((AN: Here it is, finally, another chapter to this story! I'm so sorry that it took me so long to get to it...truth is it's been sitting half-finished for quite a while, but then I was drawn to other fandoms and my motivation went elsewhere. BUT, this story was always in the back of my mind, and I am definitely going to finish it; it's got maybe a couple of chapters left to go. I thank all my readers again for being patient with me and enjoying my writings. ^^ Time to resolve one cliffhanger at least. :3 Do enjoy!))
The last thing Betty saw, before tripping on several pairs of grasping ink hands and being pulled back into the pitch-black void, was the group running off as quickly as possible upon command, and avoiding those same hands. She tried to scream, but it was quickly drowned out as the suffocating weight of the liquid made to drown her in the depths, not to be heard.
The world, the sounds and sights, the threatening aura of the Ink Demon, all dropped away into thick, malevolent silence.
She half-expected to experience her friends' fates as they'd once done before, to lose herself and her mind to this place...
But once they'd taken her into the abyss...she remained unbroken. No mind collapsing, no body vanishing...but she did hear a mixed, awful cacophony of voices all around in the darkness, and she fought to break through them, half-wanting to cover her ears and half-wanting to rush through this swath of lost, fearful minds to get back to where she was...back to the others, all while half-floating and half-swimming in this endless space.
Please don't let 'em be here too...she prayed over and over, concentrating on those words alone amid the random words that were pulling at her from the Ink. Somewhere in the fray, she'd lost her frying pan, and was simply slapping anything away that came at her face and attempted to blind her.
After a good amount of struggling, suddenly, the stinging swaths of grappling ink hands stopped, dropping away with an almost hesitant slowness. When she dared open her eyes again, it was to see a point of light through the dripping black tunnel.
Oh dear...is this it? Am I dead? Don't quite feel like it...ew, but I know I WILL be if I don't get movin'...
Seeing it as her only option, Betty started on a trot towards the light, and broke into a full-on run when she notice it actually getting closer. And then...
...Am I goin' crazy, or am I bein' PUSHED to it? Oooh, I don't wanna look back an' find out...!
Indeed, behind her, it was as if the Ink was closing in her wake, and pretty soon the light was so close that she was blinded, and the buzzing noises behind her were now so much further away...
Then, it fell away completely as she felt both pushed and pulled through into the world, and when she felt fresh air, she involuntarily gave a deep gasp, falling on her knees back to a floor flooded with black, as if there hadn't been an entry there at all.
Betty waited to catch her breath for a few moments before cautiously opening one eye, and then another, to sigh with relief when she saw and felt the familiar energy of the Toon World...
But, unfortunately, she was seeing it from behind the bars of a square iron cage.
The toonette tutted to herself as she stood up and shook her head, wiping away some of the clinging ink from her skin and jacket. "Me oh me oh my...what a familiar predicament...the things I get myself into, I swear...let's see...where in th' world am I now?"
As she willed herself to stay calm and looked up and around her, Betty couldn't really recognize the room. It was a large one, probably a warehouse of some sort, as there were crates lying around a set of stairs that led to a closed set of metal doors. Another set of stairs went upwards just adjacent from there; very high upwards. Behind her, to her curiosity, was perhaps the largest Bendy statue that she'd seen yet around here. The cage was sitting its base, in a puddle of ink that was pooling from a dripping flood in the ceiling somewhere.
"Well, this is different...least I'm still in th' studio..." she tried to peer out from under the closed top of the cage and couldn't get far, "But how'd I get in a cage, an' why?"
The answer came to her when, suddenly, she felt like she was being watched. Turning around again, it was to see the Ink Demon himself, sitting on the banister of the stairs across the way and looking towards her with a slightly-tilted head.
"EEP!" she squeaked and backed up so hard against the bars that her cage shook somewhat. She stood shaking there for a moment, hands covering her mouth.
But the Demon didn't seem very fazed with her reaction; as a matter of fact, it looked to be expecting that. He was practically frozen there, save for his breathing, which she could hear as raspy and almost gurgling. The grin on his face wasn't moving. After a moment, she got the gist that he was probably just...observing her.
She decided that, perhaps, it wouldn't hurt to start a conversation...it beat just standing and staring at one another, and especially if she was going to get answers. Shakily, the toonette waved. "H-hello there, Mister Ink Demon...uh...n-nice place y'got here..."
There wasn't much of a reaction from him, but he did tilt his head the other way.
"S-so...uh...I guess yer not much of a talker, huh...?"
Another half-second passed of his contemplative silence. Then, slowly, he raised his human-like right hand and held it toward the wall where the ink dripped, his fingers splayed.
Betty could hear the liquid shifting, but she kept her eyes carefully on the beast, until he pointed to the wall, which she could see just by turning her head slightly.
There, to her surprise, were words, having been placed there from the ink puddle by the Demon's powers over it. It was broken, like it took some effort for him to even communicate like that.
Does not claim you.
"Oh...! So you can talk, sorta..."
His arm lowered slowly, and his head tilted back upright, patiently waiting for an answer.
"Oh...w-well...I...don't really know why. Uh...I guess because I'm from another cartoon studio...this ain't my ink." She gestured down to the puddle at her feet, and she lifted one heel out of it. "This ink feels weird ta me in fact...kinda stings, really..."
He tilted his head slowly again, and even though he couldn't even show emotion on his scribbled grin and obscured features, she could just tell that he seemed to mull over her answer. Then, slowly (almost painfully, it seemed), he hobbled down from his seat on the banister and turned to a small lever on a panel by the stairs. With his gloved hand, he grasped it, and pulled down.
"Oop!" Betty chirped as she felt the cage wobbling, and by extension herself. Grasping the bars tightly, she watched as her container was actually lifted a few feet off the floor, stopping at about the level of the Bendy statue's gloves.
