On days like these, Mumbo felt his guilt like concrete weights tied tight around his throat.
The actual impulses and desires to obey that sanguine call no longer affected him as often as they used to―perhaps out of sheer necessity rather than true recovery, but the fine details didn’t matter. Not to Mumbo at least. The intrusive thoughts and feelings, however, were another story.
Sometimes he wished he could just press a button and fix all of his problems like one would a faulty machine, force him through some kind of psychological reboot. His prescribed process was tedious enough as it was; exposure therapy was a snail’s race by nature, and the transitions were mind-numbingly gradual. From mentions of redstone, to discussions of redstone, to looking at redstone, to touching redstone, to holding redstone, to――
And so on and so forth.
Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and the process was anything but linear and orderly. For a long while it felt like every step he took forward, something would send him three steps and a stumble back. One moment he was setting up semi-complex circuits from memory in his obsidian home, the next Grian would make an off-hand comment about a test contraption one of the hermits built nearly killing him and Mumbo would find himself involuntarily wishing it had.
Those moments scared him. He knew that it wasn’t really him thinking then, that it was just some heinous, corrupted part of him, some deep innate brand of the Red Sun festering behind his eyes. But it wasn’t any less terrifying to catch himself tempted by the crimson voice in the back of his mind that told him he didn’t belong in the overworld, that he needed to continue wiring in the quartz covered plains or he’d never be satisfied, to beg and steal and lie and cheat if it meant getting back to the Sun’s dimension, that if anyone got in his way he had to kill kill kill kill kilL KILL KILL KILL KILL K―
. . .
Those nights, Mumbo felt pain beyond anything he’d known before, from the crescent welts of his fingernails dug deep into the meat of his forearms, to the once-foreign hopelessness that left him wondering why anyone thought he was worth saving anymore.
On days like these, Mumbo found himself convinced that he’d never be released from his blood-stained binds.
It hurt more than he cared to admit, having redstone so intrinsically ruined for him. Sure, he had brute-forced his way into standing it enough to look over blueprints with Iskall and play with it like a child when he was alone, but it was never the same. Nothing compared to the satisfaction of improving on an existing design, nor the pride and excitement of inventing something entirely new.
Inventions. Redstone was such a progressive material, a resource far beyond any of the hermits’ understanding. It was able to do just about anything if only someone could crack the code to get there. Most of them already knew of the wonders it could provide--plenty of the hermits used redstone-based bionics, or at the very least a form of enhancement.
Iskall was no stranger to them, obviously. Perhaps Mumbo shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when the man came to him amidst his wallowing with a stack of crudely arranged notes in hand. He was somehow more chipper and cheeky than usual if the bright smile on his face was anything to go by. There was a proud sort of flourish as he handed the papers to Mumbo, who sat with wariness and confusion. That apprehension, however, was quickly replaced with curiosity.
Blueprints and notes regarding the conception of redstone-powered contraptions and devices would typically be a quick read for Mumbo, but even having been friends with Iskall and Grian for quite some time, there was no way to scan through the chicken-scratch handwriting and less-than discernible doodles in a short amount of time.
Mumbo’s initial attempt at cracking the code that was Iskall’s notes was interrupted not ten seconds in when two loaves of bread, an apple, and a bottle of water was set down in front of him, making him flinch slightly. He stared at the selection for a moment, mouth suddenly dry, before nodding his thanks and reaching for the apple. It was in that instant that Mumbo realized he didn’t remember the last time he had something to eat and swallowed down his embarrassment.
The two men soon fell into silence as Mumbo worked through the notes bit by bit, often pausing to right papers that had somehow folded or flipped upside down in Iskall’s attempt to organize them. Though it took a while, a careful read through informed Mumbo of Iskall’s plans to research a possibility of mechanically repairing his vocal cords.
There was a prominent section on the usage of prismarine crystals and diamond powder to color match the box with his eye prosthetic, and another that explored the possibility of controllable pitch and volume settings.
(In a better scenario, Mumbo would have been terrified at the possibilities that would come with giving Iskall such power, and even now he wondered who the first prank victim would be.)
All of it was quite clearly in the early stages of development, but Mumbo could help but brighten up at the thought of Iskall being able to talk again. It wasn’t something he liked to think about for long or often, but he missed Iskall’s voice. Before the incident, his friend’s laughs and sly comments were one of the things that helped the days go by, and Mumbo knew he wasn’t the only one who thought so. The man deserved his voice and more for what he’d gone through.
But information on Iskall’s voice-box plans came to an unexpected stop halfway through the stack of notes. Suddenly Mumbo was reading through two different handwriting styles about mechanical joints and synthetic muscle fiber and artificial nerve endings and――
He stopped reading. This section contained far too many things he knew too little about.
Head spinning from unfamiliar jargon, he looked up at Iskall in question.
“F...f-for Gri..ian,” came the harsh rumble from Iskall, startling Mumbo in the process. Both of the men stared at each other for a moment, each sheepish in their own right, before Iskall pulled out a relatively new-looking book and began writing.
[Doc let me take a look at his arm a bit ago and helped me out with the technical stuff. I’m hoping that we can replicate a pair for Grian. Took much more work comin up with this blueprint than it did for my voicebox plan lol ]
Mumbo went from bemused to ecstatic as he read Iskall’s explanation, feeling surprisingly hopeful for the first time in a long time. The sheer thought of his friends getting back what he took from them made his heart swell with guilty joy.
The technician’s part of his brain fired off a million different inquiries about how they could get these plans to work, but his heart ached knowing this was a project he wouldn’t have much part in if any. He didn’t specialize in bionics for one, but even if he felt like dabbling in the expertise for the benefit of his friends, Mumbo didn’t want to get too involved out of fear of relapse.
