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Layer Two

Layer Two Servus didn’t talk for a long time after the violation of his mind. He just sat in that magic circle and thought till the candles were piles of wax at his feet and the chalk was little more than a smudge from his shuffling. Besides the repetitive motion of sliding his legs across the cold floor he barely moved. It didn’t seem like he was even breathing. Tommy didn’t open the bar that night. If Cowell was mad about it he could actually be there to complain about it. Aurum and Tommy simply sat at her desk and watched the automaton, each unsure of what to say. After a long time, she asked if he wanted some tea, but beyond that it was largely silent. Until, that is, Tommy stumbled on a thought. He had been mentally going through and processing everything he’d seen, and was only just now coming to the end. “So what we saw, there, with the Truth,” he began, and Aurum shot him a worried look at the last word. “Did it... go... uh, into him?” “I’ve been thinking about that for the last hour, and I’m still not entirely sure what we saw. But I do have, I suppose, one little thought. Let me ask you something: when did you first notice Servus acting more... human?” “Uh...” Tommy put his chin in his hands as he thought. “I guess I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to him back then, but the first time I noticed it was when we went back to Adelaide’s. That was the first time I heard him speak.” “I saw it a little earlier,” Aurum added. “When Muirne’s vessel was staying here.” “You mean Sonia?” Aurum blinked. “Ah yes, that was her name, wasn’t it? But I just figured that it was because he knew her. I guess I was right about that. But I think it was something else entirely. I have no idea how, but I think the Truth... changed him.” “It’s kind of ironic, huh?” Tommy chuckled. “That the damn thing is called the Truth and yet we can’t seem to figure it out.” “I think that might be the very reason, actually,” she seemed a little exasperated. Taking a deep breath, Tommy glanced back over to Servus. “So, what do we do now?” he asked. “We keep digging, obviously,” Aurum frowned, as if Tommy was being an idiot. “I bet, now that we’ve got a name, we could go deeper, maybe even find that bit of the Truth.” Tommy blinked several times in rapid succession. “Are you insane?” he blurted. “Look what just one dive did to him! He can’t take any more of this.” “He’s a machine, Tommy,” Aurum countered, rolling her eyes. “You seem to be under the false conclusion that he is somehow human, but all he is is a series of cogs and gears.” “How can you say that after what we saw in there?” As he stood, the chair he’d been collapsed in screeched back across the floor. “And if your theory is true, even if he was, he’s certainly not just a machine anymore.” “I’ve lived with him for hundreds of years. I think I may have a slight knowledge advantage here.” Their angry words echoing around the space—expounded by the raging storm outside—produced the unfortunate side effect of not being able to hear the small automaton when he muttered: “Excuse...” “How can someone not even human measure humanity?” “Hey...” “You humans will see your own traits in anything. You’ll name a Roomba, for god’s sake!” “Hey!” The two stopped talking, and looked over at Servus, who unbeknownst to them had stood and began to walk towards them. Only the thunder and rain that pounded the dome continued. Servus stood in front of them, frowning as he crossed arms over his chest. “Not machine,” he pointed to Aurum, who opened her mouth to protest, until he turned to Tommy and pointed at him as well. “Not kid.” Both of them were silent. Aurum seemed slightly shocked, whereas Tommy’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment. He had told himself that he was treating Servus like his own person, when he really had looked at him like a kid who didn’t know what he was doing. “My head,” Servus pointed finally to his own noggin. “My choice.” “What would you like to do, then?” Aurum huffed. Servus took a deep breath, getting his words together. “Want to know,” he said. “Know what?” Tommy asked, his stomach dropping. “Who is Ceallach?” Are you—” Tommy began, before Servus shot him a look. “Sure.” Aurum went about resetting the circle, muttering to herself all the while, and Tommy took the opportunity to place a hand on Servus’ shoulder. “Hey, buddy,” he said. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.” “Okay,” Servus replied, giving one of his half-hearted smiles. “Sorry for yelling.” “I think that was the only way you were gonna get through to us,” he chuckled. Just then, Aurum stood back up and brushed off her hands. “Alright, boys, it’s all ready.” They resumed their positions, and closed their eyes. “Alright,” Aurum said. “We’re going to see if we can get another layer down. Servus has the body of this Ceallach, and memory tends to linger in the flesh, so I think this should work.” There was a minute to silence, and then Aurum began to speak the words to put them back in that trance. But after a solid minute, nothing had happened. “Why is it not working?” Tommy asked. Aurum shook her head. “It should be. I felt him there, but it was very faint. I... I don’t think I’m strong enough to find him by myself...” “What you’re saying is that you need Cindy?” Tommy said. “Maybe...” Aurum thought and Servus’ face fell. “However, there might be one other way...” ~~ o ~~ “So lemme get this straight,” Niko’s suit was dripping on the floor, “you call me in the middle of the night, order two crates of azurite and—specifically—clear quartz and make me run through a rainstorm to get it to you, just so some bucket of bolts can remember his update log?” “Don’t you have people to help you?” Tommy blinked. “What part of rainstorm in the middle of the night didn’t you hear?” “All of it,” Aurum muttered from the corner, where she was already arranging the stones around the circle. She stood and nodded, viewing her handiwork. “It should be ready now.” Niko folded his arms. “Now wait a second. You haven’t paid me yet.” “After we’re done,” Aurum simply waved him off. “Besides, you might as well help since you’re here. The more people the more powerful the crystals will be.” Sighing, Niko just shook his head as the others got into position. “What have a gotten myself into?”

