They left the shopping centre and walked down the lonely highway until they abruptly hit an invisible barrier where the space given to the sector simply ran out. The Game Gear found a seam in the wall and they climbed through. The next sector was a steep, narrow mountain path that reminded Will of the time Claris had taken him on a day trip to see Stick Canyon. Looking down at the sheer drop, he saw that the rocky expanse went on for miles, and he couldn’t tell how far down it went. The gaping hole in the ground looked bottomless. Looking down too long made him feel dizzy and a reflexive terror that he was going to fall off the cliff made him spring backwards and flatten himself against the wall. One of his hands clipped straight through it and he pulled it back. Shivering, he sat down firmly on a ground he at least knew worked. He tore his eyes away from the cliff ledge and deliberately looked up at the sky, which he wasn’t about to fall into – not in this sector, anyway. The gravity worked properly. This was cold comfort when so much of the world lurked below him and the gravity was waiting to pull him down to his demise.

As in the last sector, the sky wasn’t working. The cracks were even worse, and had joined together to form one long, jagged rift that was welling up with the colours of the system, dark fractal pools in the sky. Motes of glittering screen-dust were falling to the ground, creating curtains of light that illuminated different layers of the peninsula as they washed over them. The sight was breathtaking, like the Northern Lights, and he had never imagined that such fragile, delicate beauty could come from something so clearly broken. As he watched them, entranced, he noticed that he could see further down when the light hit the lower levels. He could even make out vague shapes that might indicate the bottom. Despite his earlier promise to himself not to try and look down, he moved a little closer to the edge and squinted to try and make out the shapes. They were cogs – outcrops of them protruding from the ground like clumps of crystals. Some were slowly rotating, some had stopped and others still had come loose from whatever they were attached to. They faintly glowed under their own natural light, different shades of blue. They reminded him of the Clock Tower, the way they were so obviously mechanical but so integrally parts of the Universe.

“Come back from the edge!” warned Owl, but the Game Gear beeped furiously at them.

“I think it’s down there!” said Will. The Game Gear confirmed this with a loud beep.

NiGHTs shot off to get a better look and soon disappeared out of sight. The AdvoCat grabbed Will and the two of them floated gently down the slope using his umbrella, bouncing from ledge to ledge to help them gain momentum in a place with no laws for wind. At first Will had to fight off a wave of panic at a sensation uncomfortably close to falling. Once he had convinced himself he wasn’t going to die, he found himself beginning to enjoy the ledge-hopping game. Then, half an hour later, he was bored and his legs were tired from pushing off from ledges. He had never imagined that jumping off a cliff would get boring, but it was a very high cliff and a long way down, and anything could get boring if it took too long. He was relieved when his feet touched solid ground, which took him four attempts as the floor was still a little buggy.

He could see the cogs all around him now, softly whirring. A soft blue glow illuminated the entrance to a small cave, a light that could only have been emitted by a much larger conglomeration of cogs inside. NiGHTs was already peeking into the cave mouth. Once they were together again, they carefully entered through the narrow tunnel. The Game Gear led the way, beeping with increasing enthusiasm that Will hoped was an indication that they were close to their goal. The tunnel went on for a long time, the walls becoming increasingly packed with cogs until Will was worried there would be no space for him to crawl through. At that point, he saw the first signs of an exit. He climbed out again and was surprised to find himself no longer in a cave, but on the other side of the mountain. He decided that he must have crawled through a seam without realising it. It was no longer making him uncomfortable to clip through objects, it happened to him so often these days.

He looked out across a steep hill that descended into gentle forests, or maybe orchards. The trees looked like none he had seen before, even in Nightopia. Tall and broad-leaved, they were laden with large fruit that hung down from the branches, almost ready to drop. The fruit looked like bunches of grapes, except grapes were half that size and weren’t cylindrical, almost rectangular, and they didn’t glow with the same blue as the cogs in the cave. Winged creatures flitted in and out of the boughs, nibbling on the fruit. A winding path cut through the forest, lined by blue-flamed lanterns on tall poles. The forest thinned out again into fields, then turned back into a slope. The path carried on for miles, too far for Will to see the end. In the distance, he saw a castle with soaring spires and domed minarets, surrounded by a tall, stout wall. Its shape was also outlined in blue, as though it were studded with millions of sapphires that reflected in the light of the moon. It looked like a scene from a fairy tale, some enchanted Kingdom under a spell to sleep for a thousand years. For all he knew, it could be even older than that. Could a fairy tale be Unused? Come to think of it, he had never heard the tale of the Magical Blue Glowing Kingdom of Oddly Shaped Trees.

