EDIT: Added a bit where Joy goes through Abstract Thought, can't believe I forgot about that...
A/N: Hello, guys! I'm BAACCCKK! (I know, the Independence Day reference would have been more fitting if I updated a month ago) I know, I know it's been a while since I've updated, a lot longer than I initially planned. Whoops. ^^; First was sick, then went on vacation, then was doing other things, then got into Undertale more and rekindled my love for Phantom of the Opera (as those of you who noticed my Phantom-of-the-Opera-inspired Undertale AU fic know), etc. o yeah, lot of stuff, but now I'm finally, finally back to update this (really got to update the other IO fics too, come to think of it) and to be perfectly honest, when I was looking over last chapter to reorient myself to where we are in Intercom and where we're going, I found myself getting some of my motivation back for this story and the parts that are to come. So thanks so much for being patient—and yeah, I know I said a few days ago I'd try to update by Saturday and technically I'm a couple hours off my time, but it's still Saturday somewhere, so yeah. XD
Also, seeing as I read the TV Tropes pages (so everyone who's added to those, you guys are awesome!) I know that there was a bit of questioning on how I stated previously that the Writing By the Seat Of Your Pants trope (i.e. "making stuff up as you go") applied at first, but then the full plot got going, though given how many of the Wild Mass Guessings and the like turned out to be true, there was some questioning on if I really was or not. And I honestly meant to mention this in the Interlude chapter, but I forgot to. So I will now:
As far as "the plot being fully formulated", I initially had said that quite a few chapters ago. And in fact, those basic plot structures that I had in mind are still present. But there has been a lot of "writing as I go along" admittedly, and I have to say that you guys have actually helped Intercom be what it is. Your guys' comments (not just on the trope pages, but on the reviews as well) have inspired a few things, and there's also been points where I've been impressed at the level of speculation you guys have been able to come up with.
So, have I had the whole plot planned out, or am I making it all up as I go, which is it? Laying all my cards on the table, I'd say a mix of both, sometimes the "as I go" stuff spring up on-the-spot. For instance, the whole thing with Isolation Island? I got the idea for that entire subplot while I was in the middle of writing the chapter where it first appears. It's funny how ideas can come up.
Also, Eric, to answer your question from your chapter 23 review regarding Ann and Jordan knowing each other, the way I see it things go like this. Ann and Jordan were friends several years prior, then they fell out of touch, Ann got involved with Tracy and her group, and Riley brought them back together, :) And Randomness Girl, Anger saying "Hot Belgian waffles" having you think of Gravity Falls is completely intentional. ;)
Enough of my long note—enjoy this long-overdue chapter that I made sure to be long to make up for the 2-4 month wait time!
Joy felt a violent shudder go down her spine, though she wasn't sure if it was all from her own unease or the rumble caused by whatever Island of Personality was falling. Mentally calculating what was the best way to go, and without a map to guide her, Joy threw caution to the wind and raced through the lanes of memories, both keeping an eye out for more cores and trying to get a sight of which Island was collapsing. Because that was definitely a more catastrophic sounding rumble than just growing unsteady.
"Okay," Joy tried to tell herself as she ran. "Okay, okay, come on, Joy, be positive. Maybe it's not so bad, maybe it's Isolation Island that's falling. Yeah, that's gotta be—"
Another turn down the lanes to face the chasm of the Memory Dump where the Personality Islands overhung, the towering forms of Science and the defunct form of Goofball meeting her gaze on either side. She slowly craned her gaze toward the right to see the state of any of the others. Friendship looked battered but still standing, Tragic Vampire Romance was okay...
But Joy's expression fell almost instantly as she could see the remains of one of the other Islands falling. Though the place where it had been was covered up by some of the other Islands, her expression contorted into one of horror when she saw the shape that was rapidly descending below. It wasn't Isolation.
Family Island was falling into the Memory Dump as if it were nothing more than blocks a child had knocked over.
"NO!" Joy practically scrambled to the cliff, skidding to a halt to prevent herself from tumbling downward as she watched what she was powerless to stop. Of course, she knew that shouting would do nothing, and her sheer disbelief and horror at what had occurred wouldn't cause the Island to spring back up no matter how much she willed it. If Riley were physically in the Mind World, with what she could do, maybe she could fix it...
But by the state of things, it would seem that Riley wouldn't exactly be in the mood for fixing anything like that. Riley was awake and Outside, and Joy wasn't Riley no matter how much she tried to emulate that in the past. All the emotion could do was watch helplessly as the powered-down Island slowly descended into the cavernous hole that brought up unpleasant memories even for Joy. And now it had a further negative thought to add to the list.
Breaking herself out of her shock, she gave a quick glance around to see if she could pinpoint her location. The Islands with their core memories still intact appeared perfectly fine, and she could see that Friendship one of the closest, dark as it was, looked battered up but not fallen. Not collapsed into the Memory Dump like Family had done...