But by now he was so used to weirdness that he joined them in the circle without protest. “So, what crazy shit am I about to see?” he frowned at Tommy, who shrugged. “I have no idea.” “Great. My brain’s gonna melt out of my ears, isn’t it?” “Probably.” “Quiet!” Aurum hissed. “And listen to my voice...” Tommy looked away and closed his eyes. And once again, she began to talk. Behind his eyelids, he saw the crystals glowing. But he dare not open them, because he felt the ritual or whatever it was begin to work. And once again, Tommy was surrounded by blackness. But it was somehow deeper than last time, filled with more things that Tommy couldn’t see. “Alright, Servus...” Aurum’s voice cut through the nothing. “Where would you like to begin?” ~~ o ~~ When Ceallach was born, the world seemed to glow a little brighter. He just had that effect on people. His golden hair surrounded his rather angelic face like a halo, and when he smiled, the whole world smiled back. It seemed impossible that anything could hate him. Which was unfortunate because it seemed as if something did. Ceallach was born very frail and sickly. A modern-day doctor probably would have been able to diagnose him with severe asthma, but while the Atlanteans were adept at many sorts of sciences, health was not one of them. Beyond his troubles breathing, Ceallach was often sick, and spent much time confined to his bed. More than once, an illness had affected him so greatly that a panic spread that he would not live to see another day. But every time, somehow he would pull through and become well again. His mother claimed it was a miracle, but deep down, Ceallach know it was because he wanted to read the next chapter of one of his many books, and he couldn’t very well do that if he was dead. Though his sisters shortly followed his birth, each as lovely as flowers and as strong as the wind, he was always their mother’s favorite. She doted on him constantly, in sickness and in health. And every time he grew ill, she would not leave his bedside, neglecting to eat or sleep. Perhaps that was why, shortly after he’d turned fifteen, his mother couldn’t stand for him to be sick anymore. Perhaps that was why she started searching for a real miracle. She found it, in the man who played with fire. Was that his title?

Ceallach never knew the man’s name, so Servus could not convey it to Tommy and the others. This was the best he could do. The man called himself an artificer, not an uncommon title in Atlantis; his mother was something of the sort as well. But he focused on a special kind of artificery: one that specialized in flesh. He claimed that he could probably cure Ceallach of his nigh-constant illnesses, or failing that, at least make him stronger. It was all about little invisible people under the skin, as he explained it to his mother, ones that fought sickness. Ceallach didn’t have many, and so all that needed to be done was to give him more. He did not elaborate on how he was to do this. But he had magic, a sign of great wisdom and knowledge. And so the D’Irns trusted him with the life of their son. We all know how this ends, right? It’s been repeated over and over again. So needless to say, the man was lying. Why? Why would he claim to cure a child only to kill him instead? Dunno, it’s hard to say. In all honesty, he was probably just an evil son of a bitch. There are people like that in this world. Not everyone has a reason for the things they do. Wait a second. That’s not Servus. Hmm, I think you might be right about that, Tommy. Then who the fuck is talking right now? Shh, Niko. It seems as if a fifth member has joined our circle. Tommy felt himself pulled back a little, the focus wavering. And indeed, he felt someone new sitting next to him. Oh, hullo, everyone. Sorry for the intrusion. Just figured since I’m finally back in town that I would pop in for a bit and help out. Sometimes it’s good to have an outside perspective on things like this, especially if your protagonist is a child. I might be able to explain a thing of two that he can’t, though I’ll try not to intrude on your story too much. Anyway, I’ll stop blabbering on now, go ahead, Servus. Tommy was just about to say his name, but he didn’t have the time to get it out before Servus swept them away again. They didn't want word getting out of the heir’s frailness, so he was taken away entirely in secret, even from the rest of the family. Ceallach was afraid that his sisters would worry about him, especially Muirne, who often came to stay by his bedside when he was sick and read him stories. Of course, the man who played with fire was not who he said he was, and Ceallach was not going to be cured. The man was a member of an obscure, branch cult to Bacchae and was performing a series of experiments to... well, I suppose I’ll just let him show you. The man led Ceallach into a rather dark room. Glass hung from every inch of the ceiling, glowing from harnessed magic, and steam poured from loose pipes. The several work tables were covered with notes, sprawling across their surfaces like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. “Come,” he said, in a kind voice, as rain pattered from somewhere distantly. Or is that from the East Branch? No, it was raining then, too. “Have a seat,” the man continued, gesturing Ceallach into a rather hard, rather large chair. “So how does all this work?” Ceallach began to grow a little nervous as the man strapped him to the arms of the chair. “Will it... hurt?” “No, I don’t think so,” said the man. “There was a fair bit of screaming from the others but I don’t think it was from pain.” “I—what?” The man simply pointed upwards to where Ceallach hadn’t noticed a shrouded area of the ceiling. There was something... moving up there, but not like anything with a normal amount of appendages. It seemed to be squirming, writhing, more a mass of something than any one being. “I hate to tell you this at such an inopportune time,” the man grinned. “But I’m not going to cure you.” Ceallach did not scream, or panic. He just sighed. When you were sick and in pain as much as he was, the prospect of more didn’t do much to you. “What are you going to do?” “I consider myself somewhat of a practical philosopher,” he explained. “Why sit and theorize about the universe when you can explore and find out yourself? And to that end, I’ve gone about learning the meaning of life. The Truth, as it were. Would you like to see the start of my creation?” That is certainly a revelation, isn’t it? This random person, whom has only been mentioned up till now, the creator of the Truth? Who is he? Why is he trying to create the ultimate evil? What’s his motivation? The answers are as follows: it doesn’t matter, I don’t know, and he doesn’t have one. The creator is not as important as the creation. Seems a little anticlimactic maybe? Maybe. How is it that an ageless, endless evil was created by someone so insignificant? Do you trust Ceallach? Do you trust me? We’ll see if this leads to something. What on earth is he talking about? “Well?” the man asked, but Ceallach didn’t respond. He didn’t bother waiting for one, just pulled a lever, and the sheet covering the thing on the ceiling fluttered to the floor.

