Chapter 1: CH 1 -- Sand and Sea
Mumbo Jumbo hated this idea.
As he flew on Iskall's back, his hands clasped tightly onto the Swede's shoulders and legs locked around his midsection, Mumbo pondered as to why they were doing this stupid, stupid thing. And why he was amongst the last to finally earn his wings.
Sure, Mumbo had the chance to. Ren had even given him a Totem lest he falter, and as Mumbo remembered that awkward dinner conversation, the Totem felt heavy in his pocket. Why he kept that thing, he didn't know. He was careful! He only slept everywhere, near dangerous machines he had constructed! He couldn't possibly die.
Iskall vibrated slightly underneath Mumbo as the other spoke. But over the screaming air and rushing ocean below them, he could hear none of what he said. Iskall seemed to note this, and sighed. Mumbo could see his belly extend for a brief moment before pulling back in. God. He felt bad about this whole thing.
Iskall lowered, his hands holding tighter onto his passenger's ankles as he came in for a landing on the perfectly flat, sandy island all the Hermits appeared on the day they arrived nearly two years ago. Mumbo closed his eyes and held on, his breath catching in his throat. Iskall moved his legs so they were pointed towards the sand instead of behind him as he slammed into the sand. He stumbled, and wobbled with the strange weight of Mumbo on his back, before he tumbled forward. Overcompensation lead to the situation of Iskall groaning in the sand as Mumbo slowly rises to his feet.
"Well! We haven't been here in a while!" Mumbo exclaimed excitedly, clapping his hands together. Iskall rolled his eyes with a dull grunt as he stood, wings flapping softly as he dislodged the sand and mustache hairs.
"You would be here more if you got your wings, Mumbo." The Swede replied, to which Mumbo purposefully ignored.
"Do you really think any, uh. Information on why Grian's... Like that is here?"
"Doubt it, but Cub seems to think so." Iskall moved from his spot by the ocean and stared at the lone nether portal. It called to him. But the Nether does weird shit to someone with Nether Wings. He winces and turns away.
"Well, chap, shouldn't we take a look-see?" Mumbo seemed far too excited for a sand bar and some water, Iskall thought. But he didn't voice it, mostly because he had ribbed on Mumbo enough today, he thinks.
"Here, man, you go do that. I'll set up our beds and tent. Remind me why Cub asked US to do this?" Iskall squatted in the sand and began rooting around in his inventory.
"Well. I dunno! I thought he would have told you why. For a man who's all about what's up with Grian and Cleo, he sure doesn't, y'know. Do much of the investigating on his own!" Mumbo knelt by the nether portal and began digging in the sand. As animated as he tried to be, and as hopeful as he tried to come off, Mumbo doubted they would find anything either. Why would evidence of what came before Spawn Island be on Spawn Island? It really didn't make sense! And why Mumbo, the one who can't fly, and Iskall, the oldest flier? Seems real dumb, if you ask Mumbo. But, well. Cub was the mastermind. The guy had a brain for this kind of thing.
Sand gently slipped between Mumbo's pale fingers as he dug. The sand got under his nails and buffeted his skin as he dug. He combed the sand with his fingers, picked at small rocks that hid just under the portal. He took a few, as one does. Hard for someone to NOT ferally grab the pretty hard thing. As he slipped the stones into his pocket, he noted one looked a bit... Strange. Not that he was a geologist. But, he probably wasn't here for rocks! Just something... He doesn't know. Something from Grian or Cleo's past that would give him any indication as to why.
As Mumbo dug, his morality struck him. Why was he so desperately digging into Grian's past? The very phorical digging of his hands into sand didn't help the analogy not sting. He was literally digging for the buried past. Grian didn't want to talk about it for a reason! Surely Mumbo could respect that. But, hm. He thought back to the urgency in Cub's voice as he called them in. He, Iskall, Mumbo, Scar, and Stress. The five that, hopefully, would uncover something. Was it worry? Was it the thought that, perhaps, whatever Grian had gone through was something they could help with? Or was it more selfish, with Cub wanting to have the same massive wings? Mumbo didn't get it. This was his first time really following orders like this. Almost blindly. But as his fingers brushed against something buried deep in the sand, he solidified his resolve. As the sand moved, so would he. Grian might be in danger. He might be the kind of X-Men special that gets you hurt.