Blinking, she watched the ink that she'd been standing in dripping back down to the floor so that it was dry by her feet, and then looked slowly back to the beast. He was sitting on the banister again, though right next to the lever this time, watching her carefully.
Suffice it to say, the toonette was very surprised by his actions. It was as if he was acting on just a tiny bit of empathy from her words, despite his usual fearful demeanor. Surely, looking back at his previous sightings, the Ink Demon had to have some kind of emotion in him. At the very least, she figured that he wanted her alive and unharmed, considering it may have also been him that got her out of the void...for what reason, she'd have to come to carefully.
"Oh my...um..." she leaned against the bars again, her shaking quelled just a bit, "Th-thank you."
Another second of quiet watching, and he raised his ink-hand again. Betty followed it, noticing new words appearing.
Who are you?
She gulped. "I'm B-Betty Boop. I-I'm from outside here. In th' Toon World...y'know, where th' cartoon characters live. I came ta help th' ones from this studio."
The Demon seemed to let out a little growling hum, and he summoned more words in place of the others, his only way of conversing for now.
Betty blinked again with surprise. If he knows th' Toon World, an' me, somehow...I do think th' real Bendy has ta be in there somewhere...I knew this place would affect th' Demon too. But probably not as much as th' others.
She tried to see if she could reach him with her answers. "W-well...it probably should feel familiar. This is where you're from...right, Bendy?"
He let out another sudden little hiss, and she backed up a small step in the cage.
I am from
"...Aw..." Betty put a hand over her mouth, shaking her head; she couldn't help but start to feel sorry for the Ink Demon. She knew only a little about his origins...but what about his side of things? "I don't really think yer supposed t' be a monster...not from what I heard."
Not supposed to be.
Was made one.
He then seemed to hesitate, as if in thought, and he rolled his head up and around, like he was looking for something...or perhaps, just taking in his surroundings. Then the ink flowed again.
I came here.
It is different.
I can feel
The monster pointedly looked back at her when he was finished, like he was waiting for an explanation. Oh...maybe that's why he captured me. For answers. Well, you ARE here t' help, Betty...
"I-if you're havin' memories, then...they gotta be yours. This place is for toons...it can heal ya, if ya are one...and it seems t' me that th' real you is in there somewhere, Bendy."
He regarded her with what seemed like confusion for a moment before replying.
Then I am broken.
As I thought.
As the Creator says.
"You were broken...I think...but I doubt yer meant ta be," she insisted. "Just like yer friends, you can feel whole again, with time. You were meant ta be happy, like all toons."
He hung his head a little, like he was doubtful. But the words appeared in a firm manner on the wall.
I am not meant to be
Betty, now saddened a little by his thought process, shook her head insistently. "But...y'can't be one...not after that tiny little bit of kindness you showed me just a moment ago. And b'sides..." she gave him a little smile, "Alice Angel says yer not."
He paused for a long time at that. The words came slowly, as if they were trickling back into his memory.
She nodded vigorously. "Yeah, an' Boris too! Yer friends...yer real friends...they're safe. I helped 'em...I can help you, Bendy!" She reached out with her arms out and palms up, pleading. "Won't you please let me?"
The Ink Demon's head hung as the silence stretched on. Betty anxiously held onto the bars, barely noticing how tightly she was holding them. She didn't know now if she still feared the Demon himself, or for the one inside him.
Finally, he spoke again, though his words came slow, like there was something in him warring.
You can not help.
None can help.
The Creator said to stay.
With the Machine.
That is my
The others must go back too.
Must leave after.
"But...!" she shook her head, "But...your Creator...it ain't Joey Drew! He's not your real Creator, you don't hafta answer to 'im."
The Demon's head lifted quickly to her at that, and she felt that he was silently demanding what she meant.
Her words tumbled out with sincere emotion. "Joey said he was a Creator...but I know what real Creators are like! I've met mine! Joey ain't nothin' like one. A real one wouldn't say yer just meant t' hide away, be a monster...th' real Creator, Henry Stein...that's who you were made by, an' he wouldn't do that!"
He contemplated, and then slowly, the words formed the name, letter by letter.
"Yeah! He's even with yer friends, right now, on this side of th' studio. If you only talk to 'im, you'll see! Let me out, I can lead ya to 'im."
The Demon's grin quivered again, like he wanted to frown and couldn't. He sat there for the longest time, slouched in thought. Betty, feeling at that moment like she definitely wasn't getting out any time soon, slid down on her knees and watched him become lost. In his mind, his words, her words...she couldn't read him at all now.
Oh please...just let someone help...
"Nonono please, for Heaven's sake, not again..."
Henry hadn't even checked twice to see if the coast was clear. As soon as it was in his mind and racing blood that they were missing a toon, he'd quickly shoved the door open and stepped out into the office halls, among the almost-motionless Swollen Searchers, looking in every direction and shouting Betty's name every so often.
Boris and Alice, who were quick to follow him whenever he moved more steps away than they'd liked, were watching him with increasing concern; not just for their lost comrade, but for their Creator, as well.
Once they'd gotten enough distance through the haunting corridors to see the main hub of Administration again, the angel urged the wolf to calm Henry down, while she stopped to talk to one of the inky beings milling about and keeping watch.
The man was on his knees in his own guilt and grief as he felt Boris's hand on his back. "How on Earth do we get her back from this...in this world? I..." he turned to look up at the wolf's questioning, warm pie-cut eyes. "...Don't I have some sort of influence here? Couldn't I just...draw a tunnel on the wall and find her that way, or...?"
"Naw...sad t'say, it don't work like that," Boris informed him softly, though he knew from the animator's defeated sigh that he'd probably already gathered that, and was simply grasping at straws. "Even th' Toon World has rules. If any ol' Creator were able t' do things like that when they came here, then this place would be chaos. Er, well, more n' usual."
"So...it's a controlled kind of chaos," Henry huffed out an ironic laugh, mostly trying to hold onto his good humor in the dire situation...as he had on the other side. "Should've known that, really...I almost even thought of just...reaching in somewhere to grab Bendy too, or even...drawing him again, right here."
