A/NL Hello, fandom. I'll be your flight attendant today on Air Vocaloid, with a spectacular shonen adventure for all to read.
This story takes place in an expansive universe based on several songs, let's see which ones you can find?
To the End
Rin's shrieking wasn't exactly an insult, nor was it an injury, but it was most definitely an insult to injury. Sporting not only a black eye and aching ribs, there was an almost-passed test in Len's school bag and a hole in his pocket where he'd lost one of his favorite pens.
Hearing his twin sister bitch about him was something Len didn't really want to do.
"Why didn't you fight back?" Rin practically snarled in his ear and Len grimaced. His face hurt. Rin was always good at being extroverted and it showed when her emotions ran high. "Seriously, Len! You suck at everything, and that bully knows it. All the bullies know it. So they come after you, and you don't do anything."
Len glanced at her, taking in her face flushed with rage and the accusations burning in her blue eyes, before shrugging. "You wanted me to get into a fist fight?"
"Maybe if you weren't such a coward, they'd leave you alone to rot in your own suckiness," explained Rin in a voice that just barely suppressed her anger before it boiled back to the surface. "You suck, Len!"
"At least I don't suck dick, like some people I know," Len bit back grumpily. Something inside him was appalled by the outburst by both the fact that he'd actually said something and the fact that he didn't have any ground to stand on concerning something so uncalled for.
Despite the falseness, he succeeded in enraging Rin even further. She gave Len a rough shove and he stumbled off the walkway and into the grass that was long enough to brush his pelvis. As he fumbled to right himself the stalks almost seemed to wrap around his ankles and it felt like a losing battle.
Len remembered long ago, walking down this same empty stretch of road from their little home in the boonies to the rest of town, that he'd been frightened of the surrounding, unkempt fields. It would've been so easy to get lost in his childlike eyes, and who knew what kind of animals hunted little boys in the grass? Older and smarter, Len's fears had abated, but it did nothing to dash his annoyance with the yellow-green stalks that were determined to trip him up.
"You're awful, Len!" Rin yelled at him from the pavement. The red flush to her cheeks was more pronounced and her eyes had started to tear up. Having spent the past fourteen years with the girl, he recognized her symptoms of uncontrollable fury. "Maybe you deserve to be the school's punching bag!"
Len finally tore the grass from his sneakers and and stepped back onto the road. Dirt stained his hands and uniform, but he couldn't have cared less. "Oh, that's real supportive! I bet you were only so 'concerned' with my wellbeing because it was embarrassing to you!"
"Excuse me? Embarrassing?"
Len was almost scared of the slew of words that came from his mouth, but he did nothing to stop them in his bout of rage. "Well, who wouldn't be, am I right? Everyone likes you, Rin. You're so popular and cool, but wait, did you hear? That Rin girl everybody likes, she's got a dorky brother who can't do anything, so he's a total loser! Maybe Rin's a little loser, too!"
It was then that Len realized that the gray, cloudy skies above were just a little too dark and a crack of lightning met his ears. Distantly, there was a roll of thunder, and that was the only warning the siblings had before fat droplets of rain began to pelt against their skin and clothes, matting their hair down like glue.
Rin said something naughty that Len was sure would throw her aforementioned and accursed popularity into questionable waters, but her heated glare was still fixed unwaveringly on him.
"Is that what you really think?" she hissed. Previous exposure to the very same question told Len it was loaded, but his brain had turned on his angry motormouth, and he was going to have none of her girly tricks.
"Who knows? All I know is that you're always all over my life like a leech! You're a slimy, bloodsucking leech who needs to back off!"
"Fine! If I'm a leech, you're a toy! A little boy toy that's fun for all the big boys at school," Rin retorted. "You've got no spine, like a jellyfish, so you're easy putty for anyone who wants to play! God, I wish you'd just man up already, Len! You're such a pussy!"
"And you're a nosy bitch!" Len screamed, eyes widening in some kind of shock. Calling her out had been his fed up intention, but devolving into this juvenile match was insanely liberating, and he didn't want it to stop. "I wish I'd been born an only child so I wouldn't have to deal with you, Rin! You don't understand anything unless it's your own selfish whims! Stop trying to boss me around and disappear!"
Len turned away from his sister, caught fumbling with her next remark, and stomped forward down the road. He could hear Rin express her displeasure in several primitive sounds, but he didn't listen for any words.
Maybe she'd learn to mind her own business, after all.