Mumbo had heard tales of hunters.
Mumbo pulled on the chest buried in the sand, and it popped out with a rough, gravelly sound. Mumbo fell onto his back--for a winged person, that would have been bad!--and held the chest aloft. He heard a clap from behind and above him as Iskall walked up, the crunching of his feet in the dimly lit sand snapping Mumbo out of his shock.
"Find something?" Iskall teased, putting a foot onto the chest, still held aloft.
Mumbo pulled it to his chest and sat up, looking behind his back to see Iskall giving him a shit-eating grin. "Yes, actually, and it would be wonderful if you buggered off a second and let me open the thing!"
Iskall held his hands up in defeat and took a few steps back. Mumbo set his box in the sand and used it to push himself up to a standing position. He stretched and dusted off his fingers, before lifting the box under one arm.
"This was a bit easier than we thought. Do you think we could ride back tonight?" Mumbo asked, excited to return to Cub and get his reward. Cub HAD promised a cake each for their success. While Mumbo wasn't the biggest fan of sweets, it would be a good gift to someone who did like sweets. Which excited Mumbo more than the idea of receiving something for himself.
Iskall pondered for a second, before sighing. "Yeah, yeah I could. It isn't that dark. I thought we'd take longer." Iskall undid the camp with a frown, and crouched in the water. Mumbo pulled some string from his inventory and tied the chest to his back a few dozen times, before hopping onto Iskall's back. Iskall grunted in exertion, took two mighty flaps of his now-average wings, and took off into the sky.
The ride back was, to say the least, exciting. The air around the two was electrified with potential. Cub would LOVE to see this chest! There had to be untold stories in it, even if they weren't specifically Grian or Cleo's. Mumbo shook a bit in anticipation, his eyes darting across the large, empty expanse of water as the two flew.
Until it happened.
Mumbo doesn't remember why because of the darkness, but he felt a hand on his. A dead cold hand that made him tremble. Made him tremble so much that he wobbled, he pulled on Iskall to no avail, and fell. As he plummeted, he saw Iskall turn on a dime and look down at him, his eye glowing a sickly purple before it blazed with blue again and he dove. Mumbo could feel it was too late. He didn't mind.
In these fast seconds, Mumbo smiled on what he had done. Ren was right, he guesses. It's dangerous to not have wings. As he slammed into the ocean, he felt the chest break on his backside. It stung with countless wounds that he had never really experienced before. As his vision darkened and as the light faded from the dark water, he could see diamonds, iron, emeralds, and paper sinking with him. Hah. Hahaha. The chest meant nothing.
A red herring. A red mist floating above him.
Mumbo closed his eyes and drifted off.
Chapter 2: CH 2 -- Snakebitten
It has a strange way of connecting things that need to be connected.
The voice was soft. Not because she was speaking softly, no. It was because Mumbo could barely hear over the pounding in his head and the agony in his back. Though, as the seconds ticked by and the movement of hands on his sore back became more noticable, the pain ebbed. He grumbled a 'Hello', to which the voice responded with laughter.
"Yea, dying has that effect. Well! Almost dying. You're lucky Iskall cares about ya, man." The voice teases. It's familiar, but... Warped? Warped somehow. Mumbo feels too warm, and begins to move his arms to remove his suit jacket.
"Ah ah ah, no ya don't. You're right hurt, Mumb, don't want ya hurting yourself more. It's amazin' what spiritual damage can be done to ya if ya fall into a god damn ocean at mach whatever."
"Bingo." The voice gave another laugh as Zombie Cleo--though she was human here--peered down to look Mumbo in the eyes. She was, well. Human. Not a zombie. She had firey orange hair and a crown of Nether flowers. A bit, weird Mumbo would have to admit, but the heat in this place...
"Why are we in the nether?"
"That was my question. This is the first time I've actually met someone who's dropped by. A lotta folks come through but most don't stay. Most don't come at all. I said stop fidgeting!" Cleo removed her hands as Mumbo forced himself to sit up. He noted a few things upon seeing the rest of his body. His shirt was ripped to hell at the back, his skin was marred there too, he had a large cut on his cheek, and he felt as sore as all get-out. He winced at the Nether light and shut his eyes.
