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At the end of the tunnel, Evina was struck by a bright, warm light. He emerged and saw the shining sun. He was in the center of a bustling city. It wasn't a human city. It was a toon city, a very toony city. The buildings were bouncing up and down to music that came from the sky. Unfamiliar animals were walking through the streets he had never seen before. It had to be Toontown, even though it was vastly different from the Toontown he knew.
He walked into the street hesitantly. Although he looked out of place, it seemed that nobody noticed he was there. This was not the usual dream; it was a moment in time, a time long ago.
As he walked through the city he searched for a landmark to figure out his location, but nothing was even remotely familiar. Suddenly a trolley appeared out of nowhere, riding down rails in the middle of the street. That, at least, looked familiar. Back in those days it was only used for transportation, not games.
After a few more minutes of walking, a large shape appeared in the distance. It was a building, an extremely large building with steam rising from chimneys in the roof. It was a factory of some kind. He had never seen a toon building that large before and had no idea why it would be here.
Then Evina saw something else. Sitting on a bench nearby there was a gray figure. It sat in stark contrast to all the surrounding color, yet nobody looked at it. As he got closer, he saw it was a duck, and it wore the same clothes as him. It was like a dark copy of himself. He had to know more. So, he went over to the bench and sat down.
The doppelganger didn't look at him, but it scooted uncomfortable close to the original. "There's no need to introduce yourself," it said. "I already know your name, but it seems you don't know mine. I am Igresna, the mighty gray one, though I am also known by many other names: The Shadow, The Master, The Dream Haunter, et cetera."
"Igresna? That sounds like a word from the old toon language."
The Shadow grinned. "Oh, that language is far older than Toontown or even Earth, for that matter. But that's not important now. What do you really want to know?"
Evina had many questions but had to choose which one would come first. "What is this place?"
"But where in Toontown, or... when?"
"It's the old city, the first of this world. It was the time of toons like Roger Rabbit, shortly after they left the human world."
"And what is that building over there?"
"It's the ACME factory. It's where the first gags were made. Are you telling me you don't recognize it?"
"I've never been here before."
"Haven't you? Can you honestly tell me you haven't seen this before?"
Evina tried to focus. Its size and shape he thought he had seen before, but in a different light, with different surroundings. Then all of a sudden it hit him. "It's the capitol of Cog Nation!"
"Yes, this place has changed a lot since then. In those days, it was a paradise for toons. Cogtropolis was a distant shadow many years away."
Evina was briefly overwhelmed with nostalgia, but now was not the time, and this was not the place. That wasn't the real capitol, and this wasn't the real Toontown. "So, why are you here?" he asked the shadow.
"I could ask you the same question."
"I came here by chance. That's how the dream world works, right?"
"No, nothing is random. Every choice you made and every feeling you felt is what brought you here. You just don't recognize it yet. But you will."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I'm not going to spoil everything."
"And why can't you show yourself in your real form? I don't want to see you looking like me."
"First of all, I don't have a true form. Well, actually I do, but your finite mind doesn't have the capacity to understand it. Secondly, I figured that since I'm so close to you now that we are kind of like a single being, am I right?"
Evina closed his eyes. "You're nothing like me and I'm not like you."
The grey one smiled and sighed. "Why do you see me as the enemy, Evina?"
"Because you're cruel and sadistic. What was that thing about where you tied me to a table and laughed at me in the dark? You are obsessed with controlling people, always deciding what you want and how you want it. You can't stand it when someone gets in your way."
"I had to remind you who was in charge. And what's wrong with control? I deserve to get what I want. Do you need me to jog your memory? Let's see now, a couple of years ago you were a nobody. I turned you into a hero and saved literally everyone in your world. It was all part of my plan."
"But you also infected my father. If he were healthy, my life might have been better on its own."
"Infected? Sheesh, let's not get insulting. Without the cogs the toons would have torn themselves to pieces by now. The toons were naïve and weak. They couldn't help themselves."
Evina opened his mouth to speak but quickly shut it again. He stared forward and tried not to look at the shadowy figure of himself.
"Yeah, and what about that creep uh... Harold Doom, was it? Do you think he would've just dropped dead? There was no way you could have found him, let alone fought him, without the cogs, those very same cogs that continue to live because of me."
"It doesn't matter what you've done. You had no right to change my life like that. I could have accepted being normal like everyone else."
The Shadow was amused, and a grin stretched across its face. "Oh, Evina, that's one thing I still can't understand about you. I gave you a precious gift, something other toons could only dream of, but you still have this delusion that you would be happy living some silly normal life. Oh yes, building a career, finding true love and whatnot, settling down. It's straight out of a fairy tale. Tell me, how are you so sure of this?"
Evina still couldn't answer but he was feeling more and more frustrated each moment.
The Shadow shapeshifted into Gyro, older and more miserable than ever. "Are you going to miss spending time with me, son?"
Now it shapeshifted into a familiar cat. "Oh yes, Evina, when you return we will finally be happy together!"
"You don't understand. We're just friends!"
"Oh, please! You and I both know you have stronger feelings than that. You disgust me."
"What's disgusting? Is it really that wrong to want to be loved?"
"No, Evina, but it isn't easy to love something like you. You are not the average toon. You are little more than a machine. I've seen the darkness within you. You aren't built for love. Your purpose is to destroy. Everything you meddle with will be tainted forever, so please leave these delusions behind."