Again, the wolf's head shook. "Don't I wish it could be that easy...it'd just be a copy, almost as mindless as th' ones a' me. Naw...there's only ever one true version a' each of us. M'sorry, Henry, but...sad as it is...Bendy an' Betty hafta be found."
Grimacing, Henry sat back up on his feet and stared ahead, brow furrowing, trying to think through the panic that was still sending shocks of cold adrenaline through him.
Meanwhile, Alice trotted back towards them, waving goodbye to somebody behind her as she came into view. "I talked to one of the Searchers," she informed the boys. "Asked them if they could keep a lookout for Betty in the void. They should come back to me with something soon." Seeing their distraught faces, she placed her hand on each of their shoulders. "We shouldn't sit and fret, ya know. She doesn't look it, but Betty's a tough toon...gotta know she's been in worse trouble and gotten out, right?"
Boris nodded slowly with a hum, and Henry let out a short chuckle. "Yeah...now that you mention it...getting caught by somebody is kinda her thing."
"Betcha she ain't one bit scared," the wolf agreed. "Still...thanks fer th' help, Alice. It'll give us a bit more piece a' mind ta know what's goin' on. Then we can focus on jus' gettin' back up to th' Ink Machine control...without gettin' caught by him."
"God willing," she agreed, clasping her fingers together as if sending a short prayer.
Henry let out another harsh breath, as if he were letting out the last of his worries. It was only going to take up space in his mind...and they were right. They needed to get to their goal...he felt that Betty would want them to keep going. "Okay then, speaking of which." He stood up again and looked between both of his toons. "What exactly can I do here to help?"
"Oh, there could be a bunch!" Alice said with a bright smile. "It just can't be too convenient."
"Unless it's funny," Boris snorted, and shyly stuck out his tongue as he scratched his head. "But, ain't nothin' funny about this place, an' what's more, we don't have the full powers like Betty, bein'...defunct toons, an' all."
"I barely remember all the rules regarding having humans here, myself," Alice hummed. "Let's see...you can't be killed by over-the-top toon injuries, since it's funny...you could draw things into existence, but you can't change the world's important things unless you were in the real world again, behind your desk...just small changes while here...and for good, not bad."
"How Joey managed t' break that one by bringin' this studio here, I'll never know..." Boris muttered.
"He has ways, I'm certain," Henry sighed, rubbing at his head where the pain was starting to come back. "So let's see, I can still draw things that could help us..."
Then, his eyes wandered over the bubbling ink puddles where he knew Searchers could still be lying in wait, and through to the doors that he could see past the corridor entrance into the offices...and suddenly, something clicked. "Ooh, that's perfect," he murmured as he went over to a blank section of wall and took out the ink brush that was loaned to him, pausing to think before dipping the brush in another black puddle and getting to work.
The toons each looked over his shoulder curiously as he began sketching (and casually looked away when he caught them), until finally he was done. On the wall was a drawing of a rubber stamp with a handle, about as big as a Gent pipe, easy to carry.
"All I need is for you to draw your ward symbol on the end of that, Alice," he said with a bright smile, "And then we might have a handy way of just making our own hiding places as we head up, if we need to."
The angel gasped, her halo shining as brightly as her eyes. "Oh, what a brilliant idea, Henry!" She giggled as she immediately got to work on her part of the stamp.
"Well hot dang, that is a right good one...an' it should work."
"Just needs one of you to pluck it off the wall, I imagine," the man finished as he crossed his arms and admired their work.
So, after she made sure the ward was perfect, Alice gave it a shot...and indeed, plucked the stamp up with two hands like it was nothing, creating a perfectly-usable three-dimensional (for their point of view) object.
"Heh!" the man chuckled, impressed that it did work...very seldom did anything seem to work for him before. "Wow...if I didn't know that it wouldn't work on the Demon, I'd draw myself a Tommy gun."
"Remember, it's purdy much his ink yer usin', anyway," Boris reminded Henry. "Th' Demon controls it, so it can't hurt 'im, much as it can't hurt anythin' here. Gee..." he suddenly frowned, "Gonna miss havin' Betty's inkwell around t' cut through things..."
Henry hummed. "Or...maybe my inkwell's around. Couldn't hurt to check the animation department when we get up there."
"Ooh..." Boris and Alice both vocalized, trading wide-eyed glances with each other right then. The possibility was slim, but...what if they could find it? They'd have more than enough power to cut through the obstacles of the studio, whatever was lying in wait.
At least, in theory. But they felt it was the best thing they had. They owed it to Betty to help her as she'd helped them.
"Well, we'll think about it on the way," said the Creator with finality as he brandished his Gent pipe. "We can't stay in one place for too long. Keep that stamp handy, Alice...lead on, Boris, to the elevator."
"Aye-aye, sir!" he said with a straight-backed salute before taking up the lead, like he was leading a march into battle, the ax firmly grasped in both gloved hands as his two followers traded little smirks behind him. "Hup-two-three-four, Hup-two-three-four..."
Back down in the Lost Ones' village, and back on the "real" side of the projectors, Camilla had been dutifully working with a few willing (and some coerced) volunteers to gather any more that they could find coming back up out of the river. It was hard to count just how many of the ink beings were still living in the real world before the Demon's rampage...but she felt fairly confident that they would soon be counting them all as they revived.
She also had to admit, thankfully, that spending a fair amount of time back in the real studio didn't seem to have any ill effects on her mind, or those of her friends. It really seemed like the Toon World had a sort of healing ability, or at least an ability to instill hope, a healing mechanism in itself...and it stayed, even in the cursed environment.
