especially for the ‘upper classes’ - which he being young and generally just an idiot, thought meant college and university and maybe the more senior high-schoolers. “Wa-Was he ok?”

“Yes, yes lad, I made sure of it. Quite a lot of attention he managed to pick up along d’ way, too.” The Witch looked towards the door and shook herself, then smiled a wrinkled smile that was still full of what at first appeared to be youthful energy, but one might discover it to be a form of senile madness. She said: “Anytheways! What’s their name?”

“The one w-with the sort of red bits on he-h-her face is Coda,” Enthused Toven as he walked springily toward the door, “and the sss-s-sad green wizard is Ink! He’s a Reaperer!”

Mulberry stopped with her fingers on the ragged doorknob like dried prunes on a rock polished by age. There was a worried look on her slender face, which was magnified by the crevices on her brow.

“Aunty Mu- Mulberry…?”

“Hmm?” She grunted, “Oh, nothin’. I just wurn’t expectin’ two.” And she cast open the Mulberry-sized door that fitted her perfectly - except for the tangled grey hair that was knotted and clumped in places and caught on the sides of the splintery wooden frame. The two left the morning behind.

The morning, which was as lamp-black as midnight.

Ink wiped the cold mushroom stew out of his eyes, and took the moss out of his nostrils, and the ice cubes out of his back. No, this was infact not his usual morning routine.

“Jeez, you sleep like a dead guy.” Said Coda, ice cubes and an empty bowl of cold stew in her hands.

Ink gave a pained grumble, and wondered for a second where the moss had come from. Then he flipped over to try and wriggle the last cube of ice out of his shirt. There was brief excitement in his mind as he was forced to remember the events of the last day, and before he could stand himself up the door opened with dramatic force.

“Eggs and bakey folk, it’s the spring o’ the day!” Mulberry burst, straining her old vocal chords to the limit as she improvised a rather abstract means of saying good morning.

That truly awoke Ink, the ancient and powerful energy in her voice. “Aah, um, good morning, uh, Ma’am.” He panicked, bowing his head. He had never done so before, and on any other day would have gave just an uninterested grunt, but something (perhaps the limited state of consciousness one has just after waking up) told him it was the correct response.

The Witch nodded to him, and then her eyes turned to Coda, and found her bright glowing hand.

“I take it you’re d’ Hero, ’den?” She said.

“The what now?” Coda tilted her head.

Mulberry mirrored her action, which produced a rustling sound. “D’ Hero! The one who’ll put da sun back into d’sky! What’s jer name, Hero?”

Coda thought about this one, as she was not a hundred percent sure her name was infact Coda, it sounded a bit stupid. But that mightn’t be her fault.

“Coda.” She stated, making her commitment.

“Ach yer a strapping young lad y’are, Hero Coda.” The Witch said, and tossed the bags of food onto a nearby table before walking away and taking off a long grey cloak - underneath she wore yet another identical grey cloak. Can you blame her? It was cold outside, and grey cloaks were the new high-vis sneakers of the witching world.

Ink and Coda shared a look of “what?” and Toven ran after his aunt. Upon whispering something in her hunched-over ear, she slowly straightened, and failed to surpress a snigger - which turned into a chuckle - which turned into full on laughter - which turned into a horrible coughing fit that took the mad old woman a long while to get over. Still coughing, she laughed: “Toven, you-… You didn’t-… You didn’t tell them already!?” She continued to laugh until there was no breath left. It was truly a terrifying sight to behold.

-Oh my giddy aunt- thought Toven.

“What didn’t he tell us?” Ink inquired, sheilding the light of the room from his sleepy eyes. It hadn’t hit him yet, but subconsciously he noticed something that was off about his surroundings.

“I-... I did-idn’t kn-n-nnnow if, if…” Toven stuttered, embarassed.

“Alright, alright.” Mulberry said, wiping tears from her eyes. “Sweet Lord, Toven. I think ye all ‘d better take a seat, we need t’ have a chat.”

And so Toven left to make tea as Mulberry sat down at a small table by the window of the living room/apothecary and gestured for the pair by the fireplace to join her. They did, after finding suitable stools. Toven came through a moment later and asked Ink and Coda how they liked their tea. They both shrugged, as neither of them had ever had tea. Then, Mulberry got to explaining:

“Right, d’yah want the long version or the wee easy version?”