“Could that be where the Clock Tower is?” asked Will, pointing to the highest spire of the castle. The Game Gear responded with a stream of disappointed-sounding, low-pitched beeps, then suddenly shot off down the hill towards the forest.

“Where’d do you think you’re going? You’re supposed to be our map!” protested the AdvoCat, “Owl? How do I stop them being uncooperative?”

“Usually a handful of batteries works…” said Owl, then he stopped, “Hm… I don’t suppose… those things on the trees look like batteries!”

“I don’t believe this…” muttered the AdvoCat, running after the Game Gear and hollering.

Will ran down the hill after the others. Inevitably, his foot sank into a hole in the map of the floor and he tripped and began a kind of sprawling roll down the hill. When he reached the bottom, he lay on the floor, his bones aching too much to move and his clothes covered in grass and soil. He was surprised the environment around him existed enough to make him dirty. Nothing so far had been anything more than an image projected over a half-finished framework. Clipping problems aside, it was a remarkably solid world. It must have been very nearly finished before it was discarded. As he looked up, he saw a flurry of movement in the trees, flutters and bat-like chittering noises. The denizens of the trees were restless, maybe disturbed by the sudden intrusion, and now they were spiralling into the sky in a swarm. Once they had reached a certain height, they spread out in a pattern like a tornado before flying off in separate directions. One of them swooped closer to Will and he saw it for what it was: another Game Gear!

“We’ve found its family!” he said, laughing.

“Oh, great, now we’ll never get home! It’ll probably find a mate and have baby Game Gears!” said the AdvoCat.

“Do those exist?” asked NiGHTs, “I mean, I’ve never seen a baby Game Gear…”

“That’s one!” said Will, pointing to a cluster of seven Game Gears that were circling protectively around an eighth, and the small cloud of tiny, white rectangular machines with a screen at the top and two buttons underneath it. He remembered seeing one when he was very small: it was a Dreamcast VMU. He wondered how Dreamcast VMUs could be baby Game Gears, considering the time between the invention of the Game Gear and the Dreamcast, and he could only assume that Dreamcasts for some reason chose to make their VMUs look like baby Game Gears, maybe to trick Game Gears into protecting them. Either that, or time worked differently in the realm of spirit guides, and different still in the Unused realm. Very little else worked the same in this place as it did anywhere else.

He watched the Game Gears in fascination as they settled down and returned to their feasting in the trees, many of them falling asleep as soon as they found a high enough branch to feel safe, their wings folded over their bodies. The mother called her babies over to their nest, then cut the battery-fruit up into smaller discs, the size of watch batteries, so that they could more easily swallow it. He had lost sight of Cass’ Game Gear in the confusion but he easily picked it out again – it was a lot more scraped and battered than the others from its long, arduous adventure, and it was still being treated with suspicion, as it was a stranger in their midst. There couldn’t have been many places for other Game gears to come from, as the next sector along was unlikely to look anything like this one, so they had probably never met a stranger before in their lives. After a frantic exchange of beeping and furious wing-flapping that sounded like the Game Gear equivalent of a heated argument, or maybe enthusiastic haggling, the other Game Gears let him sit on a branch and even take some of the food under close supervision.

“Maybe we should just leave them to it,” he whispered to NiGHTs, “They look sort of happy. It wouldn’t be fair to drag him away form his new family. We can go back the way we came when we want to get home, and you said you can find Selph.”

“But Spirit Guides aren’t supposed to do this,” said Owl, “Not when their job isn’t finished. Not when their host’s life is in danger.”

“I already said I don’t think it actually works for Cass to have a Spirit Guide…” mused Will.

“What if the Game Gear is an unused Spirit Guide?” suggested NiGHTs, “This could be a whole species of Game Gears that never quite made it into their evolutionary chain. I mean, when did you last see a Game Gear fly down the High Street?”