After checking that the door between worlds could still work, she carefully walked back out to the center of town, where it had still been unsettling and quiet, despite the chatter from the others that could be overheard breaking the eerie silence. There were already two more stragglers being pulled from the abyss...shaking and sullen like the rest of them. Camilla couldn't remember a time now, before the toons, when she actually felt cheerful. But now here she was, a little excited to see some more of their comrades, and all the more eager to see how eventually they react to being on the other side.
Geez...I feel like a grim reaper or something, leading everyone essentially dead to paradise. Welp, considering all the Heaven and Hell imagery we created, I guess it's fitting.
"I think these might be the last of 'em, Miss Camilla," one of the others came up to inform her, jerking a thumb back behind him at the blackness as she walked up to the dock. "The rest of us were here for a few hours already watching for 'em, an' nothin' came up."
She nodded. "That's fine...but we should probably still at least keep a lookout for any last-minutes coming ashore, until the others get back. You guys can head back across and get some rest, maybe ask for someone to take your shifts."
"Gladly," the surly-sounding Lost One gruffed out and turned to spread the word to the others around the shore as she watched. "Guys, let's get a move-on..."
Then, as Camilla was about to turn away from the dock herself, a part of the shallows bubbled. She glanced over to see a black hand and body come bursting quickly out of the inky water, coughing hard, like he'd actually been fighting to make it back to the surface. The Lost One took a long breath, then waved frantically when he saw her on the dock. "Hey! Hey, can we get some help, please?"
"Morty! Oh dear Lord...!" The former animator gasped as she heard the familiar voice, immediately rushing down to the dock's edge to help him out, snatching his hand in a firm grip. "Thank goodness you're okay, I heard you'd been tossed back in by the Ink Demon...!"
"Oh, Miss Camilla!" he breathed out harshly with another cough, sagging with relief as he was hefted back up out of the swells. "Uh, hang on, I have someone else here with me...bit of a straggler."
She blinked as she looked to where he was gesturing: his inky hand was clutching another one. Immediately, they both heaved and kicked with a few splashes, enough to get them both back up together. Morty ended up doubled over on the crooked wood of the dock, trying to catch his breath, while the straggler he rescued balled up and seemed to want to keep its head hidden in its arms, shaking like a leaf.
Camilla stood breathing with him for a moment, before leaning down and taking him by the shoulders. "God, it's so fortunate you managed to get out of there...I really thought you'd gotten lost again!"
His head shook. "I tell ya, it wasn't easy to get out. I fell in, I felt the Ink closing in...so I just swam like Hell was behind me...I mean it was, sorta, but still...I was overcome, but...I wasn't pulled apart. I was just in this...pitch-black tunnel, and I just started running until I found a light. It worked...I'm all here, nothing lost again."
"The effects of the Toon World," the ink-woman said with a little breath of relief. She really wished that she could smile with the entirety of her face again.
"Yeah...so...wait!" he instantly sat up, eyes wide. "The toons! What happened after the Ink Demon? Are they okay? Please tell me they're okay!"
Even at his frantic tone, Camilla had to let out a giggle. "Don't worry, Morty, they're all fine! And even better, it worked! Their crazy plan, the projectors, it all worked!"
He gasped a little; she imagined that he'd be gaping if he were human. "...It...it did? So..."
"So there's now a door between the Toon and real-world studios...and the toons are with Henry, as well as Allison and Tom."
There was a long beat of silence and staring from the ink-man, and even their rescued compatriot had to raise their head at the news. Slowly, he put his hand to his temples and started laughing. "I knew those kids could do it...toons can do anything. We...we may all just...pull this off after all."
"Well, we should continue to send some good luck their way...there's still the Ink Demon," Camilla pointed out. "Anyway...let's see if we can get your friend here on their feet, and back to the Toon side."
"You betcha," he nodded and turned to the aforementioned ink being, who was still shaking terribly and didn't seem to want to stand up. "C'mon...you're free from in there now, and you'll be okay, like all of us."
From the new Lost One, the reply was a small hiccup of a high-pitched, feminine sob. She avoided their gazes, and didn't get up.
Morty sighed. "This one's pretty out of it. I found her just cowering in the void, not wanting to move from out of it, like she was determined to stay there. She only moved when the ink walls kinda pushed us out."
"Aw," Camilla softly murmured and knelt down to the rescued creature's level. "Hey, it's okay. There's a lot more of us just like you; a lot more, who didn't know who they were, or couldn't remember. But we all got together and found a good place, and we're healing." She put her hand out. "Please, come with us. It's okay, you'll see. You can leave it all behind."
The scared ink-girl slowly looked from the outstretched hand to Camilla, and then from her to Morty, and back again. The shaking was still there, but she seemed to be a little more convinced. Hesitantly, she reached out with her own hand of shining black (which pulled out another quiet sob when she caught sight of it) and let it practically fall into Camilla's.
"That's the spirit," said Morty in a gentle tone as he took her other hand. "Let's go."
And so, slowly and patiently, they led the last of the shanty town's reformed prisoners back toward Sammy's old shack, where the projectors on each side dutifully kept to the task of maintaining a door between worlds, crafted by a skilled artist and an artist's pen. All the while, the girl was whimpering, like it was all she could do to communicate, but her glowing eyes were curiously fixed upon the door as it was opened into the bright world beyond.
When they made it through and back into the Toon World's Lost One village, it was to be met by the concerned eyes and ears of a few of the others, and excitement upon seeing Morty's return.
Camilla sensed that the girl wouldn't want to be around much noise as she was settling in, so she gently ushered her away from the crowds and onto one of the benches in the center, around the statue. "I know this seems a bit overwhelming, but...you'll be okay, promise. After you have a rest, look around to your heart's content. If you need anything, ask for me. Camilla, by the way. I'd love to learn your name too, when it comes back."
And so the new girl was left by herself, still shaking and holding onto her own shoulders, but already feeling a little more...at home. Especially when she looked around and saw how very industrious the ink beings seemed to be with their little houses and ways to get around, and how different the environment was...how it felt more than looked, but even the dingy underground had a sort of underlying brightness to it.