Joy tried not to think about what had corresponded Outside to result in Family Island's collapse and Friendship's damage, instead trying to focus her attention on what was going on and where she was. Her gaze flickered toward Headquarters, shining far above like a beacon of hope in these dark circumstances. Home seemed even farther away now than it had last year...
Turning her gaze away from her home, Joy looked from the Islands to Long Term, getting her bearings. So if she was near Science and Goofball... that meant she was close to Imagination Land. At least, reasonably speaking.
"Maybe there's something in Imagination Land that can help!" Joy exclaimed, daring to let her mood brighten in a glimmer of hope. "Maybe Riley's imagined something recently that could help with finding the core memories!"
The emotion then moved a few steps over, adopting her more maternal voice. "But Joy," she said as she straightened her posture up, "I don't think Riley will have imagined a Core Memory Locator."
"Well if not, the Train of Thought runs through there!" Joy clapped her hands together, the many shelves of orbs no longer seeming to intimidate her as her pep talk brought some spring back to her step. "And if I can convince the conductor to do a few detours, we can look for the core memories from the air!"
"And see if there's a telescope from Imagination Land to help?"
"Exactly, then I can fix everything and Riley will be on the road to recovery!"
"Sounds brilliant, Joy, I'm so proud of you for not giving up!"
Joy trailed off on the last word, the momentum from her enthusiasm lessened somewhat. In a way it felt good to have these talks of encouragement, even if it really was with just herself and she'd never really have a mom to be proud of her ideas like Riley had with Mrs. Andersen...
The emotions glow dimmed slightly, her speedy walk through the lanes of memories breaking into a run. If the loss of Family Island was any indication, right now Riley appeared to be losing the very kind of parental relationship that Joy secretly had. And she wasn't about to let Riley down again.
With new resolve, Joy swiftly turned back through Long Term's shelves, swiveling her head around with every turn to look for four particularly bright memories or one dangerously gray one. No matter what, she had to find those core memories. She had screwed up, and it was up to her to help Riley in whatever way she could. Even if it meant going through Long Term Memory for who knew how long to find a handful of memories in a sea of multicolored hundreds of thousands.
After all, she was Joy, the leader, the headstrong one. If anyone could find those memories, she could. She had to, at this point—it wasn't like she could rely on anyone else to help now, anyway.
Shaking her head as if to banish the unpleasant image from her own thoughts, Joy raced through the maze of Long Term, looking desperately for any sign of out of place memories or Mind Workers that could help her out. She wasn't sure how far away Imagination Land was from here, but whatever help she could get, she'd take. Riley might have been resisting help from Outside, but Inside was a whole different matter entirely.
"Hello? Anyone here?! I need help finding some bright core memories that really need to go back up!"
"Or a really bad dark memory that's draining color from the other ones!" she added, calling louder but a bit more hesitant on her words.
She waited a few more seconds, head tilted like a rabbit primed for any curious sounds. She heard nothing except her own heartbeat.
Like it or not, she had to keep going. Riley couldn't get back to normal—at least, their new definition of "normal" given the intercom's status—unless she had help. And in order to get help in here to lift the burden of feeling on her own, she'd need to be asleep. But until then, however long that was, Joy couldn't have her friends go from place to place to search for the missing core memories. Nor could she call the Train of Thought down here to make for easier travel. At least not yet.
But at least Joy had the idea of a destination to go on that could hopefully make this search a little easier. Assuming she didn't find all the memories along the way.
And if she didn't, at least Imagination Land could be an easier place to find her when Riley got there.
As Joy continued running, another thought then dawned on her. Abstract Thought. In all likelihood if there wasn't a way for hear to quickly get to Imagination Land from where she was, she might have to go through that place if it was necessary.
As two hours passed Outside, Riley's room stayed relatively silent, both inside and outside her head. No pencil scribblings of the test answers read out to Riley again, only calling up the memories one by one as they were needed. And when she wasn't sure, a few minutes of looking through her notes would cause another orb to roll onto the shelves to hold onto that knowledge with varying degrees of success.
In Headquarters, Disgust, Anger, and Fear stayed near the console, while Sadness was propped near the couch, several of the mind manuals at her side. When the emotions did speak, they practically tiptoed over their words, as if the lack of Joy and the presence of Gloom on the console was sapping all the energy out of Headquarters. Even Riley's movements Outside appeared lethargic and sluggish, as if her state of mind was affecting her physical well-being too. Not wanting to bother Riley too much, the emotions tried to stay silent, but that became harder to do as they looked uneasily at where the recall tube would descend from the ceiling, anxiously waiting for a core memory from Joy. But no more came up.
Fear was wringing his hands together so tightly it was almost as if his fingers would break off. "Shouldn't she have at least found one more by now?"
"Long Term's huge," Sadness pointed out as she flipped through the books. "And I'm not there to help her not get lost this time."
That did nothing to ease Fear's panic. "Well what if something went wrong and Joy hasn't brought anything back because—"
"Shhhh!" Riley hushed from outside.