"What do you mean? Am I... Dead?" Mumbo pried his eyes open to peer quizzically to Cleo.
"Well. I have a theory. See, uh. Before I was here, I wasn't here. Before I met you, I wasn't aware I was here. It's complicated. You know how I'm undead?" Mumbo nodded. "Some of my soul remained here, while the rest came back up with whatever Xisuma shoved down my gullet. Potions worked, but, well. I spent too much time on the edge, and when I was yanked back, some was left behind. I'm the left behind, but I can still, uh. I still share the same mind as regular Cleo. So I've always felt when someone passes and goes Netherside. I was the one to die first, after all!" Cleo puffs up in pride, as if being the first to bungle is a triumph of any kind.
"So... Why am I here? I thought good thoughts, I hel--OH. OH NO. I didn't hold the Totem!" Mumbo shouts suddenly, which makes his back screech in pain, and he calms down quickly. Cleo gives him the eyes of sympathy and pats his shoulder.
"I don't know, bud. You didn't totem die so I don't know why you're here. You couldn't have actually died, Iskall is helping you right now. You're at Sahara, and Grian is helping. You're breathing." Cleo looks quizzative as she lays down the facts. She taps her chin in the Nether as her actual body taps her chin on the overworld.
"Hey? Iskall? How did this HAPPEN? Why were you flying the big lug around?" Grian asks, worry painting his voice. He holds his wings high, and the feathers tremble with a soft rustling sound as Iskall works. He puts things together, sets some bones, applies bandages and poultices and slings potions down Mumbo's gullet. Grian watches on, biting his nails.
"Grian, this really isn't the time. See that shulker? Go fill it with bottles of water. Then brew all of them into Reverted Potions of Harming. You do that by making a potion of harming and adding three spider eyes. The recipes are on the wall, please follow the directions." Iskall felt dread in his gut as Grian nodded and headed off. He knelt beside Mumbo's bed and gently thumped his head against the wood. Cleo in the high window frowned, just as Nether Cleo frowned.
"Reverse Potions of Harming. He's good." Cleo idly mumbles, and Nether Mumbo looks appalled.
"Aren't those things dangerous and potentially explosive? There is a very good reason why no one makes them when Potions of Healing are right there! What is he thinking?" Mumbo fretted. Iskall could get hurt! Over him! Jesus Christmas, this was bad. Mumbo attempted to stand again. Surely he could just, find a portal and go demand that Iskall find a less dangerous way to revive him!
"Mumbo! Sit back down, you buffoon. God, honestly, you're like a petulant child. Sit. He knows what he's doing, and Grian wouldn't ever mess this up. You'll be fine." Cleo gripped Mumbo's damaged sleeve and yoinked on it. Mumbo crumbled, and Cleo caught him and laid his very hurt ass back down.
"You--you--ugh. Fine! Fine. But you have to answer my questions." Mumbo relented, stretching out his arms and laying on one.
"Alright, can do. Ask, you himbo."
"Can't you go through a Nether portal from here and go back?"
"Can't. We're a layer below the nether that the Hermits can get to. We have no tools for obsidian, there are no mobs or nether fortresses, and absolutely no water."
"Multiple... Layers? Of the nether?"
"There's the visitable nether, then there's the Nether where people go after they die if they were cruel. It's very empty, aside from us who just visited because of our dying thoughts. Even then, I don't think they'd be stuck here. The Nether is a, uh. Temp situation."
"How do you know?"
"Beef, Etho, and Biffa visited. They, uh. Between universes. Hit a bad spot of turbulence, died on, uh. Impact. Your items, as you should know, don't get kept when you jump universes. They didn't make it. They were here when I showed up, and left a year ago. Apparently you just stay a year, you're forgiven cosmically, and you head up to chill on the Overworld as an Enderman or in the Aether."
"That is needlessly complicated, Cleo." Mumbo sighs and buries his face in his arm.
"It is. Anyway, get some rest, dingus. I'll be meditating here. Gotta let main Cleo do her thing. See if I can help at all with your situation."
"Thank Iskall. And thank me if you end up leaving. Though? I doubt it. You're a zombieeeee!"
"This is NO TIME to be joking! Absolutely no japery!"