She was told to rest...and rest she did. But her mind started to come back around to the mention of a name. A long time ago, she could have sworn it was Alice.
It started to come crawling back...slowly, very slowly, when a more prominent name swam to the surface of her thoughts.
Camilla, meanwhile, managed to catch up with her comrade. "So, there weren't any others hanging around in the void that you could see?"
He shook his head. "Nope...just her and me were the only fully-formed Lost Ones, come to think of it. I might've heard some scattered voices...screaming...but those might be the Searchers, and they can find their own way in. I hope. I wanna say we at least rescued as many of us as...uh...inhumanly possible," he finished with a little chuckle.
She had to snort at his attempt at a joke. "That's good at least...and Sammy's out there looking for stragglers in the real world, with Allison and Tom...and Henry and the toons are on their way up to the Ink Machine controls."
"Huh..." he sighed, shaking his head in complete awe of their current situation. "It's really gonna happen, isn't it?"
Camilla looked upward, far into the unseeing darkness of the cavern...far, far up where the rest of the studio proper lay in a confusing labyrinth of corridors, half-finished and made in vain.
"I hope to all the world that it will. Now we just wait for the fallout. Anyway, let's go, we gotta watch for Sammy's rescued people still."
Further up in the dark recesses of the real-world studio, where the warehouse outside of her prison was still filled to the brim with the machinations of a foolish dream, a Lost One that knew she went by the name of Lacie Benton (and very little else) sat within a closed alcove and continued to sob into her knees.
She not only did it out of sadness now, but to also just hear her voice and let it cut through the maelstrom that was her broken mind. If she cried, she could almost hear her own memories, floating around just out of reach. There was nothing else she could do here...it helped to also stay within her own workshop from her life, amid the remnants of things she knew she built.
Stay and cry, into eternity...Lacie almost wished that she'd be taken by the Ink Demon and broken entirely to end the confusion and pain. Perhaps if she were loud enough...
Suddenly, she heard a familiar noise that made her abruptly stop crying and lift her head up from her bony arms. Opening her eyes, she saw a pitch-black portal opening up on the far wall. A shudder crawled up her back...was this the Ink Demon? She didn't know whether to feel afraid for what was left of her being, or resigned—almost anticipating—to her fate.
But no...to her surprise, it wasn't the Ink Demon. It was someone almost just as dangerous, so she knew, at least: Sammy Lawrence, the studio's eccentric music director gone mad. Confusion was the primary emotion now; what could he want with her, a Lost One that had pretty much been forgotten, sitting out of the way?
"Ah...there you are...another one of the flock gone astray," the figure of ink, so human-looking that it still hurt to see, spoke in that calmly eerie voice...but...there seemed to be something else there in his tone too. Something...warm? "Fear not...I've followed your pitiful sobs here to you, as I have with each of the others here. I've come to help spirit you away to a better place. For now, we are finally going to be set free, as I have always believed," he reveled, his hands raising in the air and fingers curling in essential glee.
Then, through that familiar ruined Bendy mask, his eyeless gaze fell back to her, and he reached out his hand. "Come, stand, and walk through. All will be made clear when you reach the other side."
Lacie let out another hiccup of a sob, and she was paused, thinking. A part of her was...actually hopeful. There were only two ways this could go, after all, looking at that void on the wall behind him: back to the Ink, where she would be pulled apart...or somewhere new, somewhere free, as the prophet said.
Another hiccup, and then, she reached out a quivering hand and was pulled slowly back on equally-shaky limbs. Sammy led her onward, his free hand lightly on her back. "There we go...in you go, little sheep...once on the other side, just follow the directions to the door." His voice, which should have unnerved her, was somehow instead a little encouraging. Partially intrigued, partially scared, mostly numb, Lacie made her way to the portal.
Sammy watched as she gave one last look behind her, quaking as if she were freezing, and stepped inside. Her form was encased in black, and once she was gone, he closed it behind her, before promptly making an exit for himself with a sigh.
Watching the performance from near the entrance to the R&D Department, where they wouldn't be seen, were Allison and Tom. The latter was keeping a vigilant lookout, while the former was leaning casually on the wall with her arms crossed. She had a smirk when the music director reformed again from the wall.
"I gotta say, you're still a ham...but, I guess I can believe now that you're a good ham."
"Well, gee whiz, I hope there isn't a side of eggs with me too," Sammy quipped back and crossed his own arms, rolling his head as if he were rolling his eyes. Then, he thoughtfully scratched his chin. "Actually, it's quite fascinating. Here we've been back in the 'real' side of the cursed studio, for about a good hour or two, and yet...I haven't lost anything of myself. I've still regained what I have of my memories from the Toon side."
Allison nodded, her expression deeply thoughtful. "I know, it's so strange. I'm still even feeling bits of myself return now, though pretty slowly. That place really does have a freeing effect. All the more reason to believe in it." She glanced up at her compatriot. "You think so too, Tom?"
The wolf mimicked Sammy's thoughtful pose, nodding, though he still kept a rather surly, uncertain look about his eyes.
Sammy hummed. "Well, something to think about for later. Anyhow, I believe that would be the last of the Lost Ones that mill around the studio. I believe none of them ever lurk up beyond Level P."
"That'd be my experience, too," Allison hummed, looking around as she kept a cautious hand on her sword. "Now...if that's all of them..."
"Then our work here might be done," Sammy finished for her with a sigh. "Thank God. Now we just gotta get outta here and let Henry know to do his thing..."
Suddenly, out of nowhere, there came a loud, piercing screech from outside into the main warehouse, which silenced the three of them and put them immediately on edge.
The sound's echo soon died down, but it still left a feeling of sadness and dread...and familiarity.
Tom's metal fist punched into his gloved hand, signifying that he knew a fight was coming. Allison drew her sword. "Was that the Projectionist?"