The emotions all stopped at Riley breaking the silence, Headquarters so quiet that if even a bug had found its way in there they probably could have heard it. After several more seconds in which the only thing that could be heard was Riley's pencil, Anger crossed his arms and glared at the purple emotion.
"Sorry," Fear whispered, moving closer to the other emotions and lowering his voice further. "—because something happened to her out there?" he finished quietly from his previous statement.
"Then we'll go and find her once Riley goes to sleep," Anger hissed. "Joy's Ms. Positive, she can take care of herself. She's the least likely of us to give up searching."
Fear was about to say something in protest, but paused before closing his mouth. "I guess you have a point."
"And it's not like there's anything out there that can hurt her." Anger went on with an exasperated cross of his arms.
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," Sadness mumbled, glancing over toward the gray sky outside Headquarters.
Fear whipped his head over toward Sadness at that, concern rising in his expression. "What do you mean by that?! I thought all the scary stuff was kept in the Subconscious..."
"Given how things are out there, I wouldn't be surprised if there were new things out there, genius," Disgust said. "Remember Imagination Land and the Memory Dump Riley imagined? And need I remind you that was on Riley's mostly good Mind World visit."
"And that's supposed to make me feel better how—?!"
The emotions at the console then experienced the sensation of Riley placing her hands on her ears, even though that wouldn't exactly help her situation. "Shh!"
"... Sorry," Fear murmured timidly.
"Ugh... no, i-it's okay..." Feeling her eyes begin to droop, Riley raised a hand to rub them in an effort to keep herself awake, eventually closing her book. Clearly she wasn't going to be getting any more studying done for tonight, and in any case she felt like she'd rather be in the Mind World right now rather than the outside world. "I've gotten all the studying I can do tonight anyway."
"You, uh..." Disgust seemed almost hesitant to speak directly to the girl they tried to care for. "You think you're ready, Riley?"
"I hope so," Riley mumbled, shoving her book away from her. "Pretty sure I'll pass, at least."
Fear's shoulders slumped in relaxation as he looked from the Mind's Eye screen to the new memories on the shelf. "Whew, that's a relief! Somewhat." He lowered his voice on the last word.
"I heard that," Riley muttered, suppressing the urge to roll her eyes.
Fear flinched, having forgotten just how much Riley could hear them as the girl put away her schoolwork and headed to her closet. "Sorry. We should, uh, probably call up the Train so some of us can meet you down at—"
"You don't have to," Riley said quickly as she picked out her pajamas to wear for the night. "I'll just meet you guys at Headquarters."
"Flying and teleporting, remember?" Anger snapped, nudging Fear on the arm.
"Oh, right..." Though Riley couldn't see him, she could hear the more-nervous-than-usual edge in Fear's voice at the prospect of her traveling from Dream Production's to Headquarters on her own, with the Memory Dump looming like an open mouth between the two destinations.
Riley tried to ignore any of the potential problems that could arise with that, trying instead to keep the focus on that she was going back to the Mind World in the first place. And hopefully be able to set right what she had screwed up. Yet another reason to go through and read the manuals.
She went over to the bathroom, making sure both to be alert for her parents attempting to come upstairs and getting changed without glancing over at the mirror. She didn't need any more interaction or attention being called to awkward situations right now. Not with all the stress, core memory loss, and anxiety she was going through.
Luckily for her, she didn't hear her parents come up by the time she went out of the bathroom, and she peeked her head down the stairs. She could hear her parents talking down in the kitchen, but couldn't quite make out the words. Or perhaps she was partially blocking them out.
Riley hurried back over to her room, shutting the door quietly behind her and heading to bed as she buried herself under her covers. If she pretended to be asleep, then more likely than not she would legitimately be asleep if her parents came up to try to wish her goodnight. Or give her another talk.
After a few moments, Riley let her eyes slowly close. No matter what the little voices inside her head might think, she didn't need her family. What she needed was sleep.
"I'll meet you guys once I can lucid dream again."
Inside her head, the emotions watched the screen of the Mind's Eye vanish, and the sky outside Headquarters darkened to blue. The cloudy shade of the sky due to loss of the core memories was still somewhat present, but with the Mind World's night sky and speckles of stars it didn't seem quite as threatening.
Of course, as the group headed away from the console to look out the windows of Headquarters, that didn't change that about half of the places where the Personality Islands would be alight like Las Vegas were completely dark without the cores, especially with Family Island now completely gone. The fact that the anchoring Island in the center of it all was no longer there seemed almost as if it were a new Memory Dump on its own, or the mouth of a giant monster ready to leap up and swallow anything that tried to cross it.
Pressing the button on the floor to send the memories down to Long Term, Disgust glanced over toward the alcove where the broken intercom was before joining her fellow emotions. "... We really screwed up, didn't we?"
The other emotions murmured their agreement as the sky darkened to evening with stars dotting it. Seeing as it would probably take a short while for Riley to settle into a deep enough lucid dreaming state, the emotions took the opportunity to chat amongst themselves.