"It's not a delusion!"
"Yes, it is! You're a loner like me. You will never be like the others, so the sooner you accept it and move on the better! There are still fascinating adventures ahead. Believe me, I still find you very useful."
"No! I've heard enough! You haven't given me any useful information. All you can do is insult me repeatedly. So leave me alone!"
The Shadow froze. "Is that so?" It turned away from him. "Fine. I wanted to do one more favor for you, but it seems you don't want my help. Good luck finding that infected memory on your own."
"Wait!" Evina shouted. The Shadow turned around to face him again. "Do you know where it is?"
"I know everything, kid."
"Then where do I go to find it?"
The Shadow grinned. "How badly do you want to know?" Then it sprinted away before Evina had a chance to reply.
"Stop!" Evina pursued him with all his strength. He wasn't going to let him get away. He pushed his way through the crowds but finally lost him. "Shoot! Where did he go?" Then he saw something up ahead. The doors to the ACME factory opened and something darted inside.
Evina made his way to the entrance, ran past the guards, and entered the factory. The room was full of chaos. Toon workers lined conveyor belts, assembling every kind of gag and gizmo imaginable. But once again, The Shadow was nowhere to be seen.
"Hey, Red, are you looking for me?" a voice shouted.
Evina looked up and saw his elusive target. He hopped onto one of the belts and was carried into the monstrous tangle of machinery.
"Catch me if you can!" it mocked, bouncing from one machine to another with ease.
Evina was furious. He pushed himself to the limit but slipped on a rubber chicken and fell to the floor below, flattening himself.
"So, now are you willing to talk to me?" The Shadow shouted down at him. "How convenient."
"If you want me to find this thing then you'll have to tell me," Evina shouted back. "I'm not going to play any more games!"
The Shadow looked disappointed but finally jumped down in front of him. "Let's go outside."
Once again, it seemed like none of the dream toons noticed them. It was a scene in history that couldn't be altered.
"So, this memory... how do I get to it?"
The Shadow stared ahead like it was looking at something invisible. "Time is a mysterious thing, Evina. It's not a straight line like you might imagine. It splits into thousands of branches and merges at times into fixed events. But one thing is for sure, it is always moving."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
The Shadow gestured toward the trolley. "Why don't you take a ride and see for yourself?" The two of them stepped onto the trolley, the bell rang, and it rolled along its tracks down the city street.
"So, will this take me where I need to go?"
"Well, you see, at this point it's up to probability."
"So, there's no way of getting there for sure?"
The trolley rolled onto a turntable and switched tracks. They were headed toward a tunnel.
"I have a good feeling about this one," it replied.
Evina looked into the tunnel and thought it appeared unusual. It was not a typical darkness; it was a heavy, ominous darkness. "Are you sure about this?" he said. The trolley stopped, and all the other toons stepped off.
"Scared of the dark? I thought you were a fully-grown toon."
The bell rang, and the trolley proceeded into the tunnel. The light of the old toon city faded away.
"How much longer is it going to take?" Evina asked.
Almost in response to his question the trolley began to pick up speed. It went faster and faster. The wind was blowing through his feathers. He smelled something in the air. It wasn't a thing but a thought. It was the smell of memories.
"I think you're stop is next," The Shadow said.
"How do I get off?"
"You don't need to."
"Stop talking like that! Why can't you just tell me what to do?"
The Shadow grinned. "Oh, Evina, you always crack me up. I think we will meet again, sooner than you think." Its eyes became empty black holes, then it shapeshifted into a cloud of smoke and blew away.
Evina thought back to their conversation at the bench. He had to admit that The Shadow was right. There was darkness within him. Part of him had an urge to hurt and destroy. It conflicted with his good nature. It was there from the very beginning like a nagging voice in the back of his head. How long could he keep up the struggle? Unfortunately, he didn't have much time to think about it now.
The trolley continued to accelerate, and the wheels rattled noisily. It was going to fall apart soon. Evina held onto a rail with all his strength. It felt like he was hanging on for ages. The train was now moving faster than its physics should allow in the real world. The tunnel was no longer a tunnel but a blurry vortex. Its lights appeared like stars speeding by in his father's spaceship. Then he saw something up ahead. It looked like the track was going to end. He shouted but it could not be heard though all the wind.
It came to a stop in an instant. He was flung from the trolley into a dark void. But when his eyes adjusted, he saw that it wasn't black but a dark, dull blue. He wasn't falling, he was flying. He was no longer in the dreamscape, he was in dream space.
Then he looked up. Looming up ahead, floating in space, there was an enormous orb. It pulsed and flashed in many different colors, each a blurry frame of some larger picture. He immediately knew what it was. It was the memory core. What he didn't understand was the black vines which tightly wrapped around it. As he swam nearer, he could see them in more detail. They were no plants. They were glossy, sticky, and menacing. He felt like he had seen them before but could not recall where.
Once he reached the surface he put his hand out to remove one of them. The vine burned his hand like a hot ember. "What happened to this memory?" he cried out. Nevertheless, he burned himself again to clear an opening into the core. He shoved his arm inside. It felt like a warm blob of gelatin that tickled his arm. He took a deep breath and plunged inside. He sped away to the interior, going deep into some unknown memory, a human memory, long ago in the past.
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