"...It was...and I even remember who he is, too, or was..." Sammy shook his head. "Poor Norman."
"Norman..." Allison echoed, and then gasped as she whirled around on him. "Norman Polk? He's...all this time...oh, oh God..." her free hand rubbed at her temples. "I can't believe it. He was always a decent guy...maybe a bit gruff, but...I never thought..."
"Never think that anyone could escape this place, Miss Pendle," Sammy pointed out with his arms crossed. "Even Norman couldn't, and now he's too far gone, one of the greater monsters of this level of Hell."
Allison's horrified face melted into one of sadness, and then slowly into thought. She hummed...but Tom could already see the gears turning in her head. He came up in front of her, snapped the fingers of his gloved hand to get her attention, and shook his head with his arms crossed.
"Oh, come on, Tom...I know he's a little too strong to fight. But still, what if...?"
Sammy, having watched this exchange for a second, piped in with a groan, as if he too could read her mind. "Allison, surely you aren't thinking of trying to save him, too...?"
"He was still one of our own, though!" she spoke up. "If he could be brought into the other side, like us, like the Lost Ones...look, if there's even a slim chance that he could be healed, I'd like to at least try! But I do agree that I don't want to do it in a way that gets us sent back. Those ink pools he likes to roam around in are still dangerous to us."
"Dangerous to you," Sammy corrected. "I can still travel the void unhindered...so long as the Ink Demon isn't within reach." Then, he realized what he just said, and raised his hand with a finger pointed up before the other two could chime in. "No, no, I am not going to bait him. And even if that works, all we can really do is lead him to the portal back. Once there, there's no guarantee that he'll even cooperate; he's all but a raging beast now, nothing but instinct and bare of mind!"
"We still have to try...somehow. There's got to be a way...we've come this far. If the toons can be determined to save everyone and be extraordinary, then so can we!" Allison clenched her fists and raised her sword, creeping back through the entrance hall back to the warehouse, "Let's just try, guys. If it doesn't seem like we can get him out with all of us, then we'll leave him, alright? C'mon, put your heads together and think!"
She marched on with her back raised and a determined gleam in her eye, while the boys walked carefully behind. Sammy couldn't help but shake his head and mutter to Tom. "That's some kinda gal you got there, Connor."
"Tell me about it."
Tom's gloved hand suddenly whipped up to clap against his mouth, while both of his comrades turned to stare, one with frozen incredulity and one with her mouth gaping wide.
Finally, it was Allison who stepped up, furrowing her brow. "...Tom? Did you just...talk?"
The Boris-like wolf slowly removed his hand, noticing that he could now move his mouth a little better than he could before, and cleared his throat. A voice, one that he hadn't heard in ages, rough and gritty, came out. "Uh...I guess I did."
While Allison marveled at her companion's newfound skill for a moment, Sammy hummed a chuckle of disbelief. "The marvels of the Toon World."
"Tom, is that all that you can do right now? Do you remember anything else? Did you remember?" The former voice actress was all over him now, looking him up and down and holding on to his arms.
"Ugh...I dunno," he slowly spoke, lightly brushing her off and feeling his own jaw. "Just been slowly feelin' a bit...more whole, I guess? Wish I could fully say yet. But hey, yeah...guess this is...good..."
"Well, he's articulate, at least," Sammy hummed with a little sigh. "But, we shouldn't be milling around, if we're still planning on the folly of rescuing the Projectionist."
Biting her lip, the ink-woman groaned and stepped away from her comrade. "You think of anything else, Tom, let me know, alright? Meanwhile...yeah, let's try to do this thing."
"Joy...maybe now I can reason with it," the toon-like man muttered...though he was now thoroughly starting to think...and slowly, starting to remember.
Betty nervously watched around the banister from the corner of her eye as she further surveyed her room, trying to hear for any noises other than constant, faraway dripping. She prayed every so often for her friends' safety, and for their plans to work. The seasoned toonette didn't worry about getting set free...sooner or later she always was, whether by her own wit or someone else's bravery.
It had been a few hours since she found herself in her little prison box, and during that time the Ink Demon would barely communicate with her beyond a few curious looks. He was now off patrolling somewhere else in the Studio, as he did every little bit. Thanking the good powers that she hadn't lost her bag in the Ink, she would rummage for her endless supply of sandwiches whenever she felt peckish. To stave off boredom, she would try to play little instruments that she'd also find while rummaging, from an old kazoo to a harmonica that was still whistling like it was brand new. She was cautious with any notes that she played, however...they echoed long and loud up into the endless expanse of ceiling.
Betty was interrupted from her latest little self-concert when she heard the telltale opening of an inky portal by the door on the other side, followed by the wobbly, shambling steps of the Ink Demon as they sloshed back into the room.
She promptly stopped her playing, in case the creature didn't like it so much; she could never tell how he seemed to be feeling, but still remembered that he could be quite volatile. It was a shy blessing that he was even still keeping her alive for the time being.
"Hey again...how's everythin' out there, Bendy?" she asked, trying to at least keep up the small talk. She had to see if she could get the creature to show some sort of hopeful change from its time in the Toon World.
Upon the name, the creature slowly lifted his head and growled at her, as if out of a bit of annoyance, but kept walking toward his sitting perch on the banister to watch her.
Betty let out a tsk, hands on her hips as she stood up from the floor of the cage. "Well, at least lemme know whatcha wanna be called, if ya don't like that name. Y'don't seem ta like 'th' Ink Demon', either. Inky Bendy? Tall, Dark, n' Inky? Help me out here, hon."
The lanky beast seemed to ponder that, lowering his head just a smidge as if to stare at the floor, before raising his glove-less hand to call up his jet-black writing on the wall.
"Aw, there ya go, that wasn't so hard," she soothed and sat down again. "I didn't wanna be rude callin' ya somethin' ya didn't like."
He seemed to regard her for a few moments longer, before he raised his hand again, and she turned to look at his reply.