Disgust then turned to the tallest of the remaining emotions. "Alright Fear, when Riley gets here, if she starts talking about her little crazy-pill idea, we need you to talk her out of it!"
Fear stiffened a little at being brought to the center of attention, though he knew Disgust was right. "I agree, I know it's bad, but how am I supposed to help?! She doesn't seem to want to listen to anyone—"
"Wrong there, pinhead," Anger interrupted, storming over to Fear and roughly turning the purple emotion to face the Islands of Personality. "What do ya see out there?"
Fear gulped, feeling as if he were on a deadly quiz show and would get hit if he answered wrong. "Well, Family Island's gone, Friendship's shaken up—"
"Exactly," Anger goaded. "Now what's the one other Island out there that deals with people she interacts with?"
"That's the point, nitwit!" Anger said sharply, noticing the Mind World's sky begin to become the color of transitioning dawn, indicating that Riley was now present in the Mind World. "She won't listen to her family, or her friends, but she'll listen to us. Probably namely you because you're always making sure she won't die, so do your Fear thing and talk her out of it!"
Just as Fear was about to respond, there was a brief shimmer of light right near the core memory holder, and soon Riley stood in Headquarters, wearing the same jeans and rainbow-striped shirt that she had worn upon first realizing the extent of her abilities in Imagination Land. Her shoulders slumped, head tilted downward and staring at the ground, the girl looking worn out both physically and mentally. The emotions noticed her sigh before she finally turned around, moving past the core memory holder to face them. The mix of irritation and fear on her face only magnified the desperate concern from the residents of Headquarters. Especially a certain purple emotion.
"Guys, I've told you, I'm—"
"Riley, please don't do what you were thinking of doing!" Fear begged, practically sprinting to the startled human and gripping her hands tightly. His eyes appeared so large from her perspective, wide with anxiety ad desperation, that if Riley didn't know any better, she would have thought the purple nerve's eyeballs were going to roll out of his head. "We don't wan't you getting hurt!"
Both the expression on Fear's face and the pleading in his voice seemed to make Riley pause, staring at him pensively. She didn't even look like she was going to try to push him away from her. While his initial first pleading sentence seemed to have caused a jolt of unease within Riley's consciousness, she seemed to be a bit more willing to listen as he continued.
Alright, Fear, I think you're getting through to her, Disgust thought with relief, giving a glance over to the shimmering core memory in question. Much to her relief, it wasn't flickering. If anyone can get through to her on safety issues the way she is now, you can.
"M-Medications are really risky things," Fear babbled, searching for anything to say to convince their mentally-troubled kid out of another rash decision. He wasn't about to have a worse repeat of last year, "N-None of us are qualified, and you're just a kid, and you don't know the side-effects, and for goodness sake, it's not safe Riley! You're our kid and we don't want you to die!"
All the other emotions stared blankly at Fear's half-rant half-plea, only their eyes steadily looking from Fear to Riley. The purple emotion wasn't moving from his position, staring up at the young human girl with the most piteous expression he could muster. And Riley's blue eyes stared into his purple ones, realization mixed with shock slowly appearing in her eyes as she processed exactly the weight that Fear's words carried. The consequences that could result if she tried to do something drastic like that.
"W-We know from experience that you act rashly when you're upset, and you don't think, and... and..." Fear let out a sigh, averting his gaze for a moment before releasing Riley's arms and looking up at her. "When we first met—I mean, when I first started actually talking to you," Fear corrected himself quickly, "I told you that your safety was my top priority, remember?"
Riley slowly nodded, staring at him as her blue eyes brimmed with uncertainty.
"And I don't think I've ever had to emphasize that as much as I have now," Fear went on, brushing his hands on his vest and still trying to look up at Riley. "We've always been there to protect you for the last 12 years of your life, even when it seemed like no one else was. I-I know we've made mistakes in the past," he continued, glancing briefly back at the others as well before turning his full desperate attention to Riley once more, "but everyone does, and we care about you more than anyone else in the—"
But Fear was suddenly cut off as arms wrapped around him, Riley kneeling down and hugging the emotion close to her chest. The purple emotion stiffened, caught off-gaurd at the sudden hug, but finding it a much better alternative from what he had feared would happen.
The other three emotions looked on cautiously, Sadness daring to hope Fear got through to Riley while Disgust wondered if their girl was going to pull an Anger and try to break the nerve in half. But any thoughts of that possibility of a hug turning into a choke-hold disappeared completely as they noticed that Riley was shaking slightly.
"I... I know you guys care about me..." Riley managed after a few moments, sounding almost as if she were holding back tears. "I just... I'm scared..."
"I-If you do decide to... get medicine," Fear trailed off a moment, "talk to your parents first. They're adults, they know more. But don't go that far... please... not alone... we love you..."
The frown on Riley's face deepened, the young girl clearly not fond of the idea of her parents trying to help after feeling betrayed by them. But at the same time, she knew Fear was right—if she did try to make the voices stop through medication, she'd have to make sure it was the right course of action.