“Explain everything, please.” Sighed Ink, much to Coda’s impatient dismay.

And so Mulberry settled down, and let Toven return with the tea, and started:

“Far too many years ago, this world was a lovely, sunny place wit’ no worries. Now, don’t get me wrong lads, Ahbon is still a great place to be. Take it from me, It’s the best place in the universe don’t you know – not even the villas of central Otum can compare in all honesty, but it’s not going t’last much longer d’way it is.” The Witch took off her hat and pulled a holographic ball of light from its depths. It expanded and formed into a 3-D picture of a world of screams, explosions and destruction.

Coda sat up. “Oh cool, is that the future!?”

“It’s the world, millennia ago.” Said Mulberry. They all investigated the four-foot orb of floating light that displayed the raging image.

“Damn, this place used to be pretty small, huh?” Said Coda.

Ink squinted hard into the landscape in the box and then wished he hadn’t. It was a scene that the Reaper could safely describe as hellish, and the cause of the carnage seemed to be coming from a large, white sort of hourglass-shaped tower in the distance.

“This” The Witch continued “was the doing of our Lord. Nobody knows for sure why he, d’ one who brought us all together at the beginning of the Gleaming Era, almost ended all life in the known universe.”

Something behind the white tower collapsed, but Ink was too slow to see what it was. It was one of those things you never really notice in a picture until it’s gone. The air around the tower visibly imploded, and the scene went quiet, only crying and other mourning sounds were heard. Then, something like a small comet shot up from the tower, burning the air on its way past. The dense star flew behind the viewpoint, and before anything else happened, Mulberry grabbed the orb and the scene shrank and disappeared. “It was just sudden, see? Our Lord used d’ sun to almost destroy the world, and when he disappeared, so did it. That was, until they found it lyin’ in a little crater of dead trees and charcoal a couple years later in da form of a little cutesy flower. That’s why your hand glows like the sun. It’s a little redder than it used to be but… It’ll do.”

“Oh. I can change it.” Said Coda, demonstrating changing the colour of her glow from red to blue to green to purple to white and then back to red. “I figured that one out last night.”

“Yes,” Mulberry smiled and nodded, “And I suspect you’ll be able to do a lot more than that with it, too.”

“Cool! Like what!?”

“Wait wait wait!” Ink interrupted, “Hold on a second. What is she supposed to do with it? What is this whole - ”

“Alright, boy, I’m getting to that part!” Declared Mulberry, “In short, yer friend here is the Hero ol’ Nostradookus’s tellings foretold - call it a prophecy if you’d like, for yer own satisfaction.” The Witch raised her hands, wriggled her fingers and widened her eyes as she said this, “and ye must traverse this dark land to return the sun to the sky! Sound fair?”

Ink clenched his eyelids shut and rubbed them with his fingers, he was just as confused as most would be in this situation. It’s a lot of information to take in yet somehow he still felt he had missed something. Damnit, He said to himself, Another dark world.

Coda, on the other hand…

Wasn’t paying attention to the Witch’s story whatsoever and was only looking forward to the coming adventure.

“Many have tried in the past, but the sun’s vast energy dilutes deir souls so much that they evaporate. You, young man, must have a very strong and stable soul.” Mulberry ruffled Coda’s hair, but the Hero was away with the fairies.

Toven opened his mouth to say something to his aunt, but for whatever reason decided against it.

“You can carry our sun, Hero. You have it right there in yer hand.”

-Holy cow this is just like in the comics!- Coda was thinking, clenching her fist. “Does it give me like, powers though?”

“I don’t know. I’d have thought so! It certainly gave our Lord powers beyond all imagination - which is a very powerful thing, I should say.”

There was a bit of a silence as Mulberry sipped her tea from a small cup-sized teapot. The only problem with that cute little piece of china was the fact that it quite literally was a small teapot, and one either had to drink from the spout like smoking a pipe of tea, or risk it spilling out the side by sipping from the top. Mulberry, trying to make a good first impression, chose the latter. Ink watched as the unfortunate yet inevitable happened.

