Twentieth of Collecting, Year Eight
Kelbreth opened his eyes to the sound of banging overhead. The loud, rhythmic clashes droned into his skull, each reverberation more horrid than the last.
There was a high-pitched pang and then, at last, the noises abruptly stopped.
The decaying and deceased Draik, who could be called naught but a mutant now, rolled onto his side and rapped upon the wall of his coffin; it fell out cleanly, opening out into the underworld of Neopia.
Kelbreth swung his hind legs out of the coffin and sat up slowly, peering out into the dark and droll world he had found himself in after his untimely death. He scanned the horizon with mild interest this morning, more interested in the loud banging continuing again overhead than in trying to find new interest in the Underworld. He turned his eyes upwards to glance at the sky from which this thunder rained.
The sky... He missed the Neopian sky with its vastness of azure-blue cascades in the day and its abundance of stars shining through a dark-blue veil at night, and how it would at various times be blanketed by clouds or overcast with rainbows. Instead, the sky here was dark brown, and always dark brown. For stars, there were but glimmering crystals in the earthen sky above, the only source of natural light there was. There were, after all, no sun and moon in the Underworld to grace the sky with diurnal cycles, and neither did clouds or rainbows blow in the wind (of which there was none, either) or wash over the sky.
The Draik stepped out of his room and onto the rich earth of the Underworld; the soft dirt crushed underneath his feet and pressed its way between his clawed toes. With a mild yawn forcing away the tendrils of shattered sleep, he stretched up towards the unchanging sky, flexing his rotted muscles, his heels rising slightly.
Heaving a sigh, Kelbreth began walking. And of course, the sounds overhead, to his displeasure, continued. It was not far, however, until he reached one of the small towns of the Underworld, where often lost souls and death-beaten bodies would linger placidly, passing the days away when there was nothing to live for (and no living being done).
Today, though, was not a normal day, it seemed, and the hundred or so inhabitants of this small town were all in chaos, running amuck like a heard of rampaging Kaus in the prairies around Neopia Central or the stampeding Tonus in Tyrannia, both in which Kelbreth had herded during his living lifetime. Unlike those times, however, Kelbreth actually found amid the terror a pet that he knew.
The pet, who the Draik quickly pulled aside, happened to be a Darigan Pteri fresh in from the world above, named Noctorn, who, even though pulled aside, continued fluttering wildly around as if still caged. After a moment, though, he settled down and, taking a step back, muttered, “Oh, Kelbreth, it’s you.” He was silent for a moment longer, his parakeet eyes widening in shock. “Why aren’t you panicking?” he screamed.
Kelbreth shrugged nonchalantly. “Why should I?”
Noctorn blinked, then said, “Why should you? Why, because the sky is falling, that’s why!”
“You don’t believe me?” Noctorn gasped, as did a few passing pets who had heard the news, but didn't care enough to stick around very long in their panic (which was, after all, hard to come by here and somewhat reminiscent of their time... home). The Pteri fluttered his wings in exasperation. “Haven’t you heard the noises? The sky is falling!”
“I highly doubt that,” Kelbreth said, turning once more to look at the sky. It was, in fact, not any bit different than it was any other day, save for the fact that it was ignited with the sounds of dozens of... somethings hitting it from the other side. Surely, it was enough evidence to make the claim that the sky was falling, but, really, what was the evidence at all? Noise? Hearsay from the world above? It sounded no different than a new grave being dug, yet there were no flashing lights and endless whirring to signal the arrival of a new dead pet (fewer died these days, the older veterans of the Underworld said, though no one knew quite the reason why).
“It sounds like a grave’s being dug,” Kelbreth said, unable to resist stating the obvious.
“Of course it does!” Noctorn shouted. “But, surely, no one new has died!”
Kelbreth shrugged and turned away. “I really don’t care much of it, actually... It’s just a bit of lackluster excitement, really, and I think I’d rather sleep it off.”
“No, Kelbreth,” the Dariganian chirped, “you can’t leave yet!”
“Why not?” the mutant Draik risked pondering aloud.
His answer came. “Because the meeting is starting soon.” He would have found it more interesting if it hadn’t been the Pteri talking once again.
With a sigh, he said, “Fine, alright, I’ll attend the meeting.”
“Good,” Noctorn hooted, and began leading the Draik back into the chaos of the town. It seemed to be settling, though, as the masses turned towards the main hall and focused their rampaging in that direction. The Draik and his guide happened to be heading in that direction.
After half a dozen near-trips, three knocks upside the head, and a punch into the stomach for no apparent reason, the Draik finally followed his friend into the main hall, where he took a seat and kept his discomforted moaning to himself.
A Halloween Nimmo stepped forward from the crowd, half its left wing missing, and turned behind the podium before the hall’s attendees. “Welcome,” he said, his powerful voice quickly calming the chatty crowd, “I am Mayor Urmund. I have called this special town meeting as, as I am sure you have all noticed by now, the sky today is alight with the sounds of... something going on overhead. Though I cannot tell you what it is, I can assure you that nothing ill has come of it--” someone in the audience cared to call out, “yet,” at that very moment “--and the Underworld authorities are presently looking into its cause. That is all.” The Mayor stepped to the side of his podium, bowed, and then promptly walked off.