She just had to hope that Plan A could work—if she was lucky, and the emotions could be seen from the Outside, then it could be a way to solve her problems. If not...
As time passed, Riley tried to force herself to forget about her Outside problems. She was here in the Mind World, with her emotions who had been there for her even when she didn't know they were. For the time being, she didn't have to worry so much about threats from Outside. She could just enjoy her Mind World life.
"I can figure this out on my own," Riley said. "At least, without them." She gave Fear a little more of a squeezing hug, glancing at the other three emotions. For the first time in what felt like a while, Riley smiled, small as it was. "I'm not alone with you guys."
"Riley," Sadness said gently, withholding any sense of judgement in her voice and keeping her tone level and understanding. She went over to join the pair, putting a hand on the young girl's shoulder before hugging her as well in some attempt at solace, relieved when Riley seemed to relax a little more in their embrace. "It's okay. You'll be okay."
The trio embraced in the hug looked up to see Anger staring at them. The brick-like emotion wasn't wearing his usual scowl, looking just as worried about Riley as the others. "Look, I hate to be blunt—"
"No you don't," Disgust muttered with a roll of her eyes.
"Will you let me—?!" Anger started, his scowl returning and his eyes narrowed at the green emotion as his fists balled. But noticing the others looking at him warily, the brick tried to force himself to calm down. "Anyway, unless we get those cores back and Joy," he went on as the trio broke off their comforting embrace, "Riley won't be okay. Scratch that, especially Joy. Without her, there's no way Riley can feel happy in the Outside world unless Riley takes control of the console again."
"And I'm never doing that again," Riley insisted, surprising herself by actually managing a laugh. True, it was nothing more than a weak "heh", but at least it was something. The moment she did so, a small smile manifested on her face.
Even Sadness appeared to brighten somewhat at this. "At least I think even being back here with us is helping you. I was starting to think that you might forget how to laugh."
"How could I forget to..."
Riley trailed off, glancing toward the the chasm deep below Headquarters. Right. The Memory Dump.
"Plus," Anger quickly pointed out, gesturing to the console behind them as his stern tone snapped Riley out of her thoughts, "console's still infested. First priority is you fixing the thing, so go over and fix the console!" Anger quickly gestured over to the center of Headquarters, the console looking rather isolated with its grayed hue and the lack of the Mind's Eye screen. "It's already caused us enough problems for the day!"
As Riley approached the construct, she couldn't help but feel intimidated by its appearance. The gray hue hung over it like a curtain of smog that wasn't about to do away. She stepped close to it and lifted a hand, hesitating a moment, as if fearing that the energy of Gloom would seep into her if she dared to touch it. Still, she couldn't think of any other way to get rid of the depressive force and give control of the console back to those who had actually been using it for 12 years.
As the emotions watched with bated breath, Riley closed her eyes and placed one hand firmly on the console, her eyes scrunched in concentration. A white glow broke through the haze, enveloping the console before both it and the gray hue began to fade. Within seconds, the console was back to the same beige color as normal when it wasn't directly in use.
"Alright, Riley!" Disgust called.
"What a relief, it worked!" Fear exclaimed.
"No more creepy Gloom stuff."
"Not exactly, Anger," Sadness said, looking at the red emotion who had spoken. Noticing the smiles fall from the faces of the other emotions, with Riley turning and looking just as concerned. "Gloom was pushed back from the console, that doesn't mean it's completely gone."
"So then let's make it gone," Disgust insisted.
"When something like that comes up, it might not ever really go away," Sadness pointed out, looking surprisingly serious. "Sometimes that kind of thing deals with the Unconscious."
"Sadness... what exactly is the Unconscious?"
The glasses-wearing emotion looked up at Riley's question before waving her hand over toward the couch, gesturing for Riley to sit down beside her. "You guys can sit down too, if you want," she said to the other emotions.
"Oh sure," Anger said sarcastically even as he sat at Sadness's other side, "I'm sure I'd love to hear Mommy Sadness read us a bedtime story about forces and places of horror that the most of the Mind World isn't supposed to even be bothered with!"
Despite the bitter tone in Anger's voice, Riley couldn't help but crack a smile, which in turn gave the emotions a little peace of mind. Any improvement in Riley's mood was helpful.
Clearing her throat as she positioned one of the manuals on her lap, Sadness flipped a few pages into the manual, noticing Riley's intense expression as she seemed to be scanning the pages. "While the Conscious and Subconscious are primarily made up of machinery and workers that help to regulate and maintain the thought processes of the host," Sadness went on slowly, "the Unconscious is an area situated deep beneath the Memory Dump in the Mind World. It doesn't just contain the remnants of fragmented and forgotten memories, but also environments and forces that the host's mind has deemed threatening or uncomfortable, whether purely mental or having a physical effects—"
"But that sounds a bit like the Subconscious," Fear pointed out, sitting on the far right while Disgust was sandwiched between him and Riley. "That's where all the darkest fears go!"