And above their heads, they cried. People, but not. No flesh, no bones. But people. Ceallach’s throat closed. He couldn’t make a sound. “I’ve heard of daemons taking people’s souls, and I thought to myself: why couldn’t I do that as well? If I get enough minds in a room, surely all of their thoughts, their experiences, their beings would come together and meld into the Truth! Into what it all means.” “This is...” Ceallach sputtered. “Insane. When my family finds out about this, you’ll be killed.” “Insanity is the point,” he said. “And my death doesn’t matter. This is my magnum opus to Bacchae, supreme lord of madness! And I don’t care if you’re a prince. I need all manner of souls to make a universal Truth.. You’ll go a long way, boy!” He put some sort of mask over Ceallach’s face, and the boy struggled. He couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe. He felt himself being pulled, but not his body. Something else. Something else was being taken from him. He pulled at his restraints. Get out get out get out. But he heard a huge crack and couldn’t push anymore. He still weakly tried to move his legs, his head. His strength was fading, he was slipping away, somewhere else. This is as far as Ceallach can go, but that seems like a sad place to stop. Allow me to go just a little bit farther... Ceallach fell limp in the chair, and the man laughed as the mass of human essence above grew just slightly bigger. “Bacchae!” he called out to the heavens. “See what I have done for you and praise me!” “It sure is a piece of work, alright.” The ensuing flash of lightning illuminated someone’s silhouette in the door. The man caught himself trembling quite beyond his capacity to reason why. “Who are you?’ he asked. “How incredibly rude!” the figure shook its head. “Seeing as how you just called for me.” The god stepped out of the shadows, and the man froze and fell to his knees. For his face was [nope] framed by [nadda] hair. His eyes [still nope] and [that’s a no from me, dawg]. What the hell? What’s going on? His face is... blank? Sorry, loves. But I couldn’t tell you how he looked even if I so desperately wanted to. “ lord,” the man sputtered. “I had not expected the... the almighty to grace me with his presence.” Bacchae simply sighed. “You’re just like all the rest, not a creative bone in your body. How disappointing. I’m not a god you should be bowing to. Stand up.” Stumbling, the man did as he was told. “Now, what is this?” Bacchae looked up at the shambling mass of humanity above. “How is this furthering chaos? Finding meaning?” he laughed, and it sent shivers down your spine. I know it did, don’t try to hide it. Bacchae is something strange, and terrifying, and hopelessly snakelike. “That’s about as far from chaos as you can get.” “I...” “The sad part is that even if I did approve, I’d have to destroy you anyway. You’ve created something here that you shouldn’t. It’s not allowed. Even I can’t allow it. So now I’ve gotta kill you.” There was no argument, no word. Bacchae simply placed a long, half-broken fingernail on his forehead, and the man collapsed, crying and foaming at the mouth. Then, Bacchae glanced up towards the abomination and grinned. His eyes glowed. “Now it’s your turn.” And everything went dark. Wait. Is that it? There’s no more? Sorry loves, that’s all I know. I think you’re lying. Probably. Well? Well what? There’s no more. The story’s done. I guess you’ll just have to wait for another.

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