Kandi stared. "What are you doing here?"
"Heh. Nice to see you too." Dranjari smirked slyly, perched on the edge of the table. "Got something I want to show you; come on," she said, holding out a hand.
"I can't, I'm supposed to be…"
"Oh tosh, this didn't take long. Besides, I can travel in time, remember? You'll be back before you left – ah, literally, I see." Dranjari glanced over to the corner and waved awkwardly.
Kandi turned to see herself and the time goddess standing there, both with black mess around their eyes and looking as though they had just climbed out of a lake. "What the…"
"You'll find out," said the dripping Kandi in the corner, grinning like a maniac. "Speaking of which, you should get going. We left just after we got back. Or you left, or the other us… oh, gods, this is confusing! Just go before this gets any weirder," she giggled, squeezing water from her hair.
Kandi blinked. "I suppose I can't argue with future me. Let's go then," she said, taking Dranjari's outstretched hand. She felt a rushing sensation, saw flying blurred shapes and colours which made her want to throw up, so she closed her eyes until it stopped. All of a sudden, she felt very warm. She opened her eyes, looked around at the room. It was a tiny place, rather dingy, and smelt of sweat and stale beer. It was also packed with people, who all seemed to be wearing some kind of uniform; black shirts and leather trousers, coupled with long dark hair, beards and piercings. A heavy, booming noise thudded repetitively from somewhere; there was a raised area on one side of the room, where nobody seemed to be standing, but there were some things resting on it that reminded her of the lyres she had seen travelling minstrels play.
"Oh good, they haven't started yet. Come on, let's grab a drink before it kicks off; once they start playing you couldn't make yourself heard in here," said Dranjari, dragging Kandi through the crowd and over to the miniscule bar in the corner. "Here, try this. Trust me, you loved it," she said, passing her a small glass of clear liquid.
Kandi drank the small mouthful, thinking it would only be water, or possibly the flavoured water sometimes served at festivals. "Gyah… hah! What, what is this?" she spluttered, feeling like the back of her throat was on fire.
Dranjari grinned widely, raising her own glass. "They call it vodka. Cheers," she said, downing hers. "Another? Try drinking it slowly this time, though." The rough-looking guy behind the bar refilled their glasses and pushed them back towards the girls.
Nodding thanks to him, Kandi sipped at the stuff. Once the burning sensation subsided, it was quite pleasant, this 'vodka'. "What did you want to show me, then?" she asked, hoping Dranjari hadn't brought her to gods-knew-where just to drink weird water. "Is this some kind of militia gathering?"
The goddess burst out laughing. "No, although I suppose it could be, in a sense," she replied, trying to stifle her giggles. "They should be on in a bit… ah, here we go," she said, pointing towards the raised area opposite the bar.
Kandi looked; four young, scruffy men had appeared there, two fiddling with the lyre-like objects, one standing at the front with a metal pole, and the fourth taking a seat behind a set-up that looked like several drums connected together. The thudding noise had faded into nothing, what little light there was had dimmed, and the assembled crowd started cheering and hooting. "Who are they?" she shouted above the crowd noise.
"That's the band, and that's what I brought you to see!" Dranjari shouted back. It was increasingly difficult to hear, as the yelling, stamping crowd reached a crescendo.
The man with the metal pole raised a hand, waving lazily at the room. "How you all doin' tonight?" he asked, speaking into a puffy thing on top of his pole, which seemed to make his voice louder than it should have been. The crowd cheered in answer. "We are The Lords of Pain, and this is Chaotica Supremis!" he shouted, spinning around to point dramatically at the man behind the drums.
The drummer began thrashing about behind his instrument, seemingly bashing anything within reach, but a fast-pulsing rhythm developed. The crowd went completely insane, leaping up and down, running in circles and pushing each other around; those to the sides were calmer, but only just, frantically punching the air and nodding in time with the drum beat.
Once the rapid drumming had slowed to a less heart-attack-inducing pace, the other two musicians began playing; one sounding like a thousand screeching demons being tortured, the other coaxing a languid, low-pitched counterpoint from his strings. The pole man at the front, having struck a variety of bizarre poses, finally settled into his position and began singing – if you could call it singing, Kandi thought. He was so off-key, he'd probably never even seen the key. Still, it fitted with the rest of the noise, somehow. Without quite knowing how she'd started, she realised her foot was tapping.
"It's good, right?" she heard Dranjari yell in her ear. Not trusting herself to reply audibly, Kandi grinned, nodded, and raised a thumb. The song ended, and the black-clad audience stopped beating each other up for a moment so they could cheer.