Do you not
"...Well, y' haven't hurt me...I don't see no reason not ta be civil with ya. Heck, I've even sang n' danced with my captors before. Oh, y'should hear th' story of the Old Man of the Mountain, what a kook he was..."
She was interrupted by another seething growl, and the writing came again.
Are all of you
In this world
Betty couldn't help but chuckle and roll her eyes up in thought. "Well, most of us Toons are, in our own ways...'strange' is how ya look at it, really," she shrugged. "What is it that makes me strange ta you?"
"Oh...well, I guess ya ain't met many chatterbugs...oh! Or...any kinda nice people whatsoever," Betty thought after a pause, looking at his words as they slowly dripped down the wall. She looked at him sadly. "Did nobody ever think ta talk to ya before?"
The dripping ink shifted.
I was shut away
"Well...shoot, I can see why ya'd be mad," Betty agreed. "But, still...ya got me now, talkin' to ya without any anger or fear, n' such...I wanna understand, and help ya. Won'tcha gimme a chance, Bendy? I'll getcha out too if ya want."
There was a long and unsettling pause where he stood frozen, his sketchy smile the only thing quivering lightly on his face, not even his breathing moving his lanky frame.
Betty decided to be the one to break the silence, taking a deep breath. "Can ya at least think about it, fer me? Fer the sake a' anyone...anything...ya must care about?"
His head tilted slowly...first left, then right...before he finally made another message, raising his arm as delicately as if he were tired of using it.
Is all I have.
I will not lose it.
You will stay here
And the others will come for you
And they will be
Where they belong.
He then turned his back before Betty could think of something else to say, and another inky portal opened before him, admitting him into the darkness of his being. The room was deathly quiet again, as if the very air had been sucked out in his wake. Betty dropped back to her knees on the floor of the cage once he was out of sight, hands gripping the bars, and watching worriedly after him.
...Gotta admit, this one's a toughie.
Down further into the depths of the real-world Studio, there often lay several chambers with ink covering the floor that the Projectionist liked to keep to himself when he wasn't roaming around. Much like his old self, he tended to stay in the dark and dreary parts...because he was his own walking light, it was easiest for him to see any intruders in those depths.
It was also easy for the hunting ink beings to find the creature, through the piercing screams he emitted upon discovering something that didn't belong in his domain. They lurked carefully out of sight from his latest haunt, just a tiny room in an off-shoot of the warehouse where they stashed everything of the failed Bendyland. Once the men had caught up with an overly-determined Allison, a plan was formed that they would lead the beast through a portal that led into the Lost Ones' shanty town on that side.
There, he would be trapped, tied up, and dragged to the Toon World, to see if anything of Norman Polk still lurked inside him.
Although the Projectionist was a creature more of sight than of sound, Allison and Tom still whispered among themselves, while they waited for Sammy to return; he'd gone quickly to warn the Lost Ones of what was happening.
"...I swear if he doesn't return soon, the first thing I'll do when I find him is take an ax to the side of his head," Tom grumbled.
"He'll come," Allison reassured as she kept flicking her gaze to the entrance of the room. They couldn't yet see the light of the Projectionist's flickering lens, but they could hear his sloshing footprints through the abyssal black liquid, and the clicking of his wires and film-less reels echoing in the distant corners. "He hasn't failed us yet...or hasn't tried to." She looked back to him again, a more comforting look in her eyes. "Now, how are you feeling? Are things still coming back to you?"
"...Yeah," the wolf-like man rubbed the side of his head with his gloved hand. "Feels kinda like things are dripping through a sieve in my brain. Y'know like when a word fails you, and it's on the tip of your tongue, it's there, you just can't quite get it? That's what it's like. I'm rememberin'...working on things. Fixing, building...I remember some of the co-workers." He then snorted. "I remember tryin' to teach Wally Franks how to..."
"-Shh!" Allison hissed quietly as they backed up against the wall. "He's coming."
Sure enough, the light of the Projectionist came flickering in, followed by the monster himself, lurching with every heavy footfall, carrying the burden of a very heavy piece of machinery. In one hand, to their slight disgust, he carried the dead heart of a slain monster...one of the off-model Butcher Gang members, perhaps. He stopped, swaying for a moment to balance himself on bent knees, and deposited the heart into a box with a pile of them. Then, slowly, he started again on his endless patrol.
Once the coast was clear, the pair let out a breath. "To think I once thought ol' Norman couldn't get more unnerving," Tom hummed. "...I hope this works."
Allison gave a quick chuckle. "You're getting optimistic now, huh?"
"Well, darlin', your optimism's infectious," he smirked back. "Or heck, maybe it's the Toon World really doin' its thing like Betty Boop said..."
He paused as his words drifted off into thought, and they met each other's gaze for a lingering moment. Another small memory dripped back into both of them then; how the other looked when they were human. Tom, a rough and stern-looking man with a strong and almost fatherly demeanor, and Allison, a talented no-nonsense voice actress.
It was only a flash of a memory, but it was gone as soon as it came, and they were left looking at the way they were now: inky beings with very little left of their humanity, color-less and tired eyes to black pie-cut pupils.
Allison breathed out a sigh and turned away, resting her back against the wall. "Wow...w-we knew each other before...but that's not too surprising. No wonder we found each other again here."
"...Yeah...well," he shook his head rapidly, "We ain't losing each other again, that's for damned sure...now where the hell is Lawrence?"
"Behind you, tough guy."
The pair whirled around, facing Sammy as he seemed once again to pop up unnoticed, smugly leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.
Allison and Tom lowered their respective weapons, letting out simultaneous annoyed sighs. "Jeez, Sam, don't do that," she chided.