Riley looked a bit uncertain at visiting the Subconscious as she really dwelled on it, but fought down any unease and looked at Sadness. Maybe facing her fears might help her get over the things that scared her about this place—or could just make them worse. "That does sound kinda similar..."
Sadness flipped to the next page and continued. "This differs from the Subconscious in that while the Subconscious deals with physical threats that the host fears as troublemakers in the Mind World, the Unconscious is home to abstract concepts that are at the deepest roots of the psyche of a living—"
"In English?" Anger interrupted.
"The Unconscious has the aspects that originate from the mind and aren't caused by Fear's urging toward something from the outside," Sadness clarified. "Jangles, broccoli, the stairs to the basement... those are all Outside things that can be confronted. The Unconscious, it's... well, it's like Abstract Thought. It's not exactly something that can easily be controlled.
"Like disorders?" asked Disgust.
"I think so."
"Like Gloom?" Riley said slowly, glancing over at the console that was now devoid of the light of any input. Though said force was no longer controlling the console as it had been previously, Riley couldn't help but suppress a shudder at what more could have happened if Gloom was left unchecked for too long.
"Like Gloom," Sadness confirmed. "It has parts of yourself that the Mind World finds too strange or threatening to be part of your Conscious thought processes, or aspects that shape your various concepts and beliefs."
Riley frowned a bit, trying to metaphorically wrap her mind around this. "So it's like the Subconscious and Conscious deal with more specific things like a single plant, and the Unconscious is like a general description of a rainforest that forms into specific plants?"
"Yeah, something kinda like that in principle. So no one ever has to deal with them expect when they... slip through."
"S-Slip through?!" Fear squeaked, gripping Riley's hand so tightly that the young human winced in surprise at the force. "What do you mean 'slip through?'"
"There's ways to get to the Unconscious, but it isn't exactly easy since the Unconscious is supposed to be hidden," Sadness clarified as she closed the manual. "If things can get in, things can get out."
"But how?!" Fear demanded. "Let's just find out where these threats could come from and seal up the Unconscious for good! Then once we get the core memories back, we can help work everything out!"
"It's not as simple as opening and closing a door."
"Why not?" Disgust asked. "It's sections, seems pretty simple to me."
Sadness looked thoughtful, pushing her glasses up a bit before responding. "Because if the Unconscious doesn't have a connection to everything else, it could damage you and the Mind World."
Riley felt her throat tighten. "How?"
"Remember the stream that you saw through part of Imagination Land?"
"The one that went through Storybook Land?" Riley asked, already sounding uncomfortable at the possibility.
"Yeah," Sadness said. "It's where all your conscious thoughts are heard. And if you go far enough down..."
Riley swallowed, her skin becoming noticeably paler, and not just know that she knew about a way to access the Unconscious if done correctly, and so close to her imagined black-hole of a Memory Dump. If Gloom had come from there...
But there was another thought that flickered through Riley's consciousness as well. Her Plan B. If someone investigated the Stream of Consciousness when she was thinking about it, they'd know. And even though she had mentally told the mind workers of her internal world, there was one currently outside of Headquarters who she hadn't told. And who likely wouldn't be too happy with Riley's wishes as much as she loved her time in the Mind World.
The emotion in question had been wandering through Long Term Memory with little success, trying to keep some sort of sense of direction, but it was increasingly difficult. No memory orbs she was looking for, no mind workers wandering about.
And when she finally rounded one bend, she came across that familiar gray building, Imagination Land over beyond it.
"Okay," Joy said, taking a deep breath. "Good news, I'm almost at Imagination Land. Bad news is that I'm going have to go through Abstract Thought to get there."
She carefully approached the building as if it would attack her, stretching on her tip toes to open the door. The building was dark within, the only light the door on the other side. She glanced behind her, checking for any mind workers that might shut her in.
"Okay... just run through and you'll be fine... do it for Riley..."
Without looking back, Joy raced through the building without stopping, her form shining like a beacon in the dark. Despite her speed, with every second going by she feared that she would suddenly find the chamber alight and start to abstract. True, she knew how to deal with it, but it wasn't exactly something she was looking to experience again.
Luckily, Joy burst through the door at the opposite side of Abstract Thought, back into the relative safety of the Mind World's non-abstract workings. Joy let her shoulders slacken with relief, getting her breath back. She had made it.
But her relief at having made it through that Picasso-like nightmare of a place faded. And not just because she hadn't found a single one of the core memories she had been looking for on the way there.
The atmosphere of the Mind World's playground-like area as a whole no longer had the cheery brightness tint that illuminated the area, but instead was beset by a dim presence that reminded Joy too much of Gloom's effects from last year. Only this time, it was worse. The welcoming sign had collapsed to the ground,Trophy Town was bare of most of its prizes, and some of the fries in French Fry Forest were now too crispy to be eaten, far from the "perfect" view that Riley had of them previously. Joy quickened the pace of her run, her bare feet practically flying as she hoped she'd find even a little bit of cheer in Cloud Town. But even that hope was quickly extinguished. While some parts of it looked fine, a majority of the streets and buildings either were gray like oppressive storm clouds or appeared to have dissipated into a heavy fog.
