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clockwork15 [2012/11/27 03:10] (current)
doan created
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 +His new-found self-agency might gnaw at his sanity every single moment he existed, but it was making him stronger at the same time. Where before his growth was carefully mapped to a certain tactical level and planned ahead by Wizeman, only to be improved when the time was right, he was now limited only by his imagination and the amount of essence he could grab. Where before he could not think about such concepts as being in charge of a unit larger than his intended rank, or in charge of himself, or capable of attacking Wizeman, he could think whatever he liked, as fast and as large scale as he liked. He found that he enjoyed being an individual, reporting only to himself even at the expense of the power over others that a higher rank in a large army would give him, and that he was quite capable of thinking faster than any enemy. In short, he just wanted to be on the battlefield, dancing a dance of blood and singing his bestial roar.
 +
 + More than that, he wanted to find the dreamer who had caused him so much pain. He destroyed everything in his path, but only what was in his path. He didn’t know or care how long he travelled – it was impossible for him to be exhausted – and he didn’t care what damage he took as long as he could keep moving. When he wasn’t dealing with random Awaker units that attacked him or that he pre-emptively defended himself against, he went through everything that had happened in his mind.
 +
 +He had been randomly assigned to the dream in Soft Museum, even though it wasn’t his territory, because the dreamer was known, through patterns of recurring dreams, to be vulnerable to the influence of his kind of Nightmaren. The dream had been going so well – he was even about to permanently capture Ideya – then the spirit guide had intervened and the parameters of the dream wouldn’t let him stop fighting it. Then, almost the moment he had slain the spirit guide, the dream was invaded by more Awakers in one place than he had ever heard of. He managed to retreat, then while he was recuperating, he spotted the dreamer half-asleep in virtually the same dream. He immediately tried to possess him, without realising it was a trap. However, it had allowed him a second look at the dreamer. He knew the shape of his Ideya, the illusions that his unconscious mind wove, the places that his dreams were most likely to take him to. He could track him. He could finish this.
 +
 +When he first saw that his senses had taken him to a well of naturally occurring Ideya, he thought he had made a mistake, and mixed up the dreamer’s bizarre surplus of yellow Ideya that wasn’t supporting anything with an actual pocket of dreamerless Ideya. He was relieved to find the dreamer, unconscious and floating inside the very eye of the Ideya-storm, still guarded by his spirit guide who hovered above his head.
 +
 +The stupid thing was still alive.
 +
 +It didn’t matter. He could defeat it again, and this time the dreamer couldn’t run away. He had been weakening as much as Lysander had, and now he was unable to defend himself.
 +
 +As he leapt, sword drawn, towards the dream, the pain from the Yellow Ideya’s radiance of indefatigable hope and persistence burnt him like fire, but he didn’t care: fire burned slowly, and he moved quickly, at least quickly enough to slay a man. The Game Gear darted in front of the dreamer and its screen flared as it prepared to fire off a volley of lethal screenburn rays while it spiralled through the air. Lysander swung his sword around as he jumped to one side. The battery symbol went to full and the penumbra of light left the Game Gear’s screen. The dreamer muttered something mildly disturbing in his sleep…
 +
 +Then the yellow Ideya well rippled with instability and exploded, releasing all its energy at once. The Game Gear was hurled backwards, its batteries so overcharged that its status lights were convinced that it was plugged into the mains, before hitting a tree and falling to the ground, its battery case dislodged and its screen cracked. Lysander had no time to acknowledge what was happening to him as his form was instantly reduced to motes of black soot, floating like impurities in the raw essence of hope. When Owl and the AdvoCat returned to the site after hearing the loud bang and feeling the tremor from an entire Mare away, they saw no sign that Cass had ever existed at all.
 +
 +The Clock Tower had begun ticking, and a hatch was opening…
 +
 +
 +It was a miracle that the Game Gear survived. The only others in the sector, both larger and more powerful than it, had been annihilated instantly. There was little of the scenery left that wasn’t extremely charred and strewn several miles away in random directions. The AdvoCat would have expected an Ideya explosion to destroy everything in its path. Ideya pockets didn’t very often just explode; they would either have to be exceptionally unstable or something would have tried to split their indivisible forms and almost succeeded. Something had probably happened here, guessed AdvoCat, either the work of psychics or spirits or overambitious Nightmaren or a freak of nature.