Especially not after today. He just wasn’t ready.
“These plans are incredible, Iskall.” Mumbo whispered in awe, flipping through both sections of the packet thrice over. A part of him yearned to add notes and suggestions of his own along the margins of the already messy prints, but he swallowed down the eagerness and handed the papers back to Iskall with a shaky hand. Far too fast for him to subdue, bubbling apprehension rose into his chest again as a presence beneath his ribcage scolded him for not ripping the notes to shreds when he had the chance and Mumbo turned away from Iskall in shame. He didn’t even notice himself staring off into the corner of his room until the scratching of a feather pen against paper got his attention again.
[I was hoping you would say that. Wouldn't be Architech patent-worthy without your approval :) ]
Mumbo gave a half-hearted as smile his dear friend stored the notes away in a light blue shulker box he hadn’t seen get brought out. As Iskall packed the box up, a red hot silence burned within the room and Mumbo flushed at the uneasiness of it all, hating the fact that he couldn’t enjoy the company of the people he loved anymore. It made him feel like an ass when he was so unresponsive and caught up in self-pity, but at the same time it felt like acting as if nothing ever happened would be a slap in the face to everyone he wronged. He was halfway through a mental reprimand when Iskall huffed through his nose and came to sit beside him at his birch wood table.
A beat or two passed in silence before a steady hand reached out to fix the uneven part in Mumbo’s hair, smooth out the collar of his dress shirt, and pat him gently on the side of his face. The warmth of Iskall’s hand damn nearly drove Mumbo to tears. With cloudy eyes, he watched as Iskall tilted his head, expression a melancholy mix of fondness and sorrow.
[It’s bad today, huh?]
With a sharp intake of breath and clenched teeth, Mumbo glanced away from Iskall. He’d rather pretend he was fine than admit to the Red Sun’s influence holding strong sway over him today. But before he could come up with something to say, Iskall was already shoving his book back into Mumbo’s hands.
[Don’t try to lie to me, I can see it in your face. And in the stubble on your chin.]
“I…“ Mumbo started, cotton-mouthed and ashamed, closing his eyes to prevent the tears from glossing over his vision.
Sweet scarlet whispers pricked at the back of his head and swirled behind his eyelids, reminding him the Red Sun never sets the Red Sun never sets the Red Sun never sets, and he tensed his jaw to try and drown out the words with a high-pitched strain. The world around him grew warm and tight and dark, and despite his best efforts, the voices seemed to just get louder.
All at once, Mumbo realized that Iskall was pushing at his shoulders and letting out determined, wordless noises as he tried to bring the man from his panic. Mumbo brought down his hands where he found them pressed firmly against his ears, noticing that his face felt warm and wet. He silently wiped at his cheeks with his sleeve, defeated.
“...Yeah. It is.”
“I-I...It’ss oh-k-kay.” Iskall offered gently, releasing his hold from his friend’s shoulders and sliding them down to his arms as he scanned Mumbo for any more signs of distress. As soon as his hands were free, he reached for his book again.
[It’s a nice day out today. Let’s go for a walk. I’ll shoot Grian a message to meet us in the shopping district.]
Before Mumbo could begin to read, Iskall plucked the book from his hand and began writing frantically, leaving Mumbo to wipe at the heavy tears that pooled over the edge of his eyelids once again.
[Let’s not tell him about my plans yet. I don’t want to get him excited for something that could take months or more to even start on. Promise to keep it a secret for now? ]
Mumbo couldn’t help but flash him a warm smile. This man has done so much for both him and Grian even in wake of his own obstacles and responsibilities. There was nothing in this world or the next that Mumbo could offer as retribution.
“Sure thing. You have my word.”
Iskall huffed a laugh, grabbing and immediately shaking Mumbo’s hand with unnecessary earnest.
[Jolly good cheers mate! Let’s get you ready for our stroll, shall we lad? Pip pip!]
With a good-natured roll of his eyes, Mumbo stood from where he’d been sat since early that morning, bones audibly popping from inactivity, and made towards his room to change into a clean white button-up and dress pants, leaving his coat on the bed. It took him a moment to brave the mirror in the corner of his room, but once he could stand to look at his reflection, he made an honest attempt to make himself presentable. After smoothing out the folds and wrinkles in his shirt, Mumbo pulled at his mustache a few times in an attempt to style it, lamenting that he didn’t have the time to shave the shadow from his jaw.
There was a soft, gentle hum from Iskall that got Mumbo’s attention as he exited his room, and he walked closer to read what his friend was saying.
Bashful, Mumbo blushed and shut the book. Compliments always made him somewhat embarrassed before, but it hit him much harder nowadays, especially when he felt bad about not being able to clean up as much as he preferred. Despite his self-consciousness, Mumbo was grateful for Iskall’s encouragement and offered a small smile in thanks.
As he and Iskall locked up his house and began the journey towards the shopping district, Mumbo watched him message Grian and shake with silent laughter―probably at something stupid Grian responded with, knowing them, but he was too engrossed in thought to catch what was said―and noticed that for the first time in a while that he couldn’t hear the honeyed song of the Red Sun, nor could he feel its pull deep within his bones.
Truly, Iskall and Grian were gifts from the universe he didn’t deserve. It was a bloody wonder that they still stood by him after all they went through. Despite everything, his friends still cared for him. Still loved him. There was nothing he could do to repay them for that. And nothing could compare to the outpour of adoration he felt for them in return.
On days like these, with his best friends at his sides, Mumbo felt free.