“Go dtuitfeadh an tigh ort!” She cursed, and stood with a wet robe. “Apologies. Looks like ah’ve soddened my garnments. I’ll be back in a tick, but you two’d better be off soon after ye find somethin’ t’eat anyways, wouldn’tcha?”

Mulberry disappeared, Leaving Ink baffled, existentially puzzled and at loose ends with what exactly he was supposed to be doing there. He couldn’t be bothered with going on a mad fantastical “adventure”, but it as it happened, that was just the way his day was going. When Toven got to the kitchen, there were already eggs and bacon frying in a liquid that, if you looked at it very closely with one eye closed, would appear to have little waves on it and look a deep shade of blue against the black frying pan. They tasted… Alright, but to Ink they were like little glorious Angels that blessed his taste buds with new, fantastic experiences. Ink never had been the biggest fan of Angels, so perhaps that is not the best comparison. Toven poured himself a glass of milk – see, Toven was trying to learn how to do magic, and everyone knows that magic comes from the bones – and also poured one for Ink simply because he looked frail. After breakfast, the Witch Re-appeared in a new house robe, and began to all rather suddenly usher them all out of the door. Ink followed Coda listlessly and without much consideration, too caught up in his own thoughts.

“Wait a sec,” Said Coda, who was already out in the darkened forest air, “Where are we going?”

Mulberry gave her a confused look, then looked out towards the purple glow light in the distance, which very faintly outlined the trees. Coda followed her gaze and squinted at the glow – but that’s all it was for now. Just a faint glow amongst the stars.

“Oh ok.” Coda grinned, and her fist shone just a little brighter. “You comin’ T?” She asked Toven. Apparently, Ink didn’t have a choice.

Toven looked blank just for a second, then his face lit up, then it darkened again into a nervous grin as he looked up at Mulberry, not quite looking her in the eyes. “Uh… C-Can… I?” He fidgeted with the buckle of his dungarees.

Some emotion in the Witch’s eyes twinkled to life, and her voice lost it’s powerful edge.

“You’re old enough t’make yer own decisions now, Toven.” She didn’t even have to wait for a response. “Come, I’ll help ye get your t’ings.”

And thus, Coda - carrying only her determination and thirst for awesomeness - and Toven - who carried everything else in a red sack tied to the end of a broomstick on his shoulder - started out into the woods, a red glow surrounding them as they disappeared into the forest. Ink stayed behind, with the promise of catching up in a minute. He turned to Mulberry and tried to look her in the eye, though she was too tall.

“Really though,” He said, “Where in the bloody blue knee-warmers am I?”

“You’re in – “

“And don’t say Eh-bone.”

“Ahbon. And don’chew be giving me any lip now, Reaper lad.” She said, her voice regaining an edge sharper than before. “You’ve been very reckless, you know. Dere’s only one way out of the Dimmer nowadays and yer unfathomably lucky to be alive. I suppose that technically the same can’t be said about yer frien-”

“Is this what lies at the bottom of Cocytus?” Ink asked, to which the Witch sighed, hesitated, and then grimly shook her head.

“Nae. It is by complete and utter fat chance dat ye ended up ‘ere. Very lucky, if you ask me. Now, ye had better run along now or d’ others are going to leave you left behind.”

Some things about what she had said confused Ink further, though he simply couldn’t place it. Ink was never one for patience and hadn’t quite grasped the concept of ‘just being content’. He really had to understand why his life had just drastically changed for the better, and it was hanging on the back of his mind like an old deaf sloth.

“Ah… Yeah. Thanks.” He said hurriedly. He wanted to question further, but he felt the others growing ever so far away. He started to walk. “Goodbye.”

“Hold your hearses, boy.” The Witch reached behind her and pulled out a small meal pole that was about the size of a sword’s handle without the actual blade or handguard. To you or I, it would have been a torch, but to Ink Reaper – who has never seen a torch in his life – it was simply a little metal pole.

“Ah- uhh... thanks.” He said, and hurried off, running like a robot whose knees, elbows and shoulders needed a couple of screws tightened.

“Good lad.” Mulberry said to herself, and sniffed the night air before stalking back inside to make a certain phone call and dig out her oldest spellbooks.

It’s been a while.

Me bones aren’t all that they used to be, but…

I have a queer feelin’ dat I’ll thank meself later.

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