"Why do they shove each other around like that?" Kandi asked, while there were a few seconds of relative quiet.
Dranjari shrugged. "It's called moshing. I've no idea why, but people seem to enjoy it. Want another?" she asked, pointing at Kandi's empty glass. "If you like, you can have it mixed with lemon soda; tastes a lot smoother that way," she suggested, waving at the barman.
Kandi nodded again, for the band had launched into another song, even louder than the first. As she accepted the ice cold glass, she noticed the screeching demons had calmed down to a mere wail for this one. She much preferred it; the excessively high pitch had begun to irritate her ears slightly. "What are they called?" she shouted to Dranjari.
"What, the band?"
"No, the instruments," Kandi clarified.
Dranjari pointed. "That one's a bass guitar, and that one's a lead guitar. I assume you know what the drums are; they're called drums," she told the girl, grinning stupidly.
Kandi rolled her eyes. "Of course I know what drums are, we have them back home; I just wondered about the other two." Getting no answer, and realising she probably hadn't shouted loud enough, she gave up and sipped her drink. It was a lot smoother and sweeter than the vodka on its own, and she decided she definitely liked it. By the end of the song, a wide, contented sort of smile had crept onto her face, and she realised her head was bobbing up and down.
"You look like you're enjoying yourself," came a gruff voice from her right. She turned, surprised, and found herself staring into a pale, green-eyed, beardy face. The beard smiled, and the guy waved his glass towards the band. "Big fan?"
Kandi turned to put her own glass on the bar, and looked at the man properly. He had long, dark hair and was dressed in black, like pretty much everyone else there, and there was a scribbly sort of logo on his shirt that might have said 'Lords of Pain'. "Not exactly, I'd never heard of them before tonight; a friend kind of surprised me by bringing me here. They seem good though," she said, resuming her head-nodding as another song started up.
The beardy guy nodded along with her. "If you want, we're selling shirts and stuff at the back; the missus is looking after the table while I'm here. I'm Bert, by the way, band manager and Dad to Matt – a.k.a. Misery Master, the drummer," he shouted over the noise.
"I'm Kandi; this is… where'd she go?" Kandi turned to introduce Dranjari, but she had disappeared. At least that's what Kandi thought, until she caught a glimpse of green amongst the black mass at the front. "Oh. My friend's down there, with the green hair," she pointed towards the bouncing throng. Everyone had started jumping up and down for this song, and the singer was doing the same, making the platform shake.
"Thought I saw a punk girl earlier," Bert remarked. "Right, I'd best get back to the merch table; enjoy the show, Kandi," he said, scooping two glasses up from the bar and squeezing through the crowd. Kandi stayed put, finishing her drink and cheering with everyone else at the end of the song. Dranjari emerged from the swarm of bodies just as the band launched into another, slightly quieter number. A few of the crowd pulled lighters out of their pockets and waved them slowly.
"There you are! C'mon, some idiot spilt his beer over me and your hair's been soaking up that soda spill for ten minutes; we can sort ourselves out in the loos," Dranjari said, pulling Kandi away from the bar and towards a door at the back of the room. It was mostly obscured by graffiti and stickers, but a blocky, vaguely female drawing was visible, etched into the surface. The two of them entered, blinked rapidly in the bright light, and headed for the pair of basins opposite the door.
Kandi applied herself to unsticking the clump of her hair that had been gummed up with soda while Dranjari splashed water over her left arm and down her front. She took a few deep breaths; her head was spinning, not unpleasantly but a little faster than she was comfortable with.
"Enjoying it so far?" Dranjari asked. "Noticed you were talking to the t-shirt guy earlier, I think he's one of the band's dads."
Kandi nodded slowly, trying not to make the spinning any faster. "Yeah, the drummer's dad I think he said. It's certainly… an experience, anyway." She was rather enjoying herself, but the strange music was still a mystery to her.
"Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. Come here a sec," said Dranjari, pulling what looked like a charcoal pencil from her pocket and waving it around. "You might want to shut your eyes, and don't move."
Kandi did as she was told, and felt a light pressure gently pulling around her eyes. Not knowing what was going on, she kept as still as possible until Dranjari said she could step back. "What the…" She caught sight of herself in the mirror, and realised how she had got black mess around her eyes. Dranjari had drawn great big spludgy circles around them with her pencil, and was now doing the same to herself. "And this stuff is?" she asked.