Joy was broken out of her thoughts at a voice she vaguely recognized, staring dumbfounded at the figure who was running toward her. In part because of the fog, it took her a few seconds to realize that it was actually Harry, Riley's imaginary boyfriend, seeing as he apparently had followed Disgust's advice and gotten a haircut, his hair much more like a round frame in contrast to the lion's mane he had sported at their last meeting. The boy stopped running just inches from Joy, bending over and panting heavily.
"Harry? I, uh, almost didn't recognize you..."
"Well, after what Disgust said, I—" The boy abruptly broke off of his speech, any semblance of a pleased demeanor gone to be replaced by the same sort of urgency Joy had been feeling through this whole ordeal. "Wait, no, that's not what's important here!" Harry cried, waving his hands and looking as freaked out as Joy was feeling. "You're from Headquarters so maybe you can help, things are going crazy here!"
Alarm bells instantly rang in Joy's head at that, as if the darkened state of that section of the Mind World wasn't already setting her on edge. "What's wro—"
"Everything!" Harry interrupted, gripping Joy's hand and pulling her along through Cloud Town. "Things are breaking apart, some new guy keeps glitching out like he's suffering through an identity crisis, Cloud Town here's pretty much gone, some freaky memory sphere is here—"
Joy stopped so abruptly that Harry stumbled in his momentum, falling over in a heap before picking himself up again. "Wait, wait, what memory sphere?"
"Two of the Mind Workers just brought it over here a little bit ago," Harry explained. "It's uh, mainly gray, has swirls of blue and green and—"
"And it was pulling the color from other memories?" Joy pressed.
"Yeah! No one was sure what to do with it and they didn't think it was safe to return it to Headquarters—"
"Why didn't they just throw it in the Memory Dump?" Joy insisted as they raced by some fallen Houses of Cards, Joy nearly getting a paper cut on her right foot from one of the edges. "That's what I was going to do in the first place!"
"I think some people thought it could bring bad forgotten memories back or something given what it was doing, but I don't know!" Harry gave a slight shrug as they hurried toward Storybook Land. "It was pulling color from the others and was freaking everyone out, so it's here until further notice!" Despite being obviously unsettled by everything, he looked back at Joy with a smile. "Lucky you're here, you're basically Headquarters' leader! You'll know what to do!"
Joy and Harry both stopped in their running as they entered Storybook Land, passing a few upright sculptures of stories that Riley enjoyed reading, words literally dancing across the pages. But even these seemed to harbor a mannerism that signified less of a spark than normal, and some books that Joy didn't recognize almost seemed to have loving shadows flickering among them.
Joy desperately tried to think of something, anything, to lighten the mood. "So, uh, I see you followed Disgust's advice with the haircut."
"Yeah... you like it?"
"It's better than before, Joy admitted, trying to manage a smile. "How's the, uh, personality thing coming along?"
It it was at that that Harry slowed the pace of his run, causing Joy to give him a queer look. Clearly there was something else alongside the unsettling look of Imagination Land that was bothering him. "I've been trying a bunch of different things," the boy admitted sadly. "I tried being brave and daring leaping across the tops of the fries in French Fry Forest, but I nearly broke my leg. So I decided maybe being brave wasn't my thing after all."
"But you said you were willing to die for Riley before—"
"That was the old me," admitted Harry. "That was before I started learning about things, and before I saw what was going on with Riley. For the first time, Joy noticed that what confidence the imaginary boyfriend had seemed to have been lost. "Riley seems to be struggling with identity as it is, and she literally rules this place. How am I supposed to even figure out who I am with all this happening?"
As as much as it hurt to admit, Joy had no answer.
Passing a few of the towering books as Harry led Joy down a bend in the road, they turned to see a riverbank flowing through the area, the crystal clear water flowing in a winding path as if it were a stream in a fairy tale. And by the stream were Paula, Bobby, and a few other mind workers, and a small wheelbarrow holding Isolation Island's memory.
"Wait, Joy?" Bobby exclaimed. While both he and the rest of the mind workers looked both surprised and yet relieved to see Joy, he seemed like there was somethig he was avoiding telling her as well.
Joy's expression brightened immediately. "Oh thank goodness, you guys actually found Isolation Island's memory!"
"I knew that memory was bad news!" one blue mind worker called triumphantly. "I found it!"
"Good job Atta!" cheered on another.
"Well this works out great! Joy exclaimed, picking up Isolation Island's memory. "Now we can throw this into the memory dump, work together to find the other cores and then we can help Riley be back to normal!"
