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Layer One

Layer One The storm began to increase in intensity outside as Tommy, Servus, and Aurum sat on the floor in the middle of the East Branch’s round central room. There was a tense silence, and Tommy bounced his leg impatiently. It was, in all honesty, most likely constructed and maintained exclusively by him, for both Aurum and Servus seemed entirely unaware. Servus sat in the middle of a chalk circle, a neutral expression plastered on his face, while Aurum put the finishing touches on said circle while humming quietly to herself. “How are you feeling, Servus?” Tommy asked. “Nervous?” The automaton shrugged. “Not really.” “You’re projecting, Thomas,” Aurum muttered, lighting a few white candles. She swore under her breath as she nearly burned herself with the match. “His ability to have nerves is highly questionable.” “That’s what we’re trying to figure out, isn’t it?” She shrugged, wrinkling her nose. “Sure, if that will make you cooperative.” “What do you need me for, anyway?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. “As an immortal dragon,” she began, “I have a little raw magic at my disposal, from the old days.” Tommy had no idea what she was talking about, but nodded along anyway. “But I need to focus on channeling the magic, so I need someone else to help guide Servus through his own head. That’s where you come in.” He frowned. “Why not just wait until Cindy gets back? Then you wouldn’t have to use me at all.” “Because I’m impatient and I have no idea when she’ll be back. Plus, if I hadn’t involved you, you would have made a big stink about it. You happy?” “Sure.” Tommy had the distinct feeling she wasn’t telling him everything. “Alright then,” she nodded. “Let’s begin.” She placed her hands down on the ground. “Now: Servus, Tommy, close your eyes.” Tommy did as he was told. He truly wondered what he was going to see in there. “Now listen to the sound of my voice,” Aurum continued. “Focus on the syllables, nothing more...”