“Is there anything in this world that isn’t going to turn out to be Unused?” complained the AdvoCat.

“Technically, the world is always under construction…” said Owl.

“You know… everyone’s saying that the world will end and be reborn, and they’re arguing about what to put in the new world, and they’re dragging up all the things that they didn’t use in the last world and trying to put it in the new world…” said Will, “Its like there’s a new version of the world coming out – like a new patch for a game or a new edition of an operating system! A bigger, better Universe with prettier graphics!”

“The Clock Tower didn’t tell me about anything like that!” said the AdvoCat.

“Maybe it’s top secret. Or maybe the Clock Tower didn’t know,” said Will, “If the Clock Tower is gonna be replaced too, maybe it didn’t get told!”

“We still haven’t found the Unused Clock Tower yet…” the AdvoCat pointed out.

“I can’t feel Selph’s presence either,” said NiGHTs, “So, we’re either in the wrong place entirely, or we got there before him!”

“I don’t think we’re in the wrong place…” said Owl.

Suddenly, the relatively peaceful scene was interrupted by a commotion among the Game Gears that sent them flying out of the trees again. This time they were in a complete panic, darting in every direction, letting out eerie high-pitched beeps and dive-bombing something that was emerging over the hill towards them. They surrounded it in a maelstrom of flapping wings, confusing it and trapping it while they rushed it and fired their lasers at it. They had seen it a long time before the non-Game Gears even realised what was going on, but now everyone could see it: a grey figure, roaring and screaming in abject fury, drill-dashing and paralooping any Game Gear it could catch with the same speed and power as NiGHTs. It was a blur in battle, almost as fast as the Game Gears, but not quite fast enough, and it was outnumbered and surrounded. However, Selph was much larger and stronger, every connecting blow knocking three or four of them out of the sky, and Will was worried they wouldn’t be able to wear him down enough with lasers that didn’t always hit, didn’t do much damage and occasionally hit another Game Gear that flew too close.

“Isn’t there a way to help them?” asked Will.

“If we tried to get into the middle of that chaos, we’d just get ourselves killed before we even worked out who was the enemy!” said the AdvoCat.

“I wonder why they hate Selph so much?” commented Owl, “Are they natural enemies, or does he feel as wrong to them as he does to us?”

“Maybe they’re protecting their young,” said Will.

“He didn’t go anywhere near their young,” said the AdvoCat, “But they’re very intelligent creatures, so maybe they understand what he’s trying to do to the Universe.”

“You think they’re protecting the Clock Tower?” asked Will.

“Why not? They’re in the same sector as the Clock Tower! They’re not just a bunch of animals, so we can’t just assume they’re here to eat fruit and sleep all day!”

“But we can’t find the Clock Tower…” said NiGHTs, “Wouldn’t they be closer to the Clock Tower if they were defending it?”

“Maybe this is only the first wave of them…” said the AdvoCat.

Their musing was interrupted by a sudden cacophony of shrill screeches. Selph screamed at them in reply as he was thrown bodily out of the circle. He spun out of control for a few seconds, then righted himself, clutching his head and muttering incoherently to himself as though trying to block out something that was intruding into his brain: as though he himself were being invaded by another presence. The Game Gears stopped their attack and instead arranged themselves into a solid wall. Their screens flickered and then changed to a giant picture of Cass’ face spread out across their combined displays. It was chunky and pixellated and for some reason only in blue and slightly lighter blue, and one or two of the Game Gears had run out of batteries, giving the boy’s formerly handsome face giant square pimples, but it was still recognisably Cass.

“It is not yours! It is mine! NOT YOURS!” screeched Selph. The boy did not reply. He looked like he was asleep, oblivious to the battle raging outside. If he was, in fact, anywhere near the battle.

“Cass! Where are you?” cried Will, “Where’s the Clock?”

“Don’t you understand? They ARE the Clock!” said the AdvoCat, “This whole network of thousands and thousands of Game Gears… a compound entity… when one dies, the others can take its load until another is born!”

“But Game Gears can’t run the control software of an entire Universe!” protested Will.

“Why not? It’s only got to tell the time…”

“Game Gears don’t have a system clock! They don’t have a BIOS!”

“They don’t have wings either.”