"Sorry, I still get a kick out of catching people by surprise," the old music director couldn't help but chuckle as he kicked off the wall. "Anyway, I let the Lost Ones know that they'll have a guest coming down to 'em soon...they assured me that they can rally up and take him down. They also found ol' Jack Fain, to my surprise...still a Searcher, but a lively one...now there's just Norman. We gotta really hustle now though..." he then turned and jerked his thumb right next to him, revealing the inky portal he made in the wall, "Those take a lot out of me to maintain once I build them."
"Then let's hustle," Allison nodded as she and Tom made to walk a little more closely to the entrance. They still couldn't cross the ink pond on the floor, but thankfully, the timing was perfect. They saw the beast turning the corner, slowly approaching...
Then, with an expert throw from his mechanical arm, an old soup can was tossed, and flew through the air to hit the Projectionist squarely in the flickering lens.
The monster started running as soon as it released that ear-shattering screech, making the two ink beings pause in their tracks as they held their ears, and thus catching them within the deadly light.
"Run, you two!" Sammy practically roared, thankfully getting their attention as the Projectionist caught up and nearly grabbed them as he rounded the corner and set foot on the stairs. Allison and Tom were rushing up at full tilt, hand in hand, while Sammy tried to stay still as he willed the portal to stay open...though doing so was putting more and more of a drain on his energy. C'mon, c'mon...
Allison counted in her head until the second they separated, hoping that the Projectionist would keep running through the hole once they reached the wall. 3...2...1...NOW!
The pair let go of each other and ran in two different directions, leaving the monster to only face the black entryway.
But, to their horror, it stopped its run just mere inches from the wall, the projector head looking rather animalistic as it regarded the portal with curiosity.
So it does have something of a brain, thought Tom as he made a split-second decision, whirling up behind the beast to kick it through the hole.
The beast let out another screech as it fell into the Void opened by Sammy, only for the voice to be cut short as it closed, leaving the trio once more in eerie silence.
After a few seconds of catching their respective breaths, some uneasy chuckles were let out. "Damn thing felt like kickin' a lead soccer ball," Tom rasped out.
"I'd say more a hundred-pound rubber soccer ball," Sammy snorted. "Anyway, boss-lady," he seemed to grin with his voice as he regarded Allison, "I do believe that's all of our wayward souls?"
"If not all, as many as we could save," she nodded and pursed her lip thoughtfully, "The rest is up to Henry and the gang."
"Let's skedaddle up there, then," Sammy hummed as they started walking. "It'll take a minute for my energy to return...if we make our way walking now, it'll be easier to make it back down to the shanty town."
"Yeah...but we can't walk for too long," Allison pointed out, her eyes wandering in every direction, "The Ink Demon's still around somewhere."
"Ohh yeah, there's him...okay, let's see if we can just make it out of the warehouse, and then to a gondola. Once we hit another part of the studio proper, we can portal down."
"Good idea...and by the way, Sammy...thanks. I dunno about Tom, but in my book, I'd say you've proven yourself a changed man."
"Changed over twice, I'd say," he snorted. "But, yeah...I should do the decent thing and thank you for giving me a chance, Miss Pendle."
Meanwhile, as the conversation was going on, Tom was starting to think a little more on all the memories tricking in...mostly focusing on the ones where he was working diligently on something...familiar, and suddenly to his waking mind, very important.
Then, as they were walking past a small office, he spied the logo of the Gent corporation on the door. Furrowing his brow, he followed the sudden urge to push open the door and look into the small space.
"...Tom?" Allison was heard from behind, suddenly noticing that he wasn't all there with them. "What's up?"
The wolf seemed to barely hear her as he carefully peered onto the top of the desk inside, and moreover at what had been left on the desk...a detailed and finely-crafted blueprint.
And as soon as his eyes wandered over the title of the print...The Ink Machine...
Suddenly, it was like the sieve in his mind was sliced open, allowing the memories inside to utterly pour like a waterfall that for a moment blinded his senses. He saw himself in the past, working endlessly on the Machine and the pipes that made up its blood-like network through the Studio.
He saw himself arguing continuously with Joey Drew...he saw himself wondering how to keep the Ink Demon in check when he was first created...he saw himself overseeing many other monstrous, cruel ideas from this morally and literally bankrupt creator...
And most of all, he remembered...everything. Everything of the mechanical workings of that horrible machine...including what was to happen if...
Oh God...oh god, no...
The toon-like man suddenly wrenched himself upright, tearing his gaze away from the blueprints, at hearing Allison's warm voice. He turned around to see her with a concerned look, and Sammy with a tilt of his masked head, looking a mix of impatient and curious.
"Tom, you look like you've seen a ghost," Allison remarked, touching his arm. "What's...?"
"Allison, I remember...I-I remember...everything..."
"...Everything of what?"
He grabbed the blueprints from behind him and unfurled it to show her. "The Ink Machine. I...I'm the one who built it. For Mister Joey Drew! I remember now! All those god-damned ideas of his, all this...this madness! I helped! I worked on it!" He held his head in his hands, looking about to double over. "I...no, all this pain, all this...these monsters, the Ink Demon..."
"Connor, easy, breathe!" Sammy ordered as he walked in beside Allison. "Your memories are flooding; the same thing happened to me. You need to calm down and sort it out."
For a few seconds, Tom just let himself take deep breaths as the memories stopped pouring and were reduced to something more of a trickle. The methodical man that he was, he focused mainly on the inner workings of the Ink Machine, everything that he had to do, everything he had to build...
...Including every fail-safe...like in case of what happened if the Machine were turned off without the proper procedures.
Suddenly, he stood up straight, his brow furrowed deeply in determination. "We have to find Henry, now, before he turns off the Machine."
"Well, that's still what we're planning to do..." started Sammy, only for him to be roughly grabbed by the shoulders by the other man.
"Not later, Lawrence. NOW. If Henry and the others start on anything before us, we might have a disaster on our hands. Trust me on this. Let's go!"
Allison and Sammy could only trade worried glances as the toon-man shoved between them and started running, hoping that what they found wasn't really as dire as it felt it would be.