The enthused grin on Joy's face slowly faded, realizing the mind workers didn't seem to be in the mood for helping. "Uh, heh, you guys will help me, right? Cause I'm not exactly sure how long it'll take for my friends to get here and Riley could really, really use our hel—"
"That's exactly it."
Joy stopped talking at the serious tone in Bobby's voice, a far cry from his usual goofy attitude. "Huh?"
"You have to try to help her with that project-you-to-the-Outside thing as much as you possibly can" Bobby urged.
"Oh sure, of course we'll help with that!" Joy assured, trying to still sound upbeat though she was becoming increasingly unnerved by the expressions on the mind worker's faces. "Riley's our girl! Sure, the Outside world's giving us a bit of a rough few days, but nothing we can't fix."
"Well if you can fix it like that, it will give her peace of mind. Literally," Bobby added, gazing at the gloomy atmosphere that remained both in the sky and around them. "It has to work! I-I'm not sure if it can, but it has to!"
"Why are you sounding so desperate?" Joy asked, even her own cheerful tone beginning to give way to confusion as even Harry looked away. "If it doesn't work we'll just help Riley get through it, like we always have..."
"I hate to admit it, but Mrs. Andersen was right," Paula said, looking up at Joy. "Riley has been enjoying her time here more than outside her mind, so you need to help her hold on to anything that can form a connection between her and the Outside World. If things get bad enough Outside, she..." the Mind Worker looked guilty, averting his eyes. An expression that the others adopted, of someone who knew a secret they were keeping from someone else. "She..."
Joy placed a hand to her head before giving the pair of mind workers a frantic look. "She what?"
Paula and Bobby looked at one another.
The hand that wasn't holding the orb fell limply to Joy's side as she inhaled slowly. "Guys... all I've ever wanted was to help Riley," the emotion insisted, her eyes becoming watery as she clutched the orb tighter to her chest, beginning to feel like it was her fault that the orb was there in the first place. "I'm her Joy. I'm supposed to help her be happy, but I messed up, and now because of me everything's falling apart." Her voice broke as she looked forlornly out toward the direction of the Islands before looking down at the group once more. "Please. I need to know what Riley's planning. I need to know what she's refusing to tell us."
Despite Riley's plea to not tell the emotions, the mind workers knew that Riley's thought processes were far less than stable at this point. And Joy was distraught enough as it was...
After a few tense moments of silence, Paula stepped forward and spoke, wringing her hands together. They all had to do what they thought was best for Riley. And whether the girl liked it or not, at this point telling could be the only option that might save her. "Come over here," she said quickly, getting close to the riverbank and kneeling beside it.
Joy and knelt down by the river, dread pricking at her heart each second. What was she going to be shown that Riley wanted hidden from her?
"Do you know what this river is?"
Joy remembered having seen it earlier with Riley when flying over Imagination Land, but wasn't entirely sure what it was. "No."
"This is the Stream of Consciousness," Paula said. "It contains Riley's conscious thoughts. Listen."
Joy craned her neck toward the edge of the water. She thought she could hear a muffled voice saying something, seemingly frantic, but she couldn't make out the words.
"Uh... try sticking your head into it," Harry said quietly, looking just as apprehensive as the two mind workers.
Joy looked at the three for a few moments, growing increasingly nervous as she noted their solemn expressions. Whatever she was going to hear, she knew it wouldn't be something good. Taking a deep breath, Joy submerged her head beneath the water, anything that the trio said literally drowned out by what she did hear.
Riley's voice. As clear as if Riley was directly speaking to her—in fact, even more so, seeing as Joy couldn't help but feel as if the words were partially within the confines of her own head. She held her breath, carefully listening.
"If everyone's with me while I go to the Subconscious, I'll probably be fine. But ugh, I can't extend the hours in the night, I'll have to face tomorrow sometime! What am I gonna do, what am I gonna do?! My parents are probably gonna send me to some psych ward or something if they really think I'm nuts! If showing the emotions to everyone Outside doesn't work and they send me to a psych ward, that's my only option! No one thinks I'm crazy in the Mind World, they all understand me. They all love me. It has to be real... If worse comes to worse I have to do it. I have to find a way to stay here."
Joy's eyes widened in horror, nearly swallowing water as she pulled her head up coughing and gasping for air. She noticed the trio staring at her with expressions of guilt on their faces, knowing that she now knew what they did.
"... She wants to stay here, Joy," Paula confessed, unable to meet Joy's horrified and dumbstruck expression. "If she feels like she can't handle things out there, she wants to stay here. Forever."
Joy felt as if her own mind had gone numb. Riley wanted to stay forever in the Mind World if she felt that she couldn't trust anyone Outside? "But the only way she could stay here is if she..."
"Never wakes up."
A/N: Dun dun dun! Yeah, now you and Joy know what Riley's "last resort" is, and a bit more about the Unconscious for the time being! And don't worry, the next chapter will be up a LOT sooner than this one, probably in about a week or two, I'll err on the side of two just in case. ;) Thanks so much for sticking with me while waiting for this, hope you enjoyed, and remember to review!