Almost as soon as he was out of sight, the chaos returned.
Kelbreth, however, was unwilling to put up with it any longer. “I’m leaving,” he said to Noctorn, though he wasn’t entirely certain that the Darigan Pteri had even heard him amid the ruckus. Nevertheless, the Draik stood up and slipped out of the hall and into the silence outside.
Or, rather, he had hoped to slip out into silence.
But the banging from earlier still continued overhead.
“I am putting an end to this right now,” he muttered angrily, wanting back the sullen peace that he had gotten used to having in the Underworld. Such silence and mock stillness was pleasant after the robust life he had lived, and he was normally rather privy to the idea that the other inhabitants of this afterlife thought the same way.
Taking to his wings, he noticed that, as he flew higher, the noises did indeed grow louder. But he had already been expecting that, and so was not surprised by the fact. What was curious, however, was that the epicenters of the sounds were scattered almost like a grid directly above the Underworld’s earthen skies. Strange, indeed, he figured, bored already.
Landing amid a subterranean--rather, supercaelum here--cavern, Kelbreth called out, “Esophagor, y’here?”
A mummified Techo stepped out from behind a bend in the cave and said with a hiss, “I told you... the name’s... Bob.” He clicked his teeth and sighed as Kelbreth shrugged. “Anyways... welcome, Kelbreth... please, come into my... chamber.”
The Draik shrugged again and followed the Techo into his inner sanctum. Set into two holders nearby, two wooden poles rose up through the emptiness above and suspended the ground-like tarp identified above-ground as the Esophagor itself.
“So... tell me...” Bob droned, “why have you... come today, Kelbreth?”
“Well, ‘Bob’,” Kelbreth said bluntly, “since you don’t seem privy to the fact, claims are going around down on the ground that the sky is falling.”
“Nonsense,” Bob hissed.
A clump of dirt fell on them both and they turned their eyes upwards-- “Hey,” an unseen figure shouted, peering through the hole far above, “there’s a Techo and a Draik down there!”
Quickly seizing the two wooden poles and waving them around wildly, Bob yelled, “Payyyy nnnnooo attention toooo the Neoopppetttss behind the moouuutthhhh--they were llllunch and I amm stillll hungryyyyy!”
The figure quickly jumped away, another voice shouting at him, “Yeah, CF, why’d you even stick your head in the Esophagor’s mouth anyway?” The two voices, now bickering, slowly faded out of earshot.
“Now that that’s... over with,” Bob said, turning back to Kelbreth, “you were... saying?’
“Yeah.” The Draik shrugged, getting to the point. “Have you been hearing noises lately?”
“No, I haven’t been...” the Techo apt to be called Bob hissed in response, “but I have heard passing rumors of a woeful tale as of late... It may be... connected to that.”
“Hmm,” Kelbreth wondered.
“Perhaps... you should visit... the Brain Tree?”
“Sure,” he answered, nodding in mild thanks, before wandering back out of the supercaelum cavern and back into the Underworld sky. He flew tirelessly for a bit more until he reached a large ladder hanging out of the earthen sky. With a sigh, he grabbed hold of it and began climbing.
“Brain Tree,” he called at last after he had climbed the ladder entirely and appeared in a room adorned with orange-wood furniture.
“I told you, Kelbreth,” a voice boomed from above, and a mutated-looking Korbat flew out of a shaft in the ceiling, his voice instantly losing its echo, “to call me Absalam.”
Kelbreth sighed out of annoyance.
The Korbat continued regally, “What brings you here to me today?”
“I was wondering,” the Draik said, “if you were aware of the banging going on in the Underworld?”
“Never,” the Korbat said, shaking his head. “I tend to stay towards the upper echelons of the Underworld. After all, I do animate that dastardly tree I once tended to when I was actually alive. Shame it’s now called the Brain Tree--I can’t imagine why it’d be called that, but I’d assume it hasn’t been well-tended to after I left it.”
Kelbreth was silent.
“So, yes, banging, you say?” Kelbreth nodded and Absalam continued. “I know nothing of the sort, but a few days ago, a small party of people did come around asking of the Spirit of Slumber. It was strange; I cannot seem to think of a single reason why anyone would ever show interest in him.
“Well,” Absalam added with a sigh, “does that assist you, m’boy?”
“No, not at all,” Kelbreth said, “but thanks anyways, Absalam.”
As the Draik descended the ladder once more, the banging still pounded in his ears. He flew quietly now, though, gliding back towards his coffin home. If neither the Esophagor, ‘Bob,’ nor the Brain Tree, Absalam, could assist him, he would have to leave the investigation up to the Underworld authorities and move onto better things himself.
After a while, he was crawling back into his coffin. With ease, he pulled up the side, latched it, and went back to sleep. Some spirit of slumber, eh?
The banging continued for three days.
The cause was never found out.