He was so focused that Tommy barely noticed her voice fading out until it was completely gone. He felt himself floating, though there was no water, in fact there wasn’t anything, just peaceful, warm darkness. For some reason, he felt as if he was stuck in the middle of something, after an end but before a beginning. He didn’t want to begin anything. He was fine here in the dark. But everything must begin at some point, and out of the inky blackness came a voice, sluggish at first... “This will work. It must. Bacchae, Bacchae, hear me. God of Chaos, grant me a miracle...” No, no, he didn’t want to. But the sound of mechanical parts clinking together ground at his consciousness. “Please, please, Ceallach, my sweet baby boy. Bacchae, bring him back to me...” Lightning flashed in a dark room, and a woman stared at him, grease and blood on her face in swirling patterns. Her hair and eyes were wild. She laughed and cried and screamed as she saw his eyes open. But from here, things became fuzzy, and time didn’t seem to work. The woman was laughing, then she was crying hugging him, then shaking him. Outside the window it was sunny, then dark. “My boy, my sweet boy...” “Why won’t you talk to me?” “I love you I love you I love you.” “I’m your mother! Say something. Speak to me!” The slap hit him in slow motion, and the momentum carried him down to the ground with no resistance. “I’ve failed! Bacchae, why have you cursed me?” Rain battered the windows of the high tower room. “This is not my son! I’ve defiled him for this thing. His skin, his eyes, his heart, they’re all here. So why aren’t you him?” She shook him, and his metal insides rattled. “Why aren’t you him?” His chest became wet with her tears, but he could not feel it. All he could do was stare. If he wanted, he could move, but why? What was the point? So he did nothing as his mother (?) picked herself up from the floor, stumbled over to the window and threw herself out of it. The sound of her body landing far below nearly blended in with the rain. And he was alone. He sat. On the floor of the tower room. Was he waiting? He didn’t think so. He might just be sitting. At one point he was alone, and at one point he wasn’t. At some moment the door opened and someone muttered: “What has mother done?” A name came to him, unbidden, some memory stored in these eyes. Muirne. The young girl propped him up upon the bed, and he watched as she cleaned up all the metal and blood and gore from the floor and the walls and the rest of the room, looking perfectly calm. And then, once the room looked as if it had never been defiled by desperate desire, she sat down and cried. She looked at him, touched his face and hair and sobbed. No one else came to see him. Either they didn’t know, or just didn’t want to. Only Muirne, one second a girl, the next a woman and back again in the blink of an eye. She grew and changed, and he did not. No shifting in his metal bones, no beating of the cold heart. She never said much. Just that she was sorry. Every time. She was sorry. And then one day she was leaving. She was leaving and he could tell that she was not coming back. It was the look in her eyes. But he couldn’t respond, couldn’t say anything. Could barely move anymore, for his joints had nearly rusted together. He felt something, an echo of something, coming from his skin, and his eyes, and the dead heart that sat in his chest. Ceallach would have missed her. Something in his head was screaming, the heart weighing him down, and he couldn’t do anything to stop it. Muirne was at the door. Going, going... He raised his hand, and waved. Then it was quiet. For a very long time. Dead silent. As if not just this room, but the whole castle had fallen asleep. He used to be able to hear faint noise, life from below. Now there was just nothing, a house in mourning for a sister who had not yet died, and a brother long gone. Until the storm. Until the stones fell down upon him and the waves came crashing in but he felt nothing. He heard all the people crying and dying, the continent splitting apart at the center, falling into the sea. The foam overtook him, filled his mouth and nose and all the spaces between his gears, sloshing around and filling him entirely. The world was water and nothing else existed anymore. He floated on a piece of wood, all that remained of... something, whatever it had been. What did it matter? He would have let go of the driftwood and allowed himself to sink to the bottom of the depths, down forever and ever and ever, except that his arm was now rusted completely in place. Nothing happened, nothing changed except the waves, crashing and burying him over and over. And so with nothing at all above or below or inside, he slept. He didn’t even wake when the dragon plucked him from the sea with her talons, driftwood and all, and carried him far away. For a moment, Tommy came back to himself again. He felt something, an indescribable sadness, hollow and empty. Was this how Servus felt? All the time? “Servus...” Aurum’s voice cut through the memories. “What are you doing?” “Skipping,” the word almost seemed to come from Tommy’s mouth. Almost. “Showing. Need to show... Tommy.” And then, more clearly than any of the other memories, like wiping off a bathroom mirror, he saw something. A hallway. Wait, he remembered this hallway. The hushed air, the unbearable fear and tension. This was St. Adelaide’s. He snuck down the hallway, staying far behind the girl with the glasses, her braids bouncing along behind her. He couldn’t stop. Aurum’s voice in his ear had told him to. An order, he couldn’t disobey. But then how had Tommy seen him say no just earlier today? He followed along behind glasses girl, watched her look left and right, and then pull out a card key and insert it into a door. With a screech, the door opened into an elevator, which she slipped inside. She descended, and he waited. The elevator returned, but did not close. It didn’t even cross his mind that this was probably a trap. He didn’t think anything. He had an order, follow her, and so he entered the elevator, still thinking nothing of it as it closed and began to descend on its own. Below, he felt no fear at the horror show in front of his eyes, didn’t look at the blood stains on the concrete floor, didn’t feel the misery, thought nothing of Mike Miller’s screams. Until Aurum’s voice told him to follow the sound. Then they were everything. So he found himself in a room with a glass container of something, and a boy strapped to a chair, forced to stare into it. There were no orders in his head. Usually he would have just waited, but he instead found himself looking through the glass. The thing on the other side, it was screaming. Not screaming like you could hear with your ears, but an endless scream that shook the void between worlds. He tilted his head, tapped a finger to the glass. A million thoughts turned his way; the Truth stared at him. And he still felt nothing. Until a wisp floated cautiously through the glass and when he didn’t move, pierced directly into his eye. And the world exploded. And all those things locked down somewhere in the memory of his flesh broke their chains and laughed and cried and roaring into the void rampaged around inside of him, free at last, free at last and the sound filled his ears but then he realized that that sound was not inside him at all but from him, his mouth filling the world. Because Muirne was dead. And the world was a very dark, cold, sad place.

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