The goddess grinned at her. "Just some eyeliner, most of the girls here are wearing it. A few of the guys, too. Let's get back out there, they should be on to the last song in a minute," she enthused, heading back out of the small bathroom. Kandi followed, wondering what she was suddenly excited about. "I absolutely love this track!" Dranjari shouted over the thrashing, crashing intro, before dragging Kandi into the middle of the crowd.
"HUUUUUARRRGGGGHHH!" yelled the singer. "YRRAAAAARRR! HAAARRRGGRRRAAA YAAAARRRRRRRRGGHHH!"
"What language is that supposed to be?!" Kandi shouted in Dranjari's ear. She'd never heard anything like it, except that time her father had got sick from spoiled meat.
"Who cares? Just lose yourself to the music!" Dranjari replied, starting to fling her arms around in the air.
Kandi watched her for a bemused second, before giving up and going along with the bouncing, waving, moshing majority. She narrowly dodged someone's flying elbow as she threw herself into the thick of things, leaping about and randomly slamming into people. On stage, the screeching demons were back, louder and higher pitched than before, or maybe it just sounded that way because she was closer to the noise now. On top of the racket the band were making, everyone in the crowd seemed to be screaming along; she joined in, completely clueless about the actual words – if there were any – but loving the freedom of simply shouting, with nobody to ask why or tell her to be quiet. She vaguely noticed, partway into the song, that the singer had stopped yelling incomprehensible nonsense and had produced a lit taper from somewhere. She ducked out of the frantic violence in the centre of the crowd so she could get a closer look at what he was doing.
He seemed to be trying to set fire to some tube-y things lined up at the front of the stage; with a sudden ominous feeling, Kandi looked around for the flash of green hair that would show her where Dranjari had gone. She spotted a green streak on the other side of the room, fairly close distance-wise, but almost impossible to navigate through the mass of bodies in the way. No-one else seemed worried, so she put it out of her mind – probably it was some part of the show.
A few seconds later, the singer returned to his screaming, adding even more volume than before, as the tube-y things had started erupting in flashes and bangs, scattering sparks into the air. The audience cheered wildly, stamping their feet and clapping, as the band finished their song with a flourish. "Yeah! You've been great!" the singer shouted, just about visible through the haze. The room had filled rapidly with smoke from the exploding tubes, and it was difficult to see much of anything without the lights on. Suddenly, a piercing wail interrupted, which caused everyone to look around in panic. One of the guitar players cursed, said something about 'the bloody fireworks', and started covering up his instrument. Seconds later, a heavy spray of water started pouring out of the ceiling; it felt like a summer rain, warm and wet, and Kandi realised how she and Dranjari had ended up soaked through.
Someone started calling people towards the doors, and the crowd slowly shifted towards a bright light that had come on when the indoor rain started. Kandi found herself swept along with the rest, despite trying to hold her ground and look for Dranjari. She had no idea what was happening now, but she knew the time goddess was her only way home. The crowd filtered out of a door and into what looked and smelt like a filthy back alley, and Kandi at last managed to disengage herself from the throng and found an out-of-the-way place to stand. People meandered past her, laughing and joking, seemingly unconcerned by whatever had happened at the end of the show. Dranjari finally materialised beside her, dripping wet and grinning like an idiot. "Okay?" she asked.
Kandi found herself copying the goddess' grin. "Great," she answered.
"Come on; I'd better get you back home." Dranjari took Kandi's hand, summoned up the flying blurry colours again, and before Kandi had a chance to blink, they had reappeared in Remlik's living room, staring across at the earlier versions of themselves.
"…You'll be back before you left – ah, literally, I see." Past-Dranjari glanced over to the corner where they stood and waved awkwardly.
Past-Kandi turned around and stared at them, looking thoroughly confused. "What the…"
"You'll find out," said Kandi, aware that the ridiculous grin was still glued to her face. "Speaking of which, you should get going. We left just after we got back. Or you left, or the other us… oh, gods, this is confusing! Just go before this gets any weirder," she giggled, squeezing water from her hair.
Past-Kandi blinked. "I suppose I can't argue with future me. Let's go then," she said, taking Past-Dranjari's outstretched hand.
As soon as the past-selves vanished, the time goddess burst out laughing. "Oh, it's always awkward when I meet myself. I never knew what to say to me," she said once she had calmed herself down. "Well, I should let you get back to what you were doing before. Be seeing you." She winked and disappeared, leaving Kandi to try and remember what she had been doing in here. Something about fetching a book for Remlik… she couldn't remember which one though, so she decided to just head back to the study and check with him. He'd want to hear about her weird adventure, anyway.