That night, it had been Rin's turn to make dinner. Len was surprised that he noticed, even with his parents bickering over his head about his social issues, that the meal consisted of his favorites. His teacher called the house a little bit after apologizing for his mistakes on grading the test and that Len had passed with a much higher score. And right before bed, Len found one of his favorite pens wedged between the wall and his desk.
Saturday mornings were always a little loud, to Len's memory. He was always late to rise and the hubbub of life would wind up downstairs since the early morning. So when he woke up to just the clattering of dishes in the kitchen sink, he found himself confused. Usually Rin would have the television in her room blared to unnecessary volumes or she would make some kind of scene in front of their parents, hoping for a raised allowance or maybe just a freebie for something at the market. It was always obnoxious, but it was routine in his household, and the silence from his sister was unnerving.
Thinking he'd finally managed to wake up before her highness, Len chanced a peak into Rin's room across the second story's hall from his. Growing up he'd learned the life lesson that one should never enter a girl's room without permission after a long wait through some bureaucratic process. It called for screaming and profanities and righteous violence. None of those befell him, however, because when he inched Rin's door open, he found himself staring at a pristine office, filled with green faux-leather furniture and pastel wallpaper. No boy band posters littered the walls in hazardous patterns, no dusty porcelain dolls hung from shelves that were too old to be in a teenage girl's room.
There wasn't a sign that Rin had ever been there.
Quickly, Len backed out of the room and double-checked that, really, Rin's room should have been behind that door, and why hadn't he ever noticed such an office before?
Len stormed down the stairs to see his father just escaping out the kitchen door in his pressed, pin-striped suit and his mother turning on the garbage disposal. The mechanism's whir was nothing new to him, but in the panicky fog encompassing his brain, it sounded downright sinister.
"Mom?" Len worked on strengthening his voice. It didn't work. "Mom, where's Rin?"
The woman spun around as though surprised to hear him before tucking a strand of blond hair behind her ear. She frowned a little before peeling her yellow cleaning gloves off her hands. "Rin? Oh, that imaginary friend you had, I remember her. Why are you bringing her back up now?"
Len barely heard her answer. Behind his mother was a mounted photograph from a family trip down to the old cabin from a couple of years ago. His parents had been perfectly posed, looking like a hardworking, loving couple, while Rin had taken the effort to turn on a hose, timing it perfectly for the camera's automatic function to snap a mortifying picture of Len's waterlogged expression. Rin had always been laughing merrily on the side of the picture.
She wasn't there. Len was dry as a desert.
"Len, you really should get a hair cut," his mother was talking again. In a bout of self-consciousness, Len reached up and grabbed at his ponytail. His hair had always been lengthy for as far back as he could remember and wearing it up had been something of a trademark for him. Rin always said she liked it long and would always keep hers short because she didn't want to intrude.
"What? N-no," Len told her and fled the kitchen in order to dart through the tiny door to the den.
There was a computer in the den. Len logged on quickly, sweeping every site and service he could think of. Social networking sites always led him to profiles that didn't exist, and searching for Rin's friend's eventually led him to the same empty results.
Rin wasn't here.
He barely heard his mother demanding where he was going when he was barreling through the front door, purple, sleeveless jacket half on and sneakers pounded in by his heels. Len tore through their muddy walkway and onto the blacktop of the road.
Mindlessly, Len took off towards town, following the strip by muscle memory rather than his eyes. He was constantly letting them wander from side to side, searching for a stray spot of gold in the sickly fields, searching for when this sick lie of a joke would end and he could yell at his sister for being an idiot.
It didn't come and Len's legs wobbled until he crashed to his knees and felt them burn on the uneven surface. He'd undoubtedly skinned them.
Rin had always told Len that he was too quiet, and unless Len was angry, he always thought that, too. Alone on an empty strip of road, surrounded by untended land, Len unleashed the loudest scream he could until his ears couldn't differentiate between his voice and the screeching inside his own head. By the time his voice broke, thunder resounded through the desolate air.
"It's raining again?" Len gasped.
"So it would seem."
Len jumped to his feet and turned to where the voice had sounded from, somewhere in the stalks to his left, eyes wide in surprise. The voice had startled him in more than just the sudden-sound way. It had barely sounded human, raspy and on a hiss like a snake. The speaker sounded like they needed a desperate breath of fresh air. "Who's there?"
The gasper chuckled and Len thought it sounded like something was dying. "Aren't you happy, boy? Master granted your wish. Master did you a kindly service, boy."
"Do you like being an only child, boy?"
The first raindrop of the storm landed on Len's head with a pinprick of cold shock, but it felt like a brick. "What do you mean?"