“Answer me!” demanded Selph, “Or I’ll slaughter every single one of your stupid pets!”

“It’s too late,” called NiGHTs, “It’s already been done. And I’m not letting you hurt anyone else. This isn’t your world or mine, Selph. It goes by a completely different set of rules. We have an equal chance in a fight, here!”

“I am superior to you whichever world we stand on! I told you already that you are a pale shadow of your true destiny, and I meant it! Your true form is too great and terrible for the Universe itself! And now you get to see what you have all spent your entire lives hiding in terror from!”

Moving from complete rest into an attack faster than Will could blink, NiGHTs drill-dashed straight at Selph. The unused Nightmaren swerved to one side, then grabbed hold of him as he darted past, pulling the two of them to the ground. They skimmed with the impact when they hit the dirt, rolling down the hill, each trying to get the other in a choke hold, then they clipped through an unseen weakness in the floor and disappeared deep into the fabric of the unfinished realm. The hole had been a true exit, and for a brief second, they left the sector altogether, then they emerged through the same hole, Selph clawing at NiGHTs’ throat and NiGHTs trying to gouge Selph’s eyes out. Hissing in frustration, Selph loosened his grip to force NiGHTs’ hands away, then kicked him in the chest to pry the two of them loose. They both went flying in opposite directions. They righted themselves easily and NiGHTs immediately went into a paraloop. Realising his opponent’s intent, Selph watched him for a few seconds to guess his trajectory, then suddenly darted sideways, looping up and over NiGHTs on a different parabola that would mean he would be encircled in a deadly loop of crushing gravity if he didn’t break his own circle. NiGHTs was unfazed; He had fought similar battles of aerial skill and speed before with Reala, and won as many as he had lost. He did not break off entirely, but arched backwards in a tight turn and went into a series of small, complex loops, beginning the second one as soon as the first failed, trying to predict where Selph would turn when he evaded the first so he could try and catch him in the next. Will had seen NiGHTs dance this aerobatic waltz of death with Reala before, but it still made him gasp in amazement, and every close miss made him pray for NiGHTs’ safety. The Game Gears seemed impressed as well, as they were now displaying the battle on their giant conglomeration of screens so that the ‘audience’ could see more clearly, as though they were operating the main screen in a stadium. “What exactly are they fighting about?” whispered the AdvoCat to Owl.

“I think NiGHTs wants to protect Cass and the Game Gears, and Selph wants to break free and attack them,” said Owl.

“So, NiGHTs is buying Cass time?”

“I think so.”

“For what?” asked the AdvoCat, “What do they both expect to happen, apart from maybe killing each other? Does anyone even know where Cass actually is? Can the Game Gears even be destroyed at this point – there could be more of them hiding anywhere!”

“I wouldn’t let the enemy know that,” whispered Owl, “Maybe they just want to settle their differences, by now. They’re virtually the same person, yet they’re completely different personalities and their goals are opposite to each other. It probably really hurts both of them, to know that the other one exists.”

“Just like NiGHTs and Reala,” said Will.

“No, NiGHTs and Reala are brothers that want to kill each other. NiGHTs and Selph are like identical twins that want to kill each other. Much worse,” commented Owl, “I think that once they finish fighting, there won’t be much else for us to do. Apart from a lot of cleaning up…”

Will dove to the floor as the two of them swooped low over the hill, almost hitting their audience, then Selph flung NiGHTs right into the Game Gears. Will cried out a warning to them, but they had already scattered in every direction, a couple of them shooting lasers to Selph to express their annoyance. Then, instead of reforming their giant screen, they flew off into the night, heading away from the hill altogether and towards the castle. Will could only just about see them, tiny white squares dancing above the rooftops, like pixels on a blank screen. They stopped over the tallest tower of the castle, then arranged themselves into a star shape that spun faster and faster in the sky. The blue light was gathered into it like a tide attracted by a moon that draws too close, then spun around the spokes of the star before being thrown out again like the sparks of a Catherine wheel. As more and more of the energy flowed into the star, it sped up to a frantically whirling pace, appearing as a circle, a cerulean halo, then it stopped, suddenly, still crowned in all its radiance, and everything stopped at once, and the penumbra of colour washed over everything. As the light hit him, turning his hands blue as he stared at them in wonder, Will could hear voices in his head. They didn’t scare him – it was just like hearing the voices all around him as they walked through the town centre on a busy shopping day. The voices were people, bustling with life, talking animatedly, some happy, some angry, some sad, some excited. There were children, students, workers and the elderly. It was as if an entire town had come back to life at once: the magical Kingdom gently waking up from its cursed sleep. Except that this was another dream, as beautiful and fading as the next dream to come along, each moment a wave of ideas and creation in the eternal sine wave of the Universe.

