a flickering light
Night comes fixing on the day
And the universe reigned again
While the wheels roll, it all glows a flickering light
He discovers the meaning of 2's utterances in quick succession, no, we're not alone. 6, 5, 1 and 8 are like him – like 2, cut from the same cloth but strikingly different. 5 and 6 are similar enough, he thinks, but 1 and 8 are jaded, controlling and arrogant. They impose rules in a lawless world with thinly veiled threats and professions of knowledge. They are safe in their cathedral, or as safe as they can be without the beasts knowing their location. 9 is a threat to that, he bucks against the status quo, despite 1's version of the truth. How can they not see? They've been running for so long they don't know anything else, he tells himself. Did they intend to wait forever?
Not so long ago, humanity battled machines, the world was hell around them and they struggled to survive on the front lines, dodging both sides. Mankind could never hope to win, but this was unknown until it was too late. The gas the machines released killed everything. They fled the fighting, taking refuge together and waited, but some were lost along the way – never to return – like 2. 9's head races with loose ends...
Why was the beast hunting them? Why did the war begin in the first place? What happened to the others? Where did it take 2? Why did it take 2? Why were they not fighting? What was that thing he found when he woke up? Why was 'he' always drawing it? Why did the Beast take it? Why was 2 out in the wilds alone?
Questions, he discovers, are not well liked. Pointless, they invite danger – but he can't let it go. 2 is still out there. Something in his workings won't let him leave it be. It's like abandoning a part of himself, of them – but he is the newest, the child of the group despite his higher number. He hadn't lived through war, suffering and death like the others, he is a product of the destruction, an undiscovered seed – though he is sure 1 prefers to name him a curse.
He doesn't know what he is, but he knows he can't leave 2 to die.
with radio wires
While you were sleeping i was the turning the dials
And i walled up your kingdom with radio wires
And the bells of the choir came in low and rumbling
...aw you should a heard them
It takes some convincing but fearful 5 eventually agrees to go find 2. They travel together with a hand-drawn map and as they go, he tries to imagine what the world was like before all this happened. Its hard without reference, but amuses him none the less. He keeps his pondering to himself, content to let 5 ramble. The closer they get to the factory, the harsher the weather becomes and the duo are forced to take shelter in the old trenches. Life before got close to ending the conflict it seems, why else would there be encampments this near to the source? It shakes him to think this quiet long dead world could have been avoided, but like everything else its just guess work.
He puts a hand to 5's shoulder as he glances at the light staff he constructed on the fly from various parts laying around and 2's hat. "Don't worry," he says, "We'll find him." 9 sounds so sure and he can see the effect his confidence has on the other StitchPunk. 5 seems to brighten but there's hesitation in his voice, accusation, a little knowing and bemusement.
"You know, you're just like him. You forget to remember to be scared."
He was too young to truly know fear, real fear – sure the Cat Beast was frightening but – his desire to know more somehow tempered his worry. So he carried on, barrelling into the maw of danger, curiosity fuelling his every step.
calling up above
Living here in this city on fire, well i’ve been fine
Just dancing drunk above the street
Me the ghost of caroline
"What were you thinking?"
He wasn't thinking at all. He didn't know, he repeats over and over in his head. He's sorry. So sorry. He never meant for to 2 die, at all, let alone the way he did, screaming as the very life was pulled from him. He just wanted to know what the talisman was for, but 2 paid a horrible price for his insatiable need for answers. Now the B.R.A.I.N and its horrible factory was awake, bringing uncertainty and the era of a new war. The sudden realization of guilt weighs heavily on him all the way to the hiding place of 3 & 4, lead there by 7 the most athletic and nimble of them all, and the only female. 5 seems happy to see them and meeting new numbers takes something of his pain away, at least for a moment.
9 can't help but think of the mural at the entrance that reflected how the world was before, everything was green and full of life. He wonders if 2 knew this, or had seen what they'd seen. Something he recognises as grief and regret blossoms in his fledgling soul and he wants to make sure 7 and 5 know just how sorry, truly sorry he is, but words seem pointless in the face of their loss, so he keeps quiet – he's caused enough trouble.
3 & 4, full of history and knowledge, show them the truth 1 neglected to mention. The origin of B.R.A.I.N is laid bare and they witnessed the ignorant mistakes of those who came before. Science, so adored, became the enemy and everything was lost – making the world it was today – but it still doesn't explain the talisman – or why 6 always draws its symbols.
They have no choice but to go back to 1. 7 isn't so sure, but there is no other option in 9's eyes, he caused this mess. It is his very stitching that took 2, re-awoke the machine and brought doom to them all. It was his fault. He had to make it right and 1 wasted no breath in telling him of his mistakes despite his defiance.
"Ever since you got here, everything has been unraveling. You're a curse, a fool! Guided by pointless queries."
