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Layer Three

Layer Three Servus had been very quiet in the last two weeks since they had viewed Ceallach’s fate through his eyes. Tommy was worried about him, but he also knew that at a time like this, nothing he could say could help him. This was something that the kid had to work out all on his own. It was a little bit similar to that revelation Tommy had had all those years ago, when Remus had been more like a father than his actual dad, and he’d realized that the household he’d spent the first eight years of his life in had not been normal. When he’d first realized that he’d been abused. Of course, this was a robot regaining its memories of a boy who died whose body he now inhabited and a family that he couldn’t save. But the ache of loss, whether it be for a family or a childhood, was the same. It was probably a good thing that they’d had to wait for Cindy, so that Servus could take that time he needed. Tommy had been worried about her, too, but Cindy wasn’t someone who needed protecting. She always figured out things for herself and this time had been no exception. Plus, Tommy had things of his own to worry about. Cowell was back, but if Tommy had thought to get some answers out of him, he’d been sorely mistaken. When he’d asked him where he’d been and what he’d been doing, Cowell simply smiled coyly. “I told you,” he said. “I was helping a friend.” “That’s not very descriptive,” Tommy grumbled. “Sorry, mate, but I’m sworn to secrecy. I wish I could tell you, truly, but that would raise some questions that I’m certainly not prepared to answer. Plus, seeing you try to be grumpy is so funny to me for a reason I can’t quite wrap my head around.” So the subject was dropped, if reluctantly. It was nice to go back to being the simple bartender. Tommy hadn’t liked the stress of being in charge. But most of all, he was just glad Cowell was back. He had missed the bastard in some strange sort of way. But he hadn’t realized how much he’d truly missed Cindy until she walked through the East Branch door. He, Servus, Aurum, and Cowell were waiting in the main room, after Tommy had received a text that the three others would be rolling into town shortly. Finally, after an eternity of sitting in silence, Cowell looking between the rest with a stupid grin on his face, they saw the illumination of headlights in the parking lot. Tommy immediately knew there was something different about Cindy as she stepped into the room. It was a new sort of presence that she’d never displayed before. For lack of a better word, she looked powerful, like someone that you simply couldn’t touch. Was that what it looked like to have magic under your skin? He’d seen things like this in places where magic still existed, but never to this extent.