Will did not understand what was happening to him, but somewhere in his heart he knew that he was seeing something special, something that he would never normally have the chance to see, and that he would never see again. As he mused over this, one particular voice became louder and clearer than the others, and he saw someone walking through the blue spirit-fog towards him.

Cass smiled at him and held out a hand. Will returned the smile and took his hand. There was a Game Gear perched on his shoulder, like a lowtech cyber-parrot.

“Has your spirit been put to rest, then?” asked Owl.

“In this world, at least,” said Cass, “And the spirits of all of our world. We can rest in peace. There’s somewhere for us to go, now.”

“Are you a ghost?” asked Will, looking a little sad, “Are you going to fade away?”

Cass shook his head, “I’m all that’s holding all our worlds together now. I’ll always be here, and I’ll always be everywhere.”

“Can I keep your Saturn for you? I’ll take good care of it and clean it every day!”

“Only if you come and visit me in your dreams, so I can teach you how to play it properly. Tell me straight away if anything breaks, too, so I can explain how to fix it, okay?”

Will nodded solemnly, “You’ve got a Saturn where you are, right? It’s not just Game Gears?”

“I can have anything I want in my room, as long as it doesn’t make me leave the room,” said Cass, “Which is fine by me.”

“Are you sure? It doesn’t sound much good.”

“A dreamer is never truly a prisoner, if they truly believe that the worlds they create are real,” said Cass, “You should know that much better than I do. I’m not really that imaginative. Everything I make is blue and has Game Gears in it.”

“Is the world gonna be back to normal when I go home?” asked Will.

“The world is never the same it was five seconds ago,” said Cass, “But it isn’t going to be destroyed. It isn’t time for us to wake up yet. It will only be time to wake up when everything is finished, when everyone’s game is completed and their quests are at an end. By that time, dreamers will have enough power to create things in the Awakening world. That’s what it means, to be truly complete: that you can create so much good with your mind that waking up is no different to dreaming.”

“So, the Awakers will be gone?”

“The war will still be hard fought, but they can’t truly win without Selph, not know that the Dreamer is in the Unused Realm. Selph would have been able to find me in this realm, except that it would be meaningless now. The Unused Realm is repairing itself. There isn’t anywhere for him to go to. He’ll have to follow the same rules as the other Unused entity, now, and live out the good life that an Unused entity can if they try hard.”

“Cass… I’m sorry… that you can’t live in the world with us. I wanted us to hang out with Helen and Claris and Elliot, and go shopping, and play two-player games, and push Elliot in the fountain,” said Will, “I don’t think its right. You’re a person, and yet you have to live like a ghost! Even a Game Gear isn’t a ghost, if it has people to fix it up and play with it!”

“You have no idea of the future I am part of, and what has been done to it by the past, do you? I don’t want you to know, either. I want you to leave this place thinking of me as a friend, and carry on our legacy, and rebuild our world some day.”

“We can rebuild it now!” said Will, “Something’s not Unused any more if someone uses it, right? If you won’t come back with me, I’m going to invent you into existence! I’m going to draw pictures of you and write stories and songs about you and I’ll even get Helen and Claris to write a song about you!”

“That’s kind of you,” said Cass, “I think a part of me hopes that it works. But you really do need to be going, you know. Someone’s calling you.”

Will could hear it as well, now. A female voice, not Helen or Claris, someone much older. There was another voice too, a voice that was trying not to be arrogant and overbearing but completely failing. A third voice just sounded completely insane.

“Boss! I don’t think its working! BOSS!” screeched Jackle, “Look, I’m throwing cards in and they’re not coming out the other side…”

A giant playing card hit Will hard on the back of the head at high speed, and he blacked out.

clockwork18.txt · Last modified: 2012/11/29 01:15 by doan
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