"Hahaha. Alright, alright. Get some rest."
Mumbo grumbled up at Cleo, before closing his eyes. He got as comfortable as he could on a thick yoga mat--how did Cleo get this?--and eventually nodded off. Once Cleo was sure he was asleep, she took in a single, deep breath, and astral projected back to main Cleo.
Main Cleo watched Grian return with the shulker. She watched as Iskall carefully poured specific amounts of the Reverse Potions of Harming onto Mumbo's many, many worrying wounds. She cringed away when he began to do more nitty gritty things, because no one liked watching medical stuff. She hopped off the ledge she had perched up on, and with a viciously swift snap of her wings, she was in the air. She had someone to talk to.
She soared high above Hermitland, over and around the Shopping District. She noted Jevin buying from Impulse, Cub talking loudly to Scar and False, and a certain someone leaving a cryptic note scrawled inside the pickle shop. Just the actual hermit she wanted to see.
"Joe!" Cleo called as she slammed into the ground of the insides of the pickle shop. She looked up at the hovering, moth-winged Joe as he wrote prose onto the green walls of Grian's pickle.
"Mm? Yes, firey miss Cleo?" Joe didn't take his eyes off his work, even as Cleo rose up beside him.
"Do you still have that EVO book?"
Joe finally looked at her, the light of the sea lanterns in the walls glinting harshly off his glasses.
"Of course I do, ma'am. What sort of trouble are you startin', and, am I your accomplice in these crimes?"
Chapter 3: CH 3 -- Core Concept
It has a way of changing who you are, but keeping your fate the same Isn't that funny, love?
He should never have done this.
The man of barely 20 stood on a field bathed in pale purple light. His smaller form trembled against the roaring hurricane above him, a swirling vortex of purple magic and stone. Rocks slammed into hillsides and left deep gashes, wounds in the pristine field that would ne'er be again. He trembled, but his heart was unmoved. He had cause, he had justice, he had the right to dabble in the darker and come out stronger for it. Though he would admit, this was insane. He should have thought this through.
The man pushed his now-messied brown hair back with a damp hand, the sticky fluid that clung to it and most of his body working well as a gel to temporarily stop the winds from using his hair as weapons to berate his face. He took in shallow, quick breaths as he flipped through the pages of the stone-bound book that hovered in the air before him. Sweat formed on his brow as he looked. It was in here! He called the storm, he made the sacrifices. He gave up parts of who he was and will be and they should be allowing him his sanctum. The storm raged, why wouldn't it calm?
The man flipped and fretted, the hand of a woman at his side calming him. A hand intertwined with his free one, a calming aura. A crux, a hope, a stone. The man looked at his wife oh so briefly, and the storm began to decay. It was slow at first. The decay was sped up when the man looked up and saw the moonlit sky grow brighter when he faced the person he was doing all of this for. Who he had to do anything for. The storm decayed and condensed, until it was a swirling portal on the ground at their feet. A younger Joe Hills gave his wife the sweetest smile as the tamer of wild magic and the wild magic user leapt into the swirling, electrified portal. Leaving a decaying world behind them. Leaving danger behind them. Leaving their mistakes behind them.
This was what Joe remembered as he walked down the stairs to his inner sanctum. It was different from that sanctum, of course, but similar in a few key ways. The path within required the taming of a storm, though the silly mechanical puzzle in Joe's Ministry of Truth was less magic and more redstone. Either way, it allowed the man and Cleo to enter, and begin descending stairs almost eternally. He was geared to do naught but step, step, step. His footsteps reverberated off of the walls and made poor Cleo's thoughts rattle around in her head like bees in a jar.
Why was she doing this? Wasn't this the rashest decision? Surely she would be fine, of course, Joe was remarkable in his trustworthiness. Except from when the world-wide game of tag was on. He was kinda brutal then. Though Joe's moth wings glowed green in the dark stairwell, Cleo still almost tripped a dozen times. Her wings were far too large for the enclosed stairwell, and kept bumping against every stair above her. But she had to continue descending, of course. Mumbo was on the edge of death, and he needed to stay alive. No matter what.