The voice kept chuckling its gross mockery of a laugh before it cut off abruptly. "Master says that you have no more business with me. Good-bye, boy." There was shuffling in the grass before whoever was watching Len sped away with such surprising speed that Len could only stare at the tops of the stalks brushing against each other as the person rushed through.
Some washed-out reality crashed into him a moment later, but that was after Len found himself giving chase to the stranger. "W-wait! Please wait!" Len called out. The person ahead of him laughed again, but it seemed to come from everywhere. Len kept advancing forward, listening for the snapping of grass, and didn't know how long he was running blind while torrents of rain washed down on him.
Just when Len was sure his lungs were going to burn to ash, he tripped and found himself tumbling out of the grass. He rubbed a spot of dirt off his cheek and pushed himself back up onto his rickety legs, searching. It was apparent he hadn't actually left the field, still somewhere in its mass. The stalks had all been punched down to create a clearing in its forestry, like a crop circle, only this circle was definitely not round. "A star?"
Wandering was a horrible idea when his legs ached and felt like solid, cement blocks attached to his thighs, but Len found himself standing in the very center of the star, anyway. There was no indication of where the person he'd pursued had gone off to, and Len felt water that wasn't the downpour collecting at his eyes. He went to turn around and try to find the main road again.
He found himself staring into eyes, large, black-rimmed, bloodshot, blind eyes, and a smile that looked more like a slit mouth. Len didn't try to hold in his yelp and took a step back, further into the star, and stared at the girl.
Her skin was pale like fresh winter snow, but there were chunks of it missing that destroyed the poetic beauty in the description, revealing bruised flesh and rotting insides. Her knees were knobby, leading down to feet that were so rough and callused that they looked more like pigeon toes. Her hair, a bright teal-blue, was falling away in drooping lengths, digging out parts of her scalp and exposing gray matter.
"Master says you have no more business," she hissed in that same gruff voice as earlier, revealing black teeth, ground sharp, and a slimy tongue. "No more business!"
Len wanted to throw up.
"Why do you chase me? Your wish is granted, go away!" Her voice was rising and her hands jerked like a syndrome, but she did not move.
"W-where...," Len started, had to take a deep breath to keep from throwing up the whole lot of nothing in his stomach. "Where is my sister?"
The slit mouth shrunk into pursed lips and the zombie-like girl cocked her head to the side with a sickening crack. "Your wish was granted. Master took her away."
That cursed, terrifying, shit-eating grin returned. "Because you wished it."
"I didn't mean it!" Len bellowed, feeding his desperation into it. "I didn't mean it! Give her back!"
"You don't like Master's generosity?"
"No! I hate it!"
The girl had nothing to say to that, instead rolling her eyes up to the sky as if she could see the dark clouds. The drops falling into her eyes didn't even make her blink. Len was quiet, trembling with cold, unbelievable fright, and a flicker of warming anger. It was an ambivalent feeling and Len just wanted to bring Rin home and hug her until he was normal again.
"Master says there is a condition to getting your sister back, boy," the girl finally said.
"C-condition?" He'd do it. Len knew he'd do it. Rin had settled with the petty fight they'd had yesterday while Len had been uncharacteristically aggressive, and his sister had paid the price. It hadn't even been twenty-four hours and he already missed her to the point of tears.
Twins were strange, something in the back of his mind said.
The girl nodded. She used her unnatural speed to appear just in front of Len, bony fingers gripping him tight around his upper arms, yellow nails leaving pricks of pain dancing across his skin. Then, she gave him a hard shove. "You have to go get her from Master."
Len was falling, falling away from the rotten girl, and he held his breath in anticipation for the impact with the ground. When it didn't happen, he saw the girl grinning down at him like a circus clown as though from the top of a tunnel, and he was still falling.
Colliding into water wasn't what Len had expected at all. He gasped when his back hit the surface like a whip and inhaled some water. He clawed himself to the surface, coughing and retching until he could breathe without feeling like he was at the taped-off water fountain by his school's gym locker rooms.
He opened his eyes, unaware he'd ever even closed them, and saw nothing but red and darkness. A moon up high was glaring red down on him, which Len thought was strange because it couldn't have been much later than two in the afternoon when he'd encountered that hideous girl. It cast the world around him into vicious spikes of the color, including the murky water he was treading. It smelled like decomposition and Len almost wished he was back under so he wouldn't have to deal with it.