 +
 +The cat scrambled to pick up the Game Gear, its batteries and the lid of its case, then jumped back just in time as cracks began to form in the ground. Wild tremors knocked him off his feet as the cracks rapidly built into a crevasse, swallowing up anything that remained after the explosion, as if the entire Mare were devouring itself. The AdvoCat scrambled across the ground on all fours, still clutching the Game Gear tightly while trying to open his umbrella without enough hands to do so; after a couple of smacks onto the ground and a helpful tug from Owl’s talons, it was flung open. Then he jumped up and took a flying leap, Owl holding the umbrella up to give it more of a chance to get airborne fast enough. The mouth of the crevasse had almost reached them by the time he managed to float into the air, taking the Game Gear with him, and they saw the Mare collapse behind them as they left. The second entire region of dreamspace they had seen today, gone. Soon there wouldn’t be enough places left to fit all the dreamers each night, and there would be a lot more shared dreams that would be very difficult to explain away.
 +
 +They re-appeared in Nightopia’s fountain square, where the cats and Will were closely supervising NiGHTs, waiting for him to regain consciousness and hoping he would still be himself when he woke. He put the batteries back in the Game Gear and turned it on. To his relief, it responded with a blue light and an ear-splitting screech that made him want to turn it back on again. From reading the symbols on its screen and interpreting the way it flapped manically while circling around and around his head, the AdvoCat guessed that it was mostly just worried about Cass.
 +
 +“A spirit guide knows when their dreamer is dead,” said Owl, “If the Game Gear is acting like he is still alive, then Cass is out there somewhere.”
 +
 +“Where could he have gone? I’ve never heard of an explosion causing people to teleport!”
 +
 +“That boy’s yellow Ideya is already at extraordinary power levels. If he managed to absorb too much more at once, and if he used it all at once… it is impossible to predict what he might become capable of. He might not even be human any more.”
 +
 + The AdvoCat looked around sharply. NiGHTs was awake, and had begun speaking as though nothing had happened, floating upside down in a meditative position with his arms crossed behind his head.
 +
 +“I don’t think we need to worry about what is happening to Cass. It isn’t within our ability to control, and I doubt that anything else in the dreamlands, good or bad, could interfere with it by this point,” he said, “And we have other things that are more urgent. I… think I know what Selph is planning. When I was possessed by him, I saw into his mind a little. He knows about the Universal Dreamer, and he knows her location. He’s been trying to wake her up!”
 +
 +“Universal Dreamer?” asked Will.
 +
 +“I had never heard of it until now. Nightopia has a… backup. It’s the reason it can stay stable. The reason the Universe can stay stable at all, instead of bending to the whim of anyone whose mind is strong enough to change it. The reason there is any difference at all between sleep, dream and waking, the physical and the immaterial.”
 +
 +“Isn’t that the Clock Tower’s job?” asked the AdvoCat.
 +
 +“The Tower just times it – regulates it, like a machine, and does the administration. The actual foundation that the system runs on… is a sentient dreaming mind. An extremely powerful one that doesn’t need to wake up.”
 +
 +“Like a sloth the size of Godzilla?” asked Will.
 +
 +“More like the dreaming spirit of the world,” said Owl, “Except I’m pretty sure those need to wake up. I’m fairly sure everything needs to wake up. Even sloths.”
 +
 +“A coma patient?” asked Will.
 +
 +“I… have not met Carlie. Selph has met her – I think his purpose was tied to her own, before it was decided not to use him in the new Universe – but he couldn’t give me a clear mental image. I think the security was still blocking him. The region where Carlie is kept is probably the Clock Tower’s most secure system. If she should be disturbed, even for a moment, the entire dreamlands would probably collapse.”
 +
 + “It would achieve all the Awaker’s goals at once,” said the AdvoCat, “Nothing could stop them invading!”
 +
 +“Actually, I believe Selph is in control of the Awakers, not the other way round,” said NiGHTs, “When the Awakers were gathering around their false clock… they were worshipping him. They believe he speaks to him through their ‘Countdown’ – that he will herald their Apocalypse, that they call the ‘False Awakening’. They understand entirely that the Universe will end when they do this. Selph is controlling them all!”
 +
 + “Scary,” said Will, then he remembered, “Selph was talking to someone called Carlie, when he broke into the inner workings of the Clock Tower. He went through the number Twelve. There was a big nuclear bunker inside. Could that be where Carlie lives?”