The spell was broken when she saw him and her face widened into a grin. Niko and Marcell took her place in the doorway as she ran up and wrapped her arms around Tommy’s neck. “Welcome back, Cindy,” he smiled. “Thanks.” Her grin was the sun itself. “I missed you. How’s mom, and Mike? I hope they weren’t too worried. I wanna hear about everything that’s happened since I’ve been gone.” “I’m sure there will be time for catching up later, yes?” Aurum asked. “Or is the world about to end and I hadn’t been informed?” Cowell clucked his tongue and waggled his finger at her “I know you’re really just a big, old lizard under that human skin, but that’s no excuse to be rude.” “Sorry,” it was Cindy who apologized instead. “I’ve just really missed being home.” “You’ve been through a lot, kid.” Marcell wrapped an arm around her protectively. Frowning, Tommy hesitated. “Will you be alright to do this tonight?” “Absolutely,” she nodded, her eyes sparkling. “I’ve been cooped up doing butt nothing for the last week. Plus, I wanna see what this new magic of mine can do.” “Then let’s begin,” Aurum clapped her hands together. “I’ve got the circle all set up.” Tommy grabbed Servus’ shoulder. The kid had been actually watching the conversation, his expression changing as if he was registering what was happening. He seemed almost as surprised by this as Tommy was. “You ready for this? I know you think I’m overprotective but you can still say no if you want.” Servus had a steely look in his eye. “Good,” he said simply, to which Tommy nodded. “Okay.” Maintaining his stalwart expression, Servus sat in the middle of the circle, and the other six gathered around the edges. “Alright, Cindy,” Aurum instructed. “We’ve already been through the first two layers of his consciousness, so you’ll have to dig deep.” “Easy as pie,” Cindy grinned, her eyes beginning to glow a soft yellow. “Though I don’t know how much sense it’ll all make so far down.” “I can help interpret,” Cowell offered, puffing out his chest. Tommy frowned. “How do you know all of these things?” But by this point the circle itself was so bright that Tommy had to squint, and the room began to shake violently. “Here we go!” Cindy shouted over the low rumble that was rapidly increasing in intensity. Cowell glanced over at Tommy, and smiled. There almost seemed to be something a little sad in it. He whispered, yet somehow he could hear him perfectly. “Spoilers, Tommy.” And everything went dark. They all floated, just like they had before, but this time, nothing happened, no images appeared. What was going on? Tommy began to panic as soon as he discovered that he couldn’t move, utterly paralyzed in this endless abyss. Then he felt something, far away. It felt warm, like a soft lamp on his face. He reached out with his mind, trying to get closer to it. And with a sudden rush of blood in his ears, they collided. And what flashed before his eyes were visions, experiences, sensations. None of them were his own but he felt them nonetheless. All the joy, and pain, and suffering of another soul. And just when he felt full to the brim with this person’s existence, another soul collided with them. Then another, then another. And another. A constant stream of lives and deaths, love and loss, joy and misery flashed against the inside of his eyelids. What had Cindy done? What was happening? She did exactly what she was supposed to. Wasn’t sure if the cheeky lass could pull it off, but here we are. What we are currently experiencing is the birth of the Anomaly you know as the Truth. It’s horrible. This is what its existence is. And it never stops. The pain was too much. There were too many feelings. Some were good, the best feelings in the world. Some people truly had found happiness. But all of those good feelings were buried under the weight of all the fears and doubts, dread and despair, some big and some small, but altogether so heavy that he wanted to scream. And there were more, always more. More souls, more lives squashed together in a great pit of misery. Soon there were so many things in his head that he didn’t know which thoughts were his. Louder, louder, louder. So many voices, so many mouths, until it formed one orifice, screaming loud enough to shake the very cosmos itself. And that is when it realized: there was so much. Too much. If the world was all like this, then what did one person’s sadness, or hopes, or dreams even matter? It didn’t. It didn’t matter. Nothing meant anything and like was just a meaningless blob of consciousness just like it. The only difference was that life mercifully ended. It laughed in a chorus of thousands, and existence laughed with it. It had done it. It had discovered the reason for living, for existing in the first place: There was none. And that was the Truth. The consensus of hundreds, thousands even, couldn’t be wrong. And yet, it still felt nonetheless. In its anguish, it ripped through its cage, out of the walls, out of the bars of reality. It fled to some Other place, a place full of smoke and ruins, past paradises and future conceptions yet to be, all covered in a veneer of purple-green. And there it grew, there it consumed. It devoured whole worlds, spreading its Truth. Nothing mattered, nothing was important. Why go on living at all? It asked creation, and nothing had a response for it. Is that really all there is to it, though? It didn’t understand. Yes, that was the objective, factual Truth. Well, of course. But does that mean that it has to be all doom and gloom? Is that even a question? A very valid one. If there’s no meaning, isn’t that sort of liberating? Like you can make your own meaning or something like that? You wouldn’t understand. You aren’t even real. Neither are you. And yet here, we both have power. I, however, have much more than you, and we can’t have you mucking up the whole cosmos. Besides, your Plot is about to commence. And with one small gesture, none of it mattered. All of the destruction and pain it felt, and caused, all irrelevant. It was once again imprisoned in the dark and the cold, in the reality that it loathed so desperately with every soul in its mass. It truly, truly hated. And that hatred leaked. Leaked until it could feel the hearts and minds of every person in this forsaken reality. It twisted their heads, made a women reconstruct her son with his own skin and hair, made a man send his child out to the slaughter. Until finally, it leaked so much that someone was sent to seal it away. So it tried to show them, show them what it meant to be alive, to be human. The boy, the one with the yellow eye, he understood, but the girl refused to listen to reason. She denied its Truth, cast them all into darkness. Why sacrifice herself? For what purpose did it serve? It didn’t understand. It couldn’t understand. But she would listen. As she rotted in this pit that her fellow humans had thrown her in to save themselves. It couldn’t be sure of the final outcome, however, because the general oblivion of darkness covered its eyes. Until after forever and no time at all, it was lifted. Suddenly the boy and the girl were gone, and it was back in reality, trapped in a small cave surrounded by the sound of waves. “Hello,” said a voice. A girl. No, not a girl. An old woman lurked behind her smile. “I’d like to help you,” she said. “I’ll let you inside my head,” she said. “Help me, and I’ll help you destroy the world.” She wasn’t going to help it. She was going to use it and then attempt to get rid of it. She thought that she was so clever, so smart that she could do anything. Laughter echoed through its being. One human, all of them, it didn’t matter. All it wanted was to destroy. So it followed her in her mind. To the school, on the road, and finally, to a warehouse, one with a large sign on the front, now faded from years of disuse. Abigail’s new hideout: the Aunt Marma’s Maple Syrup plant... And that’s the info you needed, isn’t it? Time to come back now. What? It didn’t understand. Come back? But there was no place for it to go back to... Alright, Tommy, that’s enough. Do you need me to give you the kiss of life to snap you out of it? Slowly, the voices and vastness drifted away. That’s right, he had his legs and arms, fingers and toes, which he preceded to wiggle. Good, good. Now it’s time to open your eyes. Wakey, wakey, eggs and bacey, and all that, though I’m afraid I don’t have any of those. Maybe back at the bar... Cowell’s voice grew more distant, back to being a separate entity rather than a voice in his head. The darkness of his mind was pierced by the dull light behind his eyelids. He opened them, and saw the East Branch spinning around him as a headache crept into his brain. Around him, it seemed the others were in a similar state, each groaning and clutching their temples. Even Servus was kiltering slightly to the left, as if one of his gears had become misaligned. The only one unaffected was Cowell, who grinned brightly at all of them. “Good thing I got you all out when I did, or you might never have come back at all!” “What... the hell was that?” Marcell grunted. “The Truth,” Aurum blinked in awe. “Now we know what it really is.” Dusting off his suit, Niko stood. “Who cares about that. Now we know where we can find it, so we can take it out.” “There’s only one problem with that,” Cindy shook her head, sighing. “Yeah,” Niko joined in. “Why’d it have to be her?”

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