Something cackled to Len's right and he twisted his body to look before desperately wishing he hadn't. There was a tiny strip of land in the expanse of endless red water, covered in shoots of iron bamboo. Impaled on each shoot were at least three human bodies, skin blackened, but still hanging like rotted meat from their skeletons. Organs dangled from where they'd been freed, dipping into the sand. Len noticed one of the bodies was still breathing, stabbed through his throat and hanging helplessly from the shoot, and leering down at him.
"You fell a long way," the dead-man-walking rasped as blood dripped from his chapped lips. "I'm surprised you didn't get stuck on the spikes at the bottom of the swamp. Lots of folks go that way."
"W-what?" Len glanced down into the water, but could see nothing but his faint reflection on its rippling surface.
"Better get going," the man wheezed. "The Guard will get you, kid. Or you could stay, maybe we can be stab-mates." He cackled again, a crazed sound.
Len didn't respond. Instead, he turned his head away from the grizzly sight and swam away. The red swamp was huge, he learned, and sometimes he felt something beneath his fingertips that could have been hair and one time it felt like his fingers got stuck in a bowling ball, but the holes were certainly too big and they felt more like eye sockets. Len didn't check to find out.
His already-abused legs and lungs were protesting every movement and it wasn't long before his arms were feeling the pain, too, and he had to take a break, but when he did he saw a little ball of yellow light in the distance. Wearily, Len picked up his agonized pace until the light grew brighter, going faster when it looked like a hanging lantern.
Len didn't care about the lantern so much as the shore and the forest just beyond it.
There was a girl on the shore, too, kneeling in the sand, who looked up in surprise when she heard Len's splashing in the water. She stood immediately, wiping her hands on her dress before she waded into the red water, waving.
A friendly face was a treasure and Len accepted her helping hand out of the red swamp without question. She guided him onto sturdier land, letting him lean back against a strangely violet-hued tree, but if a swamp could be red, than Len didn't have much of a bone to pick with a forest of purple trees.
"Heavens, how did you get stuck in the swamp?" the kindly girl asked, kneeling in front of him. The entire front of her dress was stained red with swamp water, but Len wasn't sure how it could have possibly gotten into her hair and on her face by helping him up.
"I...I fell in," Len answered lamely. "Where am I?"
The girl smiled. "You fell in? Clumsy to fall into such a place. Where are you? Why, it's obvious that you're at the Red Swamp. Actually, a more accurate description is at the very edge of the Purple Forest of Wonderland and the Red Swamp," she chattered.
"Wonderland? Like...down the rabbit hole?"
"Down the what? How on earth could a boy your size fit down a rabbit hole?"
"I guess not, then."
The girl giggled, a soft tinkling sound that made Len smile. She stood again, moving back to the shore and scooping up a wicker basket. Cloth overflowed from it. "I was just doing laundry, but I think it's best we don't dawdle. You look exhausted."
Len couldn't have agreed more. "Where are we going?"
"My cottage!" the girl exclaimed proudly. "Can you stand?"
He was relieved to know he could, even if his feet suffered in his shoes, and he came up beside her.
Pleased by this, the girl pointed into the forest. "We need to go in a little bit, but then we'll see the Red River and then we'll follow that until we get there. It's not a harsh walk, so you can breathe easy."
"That's good to hear, miss," and Len found he wasn't lying.
Len followed the girl through the woods and only gave the river a brief glance, noting how it was the same bloody red as the swamp. It was creepy. "So," Len started, grasping for a conversation to distract him. "How do you do laundry in red water?"
The girl gave him a smile over her shoulder. "Wear red clothes, obviously!"
Len didn't point out that her dress was blue and that he hadn't seen a single red garment in the basket.
Following the girl's pointed finger, he saw a little stone cottage nestled amongst more thick, purple trunks, and felt his muscles melt with the thought of a place to sit down and relax. "I can't wait," Len mumbled as he shuddered in his wet clothes.
The girl opened the cottage door and Len's hopes were dashed.
With a flash of metal a sword slammed through the thin girl's ribcage and out her back with a shower of red that left Len nauseous and stunned.
The sword withdrew and the girl crumbled. Her basket crashed to the ground and the clothes fell across the ground, revealing human bones and more than one dismembered limb hidden in the fabrics. Len traced his eyes from the grotesque laundry up to the wielder of the sword, mouth agape and tasting bile in his throat, until he met incensed brown eyes.
A/N: There are four songs that directly influenced this chapter, and even more that influence more of the story. Can you name the original four, and can you name the ones that'll be revealed more thoroughly in later chapters?