 +
 +“It would make sense to keep something like that deep inside the Clock Tower,” said NiGHTs, “If so, then the security systems are already damaged. There is a chance of reaching Carlie. We have to act fast!”
 +
 +“What are we going to do?” asked Will, “Is Selph going to come back? You won’t turn into him, will you?”
 +
 +“I can hold him off for a while, now that I know in advance that something will try and possess me. I’m sorry,” he added, “The Universe was put in danger because of me!”
 +
 +“There was no way for you to know that Selph was there or that he could take you over. He is Unused – no data exists about him in this Universe – and you were never told that you were modelled on him. You certainly couldn’t have known that he was hiding in enemy territory, waiting to possess people!” said Owl.
 +
 +“Owl, is there a way to find out about Unused entities?” asked NiGHTs.
 +
 +He fluttered his wings, “I… I am not supposed to tell people this, but the stone tablets circling the spire are the oldest things in existence, and store all the reports from the creation of the Universe! If a record was kept of all the things that were thought up but never included in the final model, that’s where they would be written down!”
 +
 +“That’s going to be tough to get to,” said the AdvoCat, “Wizeman’s throne room is up there!”
 +
 +“Um… Owl? NiGHTs too…?” Will suddenly said, looking up at the bird and jester.
 +
 +“What is it?” asked Owl.
 +
 +“Selph… the reason he can survive in the world of the Awakers… is that because he is Unused?”
 +
 +“What do you mean?”
 +
 +“The Awakers wake people up, stop their remaining time and then turn it into those crystal time things. But if he’s Unused, he can’t have a time remaining, can he? He shouldn’t be there at all,” said Will, “And I bet he can’t have a spirit guide.”
 +
 +“Well, Nightmaren don’t get them anyway, but its true that he doesn’t have a personal timeline to be guided through a quest,” said Owl, “You’re an intelligent boy! I hadn’t even thought of it like that! I thought the Awakers were just letting him in and out of their own will.”
 +
 +“And NiGHTs is probably being protected by the part of him that is closely linked to Selph,” said the AdvoCat.
 +
 +“What I wanted to know, is… could there be other unused things running around?”
 +
 +“There can be an unused anything. A dreamer or an entire Mare or an owl or a footstool,” said the AdvoCat, “And if Selph can find his way here…”
 +
 +“Is it possible for… for Cass…” Will looked down at his feet.
 +
 +“When we find out about Selph, we’ll look for anything we can find out about Cass,” promised the AdvoCat, “Remember what I told you – anything can become unused. That means there isn’t one way that unused entities can be. They’re not all like Selph. Sometimes there just isn’t enough space to fit in everything we want, so we need to make choices between two perfectly good things.”
 +
 +“Thanks,” said Will, “Um… Owl?”
 +
 +“What is it now?”
 +
 +“If you can’t have a Spirit Guide when you don’t have a personal timeline, why does Cass have the Game Gear?”
 +
 +“You know… I really have no idea,” said Owl, fluttering his wings. The Game Gear beeped and imitated the older Spirit Guide. Owl and Will both laughed. It was only the AdvoCat who noticed that the little games console’s cracked screen had completely healed on its own.
 +
 +
 +The clock struck two.
 +
 +The exhausted party stood on the edge of the hill that had been a dwelling for the native Nightopians, before they escaped somewhere further out of sight of the giants that seemed to spend all their time warring incessantly these days, without even noticing what they stepped on, but was now a rebel base for the feline ex-Nightmaren. They could see the scale of the conflict from here. The Clock Tower, now in motion for the first time since the dreamlands were created, was surrounded by thousands of Awakers, each leading a unit of Egg Clocks. The Clock had erected a force field of pure creative energy laced with Ideya, giving it the appearance of a lattice of rainbows, and the bulk of the Awakers were trying to tear it down by dragging sections of it into their realm. Occasionally one of them would manage to make a hole large enough to fit themselves through, at which point they were immediately fired upon by one of the drones that patrolled the perimeter or the laser turrets on the ramparts of the Tower. Nightmaren would also appear and attack the Awakers, usually ambushing them before they even arrived at the walls, laying a trap baited with their own supply of the crystallised Ideya. Normally they used it to bait dreamers, but they had learnt from experience that Awakers craved the frozen time even more.