"And you are a blind man. Guided by fear!"
bet that i might
Watch the wheels roll to find another place home
While you were sleeping, you bet that i might
Walk this empty northern hemisphere wide
With the destruction of the Cathedral thanks to one of B.R.A.I.N's soldiers, they have little choice but to find shelter elsewhere. Things seem grim. 9 knows there will be more creatures like the bird – his fault – he can't help but look defeated as he stares at the night sky, wondering what will become of them all. He's lucky, he supposes, that they don't cast him out and make him fend for himself. They're all each other has, that much is clear and they have to stick together or risk a much darker fate. 3 & 4 discover literature among the great books of scientists past and though he can't make sense of the drawings, 6 tells him to go back. But go back where? Nothing is clear, except 1's betrayal. He sent 2 out to die for being like 9, curious and ever seeking answers to their existence.
7 rushes forward, intent on killing 1 for his deed, but 9 calls out to her. He doesn't have to explain there's been enough death and fighting, she just seems to know and runs off in her grief.
Go back. Back to the first room, where he woke, alone and without guidance. He knows the truth is there, what they need is somewhere among the dusty shelves and singular corpse covered in paper.
There are so many frayed threads holding them together, it’s a wonder they're not tangled in the mess.
Another of the B.R.A.I.N's hideous creations attacks and steals away 8 and 7. 9 refuses to hide, to bow to the monster that seems intent on wiping them out. He can't let what happened to 2, happen to them as well. He wouldn't be able to live with himself, its enough he has to contain the sorrow, but 1 is always so intent on reminding him what he's done. He bottles it up though and forges on, there's greater things at risk than how he feels.
At the very least they get to give 2 a proper goodbye.
By the time he arrives in the belly of the beast, its much, much too late for 8. His soul is sucked into the machine and all 9 can do is gasp as another of their friends is taken. He's failed yet another. 7 is next in line it seems, but he cannot let it happen to her, he refuses, so he shouts and wails, drawing the attention of B.R.A.I.N's creatures, desperation fueling him forward. He barely escapes with 7, unable to drag 8's corpse out but B.R.A.I.N gives chase and they're forced to run. The others band together to destroy the machine and with one grand explosion, it seems as though that's the end of it.
3 & 4 play an old song through a contraption 9 doesn't know the name of and he stands by 7 with a smile on his face.
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
There's a land that I've heard of once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream,
Really do come true.
Someday I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops,
High above the chimney tops,
That's where you'll find me.
Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can't I?
If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?
This is their new start, who knows what will happen now? So many questions are still unanswered and they whirl in his head like the record on the player as he absorbs the lyrics and melody, listening to his very first taste of music. The victory was hard won. The loss of 8 & 2 make it heavy and it sits wrongly in his chest, like his wires are out of place or a stitch is loose.
A distant clambering sound cuts through the atmosphere and in the distance, something large and looming throws up dust and dirt.
He should have known it was too good to be true.
He should have known he wouldn't get off that easily.
5 runs for his life but there's little any of them can do as he's gained upon with frightening speed and is murdered before their very eyes by B.R.A.I.N. 5's screams are imprinted in his mind along with the others and he cringes as his limp form is thrown to the ground like trash. The remaining numbers flee, 6 screams but they have no time to listen to his ramblings. At least, not until he's begging them not to destroy the machine even though he's within its grasp and ready to be devoured. They're trapped inside he says but 9 doesn't quite understand. At least not at first.
"Go back! To the first room! Go back, he'll show you! The first room!"
In a flash of green light 6 is gone and 9 hangs his head as another void fills his soul. He argues with the others against destroying it but they won't listen. They're gone 7 says but he is unwilling to accept that reality. He needs to fix this, no matter the cost, even if it takes his life, he needs to protect those who remain. This is his fault after all, but he never makes it back.
On his way through the streets something goes wrong, a black gas fills the air and he wonders for a horrifying moment if this is B.R.A.I.Ns doing, if the machine decided to develop a new weapon to destroy them all and lock them inside its hulking body.
He never gets answers.
There's something different about the cloud, something wrong that doesn't feel like them, like its mechanical or made from the same hands. Its dark, cold and it gives him a feeling of dread so strong he can do nothing but run from its destructive path despite his mind screaming at him to go back for 7, 1 and 3 & 4. He runs, and runs, and runs, dodging and hiding where and when he can.
He has no choice, its that or die and though he feels like giving up, he can't, for everyone they've lost and the part he played – he has to keep going, so he does. He clambers through the rubble and a world gone dim, walking for what feels like days, maybe weeks until he stumbles upon something curious that he can't help but approach. Caution is thrown to the wind, who can he hurt? No one but himself now, so he steps forward, blinded by light.
it all fell down
And the kingdom it came, well it all fell down
It all fell to dust
He hums to himself as he waters the plants in his garden. 8 grow pride of place among the display. One for each of those that he lost – it feels like a lifetime ago now. If he stands still, he can almost hear the clanking of machinery and the bitter wind of a dead world. It chills him to the bone, he has those now, even if they feel wrong. 9 – Ethan, mutters apologies to his greenery as he goes. It’s a far cry from actually making his mistakes right, but its something. It is something.
A life, for each life that was left behind.
They would love this world, he thinks, 8 and 1 the least perhaps, but still – still.
He hasn't given up hope, yet. He goes back regularly and looks, calling out into the bleak beyond for any signs of familiar life, its not a question of if, but when and he holds onto that with every thread that's left of him.
However frayed and thin they are.