Joe halted for a moment and messed with the blank wall before them. No exit? No door? Joe can fix that. He pressed his hand on the door, and a mechanism clicked just beside them, and the wall began to split. And before the two was a massive room. The walls were etched with various words and poems and haiku and sentences. Some in English, but most in languages Cleo had never seen before. The illumination here was only slightly brighter, and the coating of dust over everything made Cleo cough. The only thing beyond the strange wall decor was a single podium in the center of the room, and a strange book atop it. Joe had showed Cleo that book forever ago, as it was what made her the zombie she was now. Though that process left a dry taste in Cleo's mouth. She stepped in and Joe followed, and the two approached the book.
"Will you ever tell me how you got this?" Cleo looked up at Joe, who shook his head no. She rolled her eyes and picked up the book, carefully wrapping it in a cloth and setting it in a sturdy case she had brought. She offered the case to Joe to carry, and he took it with a smile.
"There're a lotta things y'all don't know about me, Miss Cleo. My penchant for the magical arts being one of them. Though, don't worry about the actual spell. I'll be with you the whole time. It won't go awful for Mumbo like it did for you. He'll still look the same! May not need to eat or sleep anymore but what millenial does?" Joe nudged his companion, and Cleo groaned. She was still upset at his bungle with her revival, but it was all because of Joe that she was still here. She sucked it up and headed for the stairs. Joe stopped her, and simply opened a hatch that was beside the entrance they had just came in. It opened up to the ocean, and Joe motioned for Cleo to hop on in.
She did, her wings barely fitting through the exit, and her head going a bit fuzzy with the pressure. Damn, they were deep. She swum out, checking her bag for a sea lantern as quick as possible. She found it and whipped it forward, and the ocean light swept over the sea's absolute floor. Joe came out after her after a moment, and the mortal man swam up quickly. Cleo didn't have to breathe so she was fine, but she did have to keep Joe safe. So she swam up beside him, using her wings to propel her forward like a squid. She pushed Joe up, flapped, pushed, flapped. It was a rhythm until they broke the surface. Joe took in a deep breath and coughed, but gave Cleo a thumbs up. She rolled her eyes and held her wings aloft from the water, held onto Joe--bug wings never fared well in water, nor aether wings--and flew upwards. She headed for Sahara, where Mumbo laid. Where Mumbo was dying.
Joe alighted on the ground when Cleo dropped him. She flew around once, then landed herself. Grian and Iskall were still barely keeping Mumbo alive, so the two new additions weren't noticed in the least. Joe strode in, unclasping the the case, and pulling forth the cloth-covered book. Grian noticed when the case clattered to the ground, and looked confused. Joe explained while Cleo picked up the case and put it back into her inventory. She then jogged up beside Mumbo's bed and knelt beside it. She gently took his hand into hers and stared at him. He would be fine. She told him this, through the Nether where bits of both their souls resided. He would be fine. Joe was here.
"Grian, my friend, my G-Team buddy. Can you go get some netherwart, straight from the nether? I'll need it after Mumbo wakes up." Joe asked the young man, who nodded with a sense of duty and shot out of Sahara. Joe approached the bed, where Iskall was still working. Joe moved his hands away, and Iskall immediately collapsed to the floor. Cleo released Mumbo's hand and went to pull Iskall to a chair--the man was exhausted. Absolutely exhausted. His eye whirred mechanically for a few seconds as he recovered somewhat by sitting. All he could mutter was "Mumbo...", and Cleo felt awful.
Joe pulled forth the Book of the Watchers, and began his ceremony. All he needed was the flesh to sculpt and most of his soul, and he could do it. Revive him, really. Well, okay, it isn't a full revival, he isn't dead. Just mostly dead. Joe began speaking ancient words of power over Mumbo, and his wounds mended themselves. The blood was whisked away, the bruises lightened once more. Joe shuddered with the effort of keeping himself up, and Cleo left Iskall's side to help him up this time. Christ, none of these men were shit without her. Why was she the force keeping this operation successful?
Purple magic licked at Mumbo for an hour, repairing him internally and externally. Cleo watched with bated breath, and after Iskall could feel his legs again, he watched too. The three stood over Mumbo until the magic subsided and he opened his eyes. Mumbo opened up his eyes. And they were no longer the soft brown they had been before, oh no.
The eyes were a dark purple.