 +
 +“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that they’re on our side,” warned the AdvoCat, “They’re just the enemies of our enemies. To a Nightmaren, that doesn’t make you a friend. They’ve been hit badly by Awaker attacks but it won’t stop them making a grab for control of the Tower if they think they can get away with it.”
 +
 +“Do you think we can win?” asked Will.
 +
 +“I don’t know. NiGHTs, how many are there?”
 +
 +The jester shrugged, “They can teleport, they don’t all stay in the same place, and I can’t tell the difference between them. It makes it rather difficult to find out. If it’s any use, I don’t think they can teleport through the barrier, even through the gaps. Unless they just haven’t thought of it yet.”
 +
 +“We should probably stop talking about it, then,” said Will, “We might give them the idea.”
 +
 +“If this mission succeeds, and we find out where Selph is, we can cut them off at the root,” said the AdvoCat, “They seem very dependent on their central command.”
 +
 +“How are we going to get through the barrier? Last time we tried getting the Clock Tower to let us in, it didn’t work!” said Will.
 +
 +“Oh… um… like this!” said NiGHTs, grabbing Will by the arm and drill-dashing as fast as he could towards the most recent breach in the force field. Dozens of Nightover-beams trained upon the ex-Nightmaren but he was too fast for them, and as the alarm clocks rolled towards him, ringing frantically, he smashed a hole straight through the four of them that were between him and the tear. The more alert of them started to pour in after him, and soon he found himself in-between several angry security drones and an invading army. He darted out of the way of the first wave of lasers, watching in satisfaction as they hit the nearest Awaker in the face, then two of the Clocks that followed it through collapsed in a shower of gears as their keys were snapped off by a furious swing of an umbrella, and the other two were grabbed by their keys and dragged ringing into the air by an owl and a flying Game Gear, before being dropped from a great height.
 +
 +They sped through the side-streets of inner-city Twin Seeds, feeling rather guilty when NiGHTs was forced to smash straight into a security drone to stop it shooting at them. Will wondered why the laser turrets weren’t targeting them. Was the street too narrow for them to pick them out properly? Did the system assume that the drones would stop them? Or were they just walking into an endless maze anyway? After five minutes of running, he heard deranged cackling from the rooftops, and when he looked up, he saw why they weren’t being targeted: a figure that looked a little like NiGHTs, except that it was only a disembodied head, cloak and pair of arms, was throwing a constant volley of razor-sharp playing cards at the turrets while ducking and weaving through their answering fire.
 +
 +“What’s Jackle doing here?” asked NiGHTs out loud.
 +
 +“I told you Wizeman comes here. Maybe he took some of his trusted Generals with him to protect him,” suggested AdvoCat, “I hope they stick to annoying the turrets!”
 +
 +“If he actually takes down a turret, it won’t be able to fire at the Awakers!” said Will.
 +
 +“Then we need to succeed in our goal, and make it quick!” said AdvoCat, grabbing him just as he triggered a trip-wire and was about to walk straight into a face full of lasers. 
 +
 +The maze wasn’t endless, only long and confusing, and they were able to navigate by watching where Jackle was flying whenever he tried to communicate to an unseen but presumably existing Reala by screeching at the top of his voice. They soon found themselves in the courtyard, where they ran across the lawn. The AdvoCat held his umbrella out in front of him in preparation for the inevitable laser wire mesh, then he led them back onto the rooftops. This time he didn’t go up to the clock face, but around the domed minaret just below the spire. There were no doors, only vast darkened archways that allowed no light to escape, nothing to reveal its contents, or where you would end up if you jumped through the portal.
 +
 +The AdvoCat flung himself through and NiGHTs followed. Owl shrugged and flapped after them, the Game Gear following close behind, and finally Will jumped in. He fell through pitch darkness for a long time, then when he could next see, he was in another world entirely.
 +
 +He was still on the domed roof of a clock tower looking out into the night sky, except that it was vast as a mountain, and all around him raged furious storm clouds, whirlwinds and boulders flung by the hands of invisible giants. The tower’s great bell tolled continuously, as if heralding their doom. Beyond the curtains of thunder and lightning, Will saw a ring of stone blocks, each the size of a house, carved with hieroglyphics. Despite their perfect, untouched smoothness, Will could sense how unfathomably ancient they were, old beyond the scale of any process of ageing. The language did not look like any that had ever existed in any human civilisation, although Will wasn’t actually a linguist or historian so he guessed there could be some he didn’t know about. He didn’t think any humans could be that old, or could have built something like this, even in their dreams.
