Iko woke up with no head.
Or, rather, his head woke up with no body.
For one glorious instant, Iko thought he was dead. He believed that he'd appeared at the base of some grand throne, perhaps that of the Non god, the Player, and the game was over. But the throne was just the base of a broken rat statue, and when Iko recognized the rat's telltale snout he sighed.
"Well, shit." Iko snorted. "That didn't work. Hurts like a bitch, though. Wonder how I'm talking with no vocal cords...?"
Unable to twist around - I need to stop getting decapitated, it's so inconvenient - Iko rolled his eyes this way and that, hunting for his body. He noticed it a minute later, laying unhappily beneath a heap of fallen roofing. One of his arms twitched inside its sleeve, as if trying to escape the pinning rock.
"Oh, for pity's sake. Get up, you ol' bag of bones!" Iko tried to whistle, but only spittle flew from his lips. "Pffft! This is humiliating. C'mon, get up!"
The body stirred. Stonework shifted ponderously as one of Iko's elbows popped out of the debris. A leg followed, then another leg, and soon his whole body was wobbling about in a ridiculous stupor. It ran in the wrong direction, slammed into a column, and fell over.
"This could be a circus act," Iko grumbled. "OVER HERE! BY THE... ah... WELL, I'M BESIDE A BIG ROCK SHAPED LIKE A LEMON! Oh, hell, you can't see anyway, can you? I'm the eyes."
It took the better part of a day for the body to locate its head. In the meantime, Iko told stories to himself, quoted ancient texts near verbatim, and pondered what form his future would take. He still wanted it shaped like a volcano, yes, with lots of rings and upward paths, but the particulars... well, he'd have a few years to work out the particulars.
Eventually, after kicking Iko in the eye a few times, body reunited with head. Skin stretched out for skin, knitting Iko back together. He wrenched his skull around, wincing at the pain as his spine locked back into place. Iko patted down his body, noting the dozens of bruises and perforations, and left the temple. He padded down the front steps and into the streets of Below.
When he looked back, the temple had mended itself. The roof looked as unblemished as ever, and rat statues stared blankly at one another. Iko shook his head and kept going.
He walked for a long time, laughing as ghost rats skittered far out of his path and into hiding. Iko knew his path well enough, and with some concentration he could manipulate the geography - had he not done so often enough in the last several weeks? - but he wanted the walk. His body needed time to recuperate, and walking often did the trick. Besides, he wanted to get one last look at the Nothing.
The orbular monstrosity lay in a broken heap in the midst of a huge crater, half buried in dirt and rubble. Its legs spread up and out from its body in an ugly imitation of a gymnast, one dangling perilously from a tangled network of mashed gears, levers, and cables. The entire upper half of the Nothing was cracked open like an egg, and a lake of black oil floated inside the broken superstructure. It rippled gently as Iko mounted the wreck to peer inside.
"Oh, dear. Irreparable. Traveller really did a number on you, didn't he?" Iko tutted. "That boy. He might actually give Kierkegaard a good fight. Never thought I'd see the day. And even if he loses... well, surely he'll weaken Kierk enough..."
Sparing a moment to say a prayer over the wreckage, Iko slid down the side of the Nothing and kept walking. The oil burbled inside the hull, seeming to respond to Iko's presence, but the Nothing would never move again.
An hour later, Iko arrived at the front gate of Below. Still open, still badly dented from Traveller's passage - The lad has no taste for puzzles, for certain - the gate loomed over Iko, the twin halves of its regulator sigil seeming to stare accusingly at him. He ignored the hatred and stepped through.
A blue flame floated nearby. A save point. Jackpot, Iko thought.
Approaching the save point, Iko raised his hands. His sleeves slid down his arms, revealing a writhing network of coiled tendons. A mixture of green and white light poured through the tendons and out Iko's fingers, merging above and around the save point as a bright halo. The room flashed -
- a haunting voice boomed 'SAVE GAME LOADED' -
- and a young girl fell out of a rip in space and time, collapsing on the floor. The light faded immediately.
Nodding at the save point, Iko knelt beside the girl. She had long, dark brown hair, pretty triangular eyes, and a slim build Iko envied. She was staring up at him, though she didn't look frightened.
"Ow," she said.
"Hello," Iko replied. "How do you feel?"
She pursed her lips and thought it over. "Sore. I think something stepped on me."
Iko laughed hard. "Ha! Oh, dear, yes, something stepped on you. Can you stand?"
The girl hopped up on her own, ignoring Iko's hand. She looked around, eventually fixating on the flaming save point. "I died, didn't I? I knew touching it was a good idea."
Iko grinned. I like this girl. "You seem to be taking this all rather well."
"Should I not?" The girl scratched her head. "I heard what happened to Mud when he came back to life. He was in a coma for several weeks. I find comas to be highly inefficient. You get a great deal more done when you're not in a coma."
"We're agreed on that point."
The girl studied Iko for a moment, then turned back to the blue flame. "You look badly off. Did you get into a fight?"
"You could say that." Iko popped his shoulders and rubbed his neck. "I feel like crap."
"Would that be your name, then? Crap?" The girl smiled.
"Uh... no. My name is..."
"No." He held back a laugh, but just barely. "It's Iko."
"No. I've decided. It's Crap." The girl extended her hand. "Hello, Crap. I'm Celine."