 +
 +As he stepped towards one of them, the AdvoCat pulled him back with one hand and brandished his umbrella with the other. A boulder was knocked from its orbit and hurtled towards them, to crash harmlessly against the umbrella.
 +
 +“How dare you intrude upon my territory!” Wizeman’s voice boomed as he materialised above them. NiGHTs reflexively made a face at him. 
 +
 +“I doubt this is your territory any more, unless you’d like to walk over to one of those tablets for me,” said the AdvoCat, “Go on. It would be terribly useful for us. We’re here to see them, you see, and…”
 +
 +“The bells toll, and soon the veils will be thinner,” he said, “If you wish for power, this is a good time. But it shall be mine before it shall be yours – as was ordained before time began!”
 +
 +“A lot of things have been chopped and changed since time began, I’m afraid,” said the AdvoCat, “And I’d be more concerned about those bells if I were you. Wizeman, surely you realise that this is no time for a power play! The entire Universe is going to be erased and rewritten. You’ve seen for yourself how little regard these Awakers have for Nightmaren. You won’t exist in the new reality, never mind have any control over it!”
 +
 +“A matter that could be solved by giving me power. This whole mess started with the Tower not being strict enough in its policies. I would have erased Selph entirely, erased him to the root. I would have gone back through every version and traced back every single byte of data that mentions his existence and…”
 +
 +“So, you can trace the Universe back to earlier versions with this thing?” asked the AdvoCat.
 +
 +“You fool, do you even know what earlier releases of worlds are? They’re just inspirations for the later worlds – copies of this world but with more vagueness, more ideas not turned into flesh, and fewer ideas discarded. Worlds with more dreams.”
 +
 +“Lower levels of the dreamlands?”
 +
 +“Exactly! This is all there is to the dreamlands! It isn’t some mystical, magical world, it’s just the waking world along with every single previous version of it, every single idea that everyone has ever had about how it could be different! Layers upon layers of the same thing at different spaces and times! Of course you can go back to a previous version of it – you’re standing on one!”
 +
 +“I… had no idea…” the AdvoCat scratched behind his ears, embarrassed.
 +
 +“I’m not going to stop you people, because what you’re doing sounds like it has nothing to do with what I want to, never mind going against it. In fact, it sounds like you have no idea what you’re doing. I doubt it will work at all,” said Wizeman, laughing cruelly, “But I suggest that you listen to what I have to say. I mean it when I say I could run this Universe better than it is being run now. I could have organised the entire Universe into a weapon to fight the Awakers off in approximately ten seconds!”
 +
 +“And then it’d be no different to the world of the Awakers,” said Will, “Do you hear me? Nobody wants a world that’s just for one thing, let alone a weapon! They don’t want to be under the absolute rule of one person! It would be the same as the Awakers stopping time and making everything stand still! There’d be nothing good in the world at all! That’s what your nightmares do – they take away everything good in this world!”
 +
 +“Don’t you think you reprobates deserve a little unhappiness, you little imp?” snarled Wizeman, “Don’t you think you’ve proven enough times that no amount of suggestion, no warnings, no visions of what your world is turning into because of your own foolish actions, will ever stop you ruining your world? At least you’d have a world under my rule – because I no longer care about humans enough to consult any of them about how they want it to be run!”
 +
 +“If you’re quite finished lecturing us,” said the AdvoCat, tipping his cap. The storm abated with one last resounding clap of thunder, leaving a calm that only threatened a larger storm next time, but at least left them a path towards the nearest tablet.
 +
 +“Yes, that’s the one,” Wizeman sighed.
 +
 +“It’s broken,” said Will.
 +
 +“Yes, that’s what happens when things break out of something,” said Wizeman sarcastically, “But at least it’ll give you less problems breaking in. Which I assume is what you want to do. You have to touch it to get it to start up.”
 +
 +The AdvoCat pressed his hand against it and closed his eyes. Will jumped as the cat blinked out of existence. He touched his own hand against the surface of the tablet. It was warm and it hummed and vibrated slightly, like a Wii after it had been left on for a while. It smelled the same: warm, mechanical, faintly dusty, comfortingly familiar. He closed his eyes, breathing in the smell, and realised that he was somewhere else.
 
clockwork15.txt · Last modified: 2012/11/27 03:10 by doan
 
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