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Everyone was seated in a circle in the main room. All they heard was the hum of the ship's engine. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved much. They only stared blankly with mouths slightly open, the mysterious book sitting on a table in the middle.
"So," Glue Stick finally got the courage to speak, "what was all of that about?"
Evina turned to him and had to think of what to say. "To be honest, I don't really know. So much of it doesn't make sense. I don't know who those creatures were or how this thing inside of me made me indestructible."
"Yeah, only a few feathers got singed," Kate remarked. "And you absorbed like a thousand beams of laser? What the heck?"
Gyro spoke now. "I think we can all agree that there are a lot of questions we can't answer. Until then, we must be patient and focus on the things we can do. If you don't mind, I want to take some time now to explain myself." He sighed, and everyone gave their attention to him.
"I've been a lousy father. It's true. All I've done is run from my past. I've been running for so many years that I forgot everything else that was important to me. I forgot my responsibility as a father. I forgot all the wonderful things I did for Toontown before. I forgot all about my friends and the excitement I felt when I invented something brilliant like the portable hole."
"You invented the hole!?" Evina interrupted.
"Yeah, I did. You really don't know what things were like before. And even to this day, I couldn't adjust my life to having my son with me. I mean, he can do incredible things! He has such courage and integrity that I never imagined I would see in another toon. Over time, I began to remember the things I lost. Today, I decided I was going to set things right. Evina is the true leader here, and I will support him. I will never abandon him again." A tear came to his eye.
"Dad... wow," Evina said in awe. "I never really knew how you felt all this time."
"Yeah, but you do realize I'm not the hero, right? It's the thing inside of me. I'm actually starting to get scared of it. It's becoming stronger every day, and I can't seem to control it. Is it dangerous?"
Gyro shrugged. "I wish I knew."
"And what about all the slaves on that planet? I guess the thing didn't consider saving them, did it?"
Kate cleared her throat, and they shifted attention to her. "Actually, I have something to say about those slaves you mentioned. When I went to the computer room to locate you and the energy core, I saw the slave chambers. I figured out the controls pretty easily and set up their release to the escape pods."
"Seriously?" Evina cried. "How were you able to do so much in so little time?"
"I'm a ninja," she grinned. "I was the one doing all that work while you were busy running for your life."
Evina groaned and covered his face, though Glue Stick seemed amused. "But do you think they'll be safe?"
"It's a long way to the nearest planet," Gyro reasoned. "But there is a chance they'll be ok. It's a lot better than getting blown up."
There was a squeaking noise as Gyro's helper pointed to the book in front of them.
"Oh yeah, um, has anyone had a chance to open this thing yet?" Gyro asked. Evina and Kate turned to each other.
"Not really," Evina admitted. "I think we were focusing more on saving ourselves. But now is a better time than any."
He picked up the book and wiped it clean. Now they could see its true color, a kind of dark bluish silver that shined, and it was surprisingly thin. He wondered how many pages were in it.
"Ok, it's called... The Book of Toon. A rather uncreative name, don't you think? It was written by... the Confederation of Gearloose."
Gyro's mouth dropped open. "What!?"
"They never told me about a secret book!"
"But it says right here: C.O.G. That's what the acronym is, right?"
"Let me see." Gyro took the book from his hand and examined it carefully. After a minute, he sighed and shook his head lightly. "No, it's not from the cogs. Did you notice this symbol here?"
He showed them the book's cover and, underneath the C.O.G., there was a triangular symbol made of three pencils with an eye in the middle. "It is referring to someone or something else." This confused everyone even more.
"We need to see what this is all about." Glue Stick took the book and tried to open it, but it didn't budge. "What?"
Gyro, annoyed by Glue Stick's impatience and lack of effort, took the book back and used all his strength to pry it open, but he failed as well. "I don't understand."
Now Evina grabbed the book and pulled as hard as he could, but it felt like it was resisting him. It was as if it was alive and didn't want to be opened. "Come on!"
"No!" Kate snatched the book. "You're all doing it wrong. I'll come back later," she marched to her room and slammed the door.
The three guys and the little robot sat silently in embarrassment. Gyro was the first of them to stand up. "I suppose we'll just have to hope she has better luck."
An hour passed, and Kate was still locked away in her room. They were too anxious to do anything else. Each of them was growing impatient. Then, when they least expected it, she rushed back to the room.
"Watch," she said.
They gathered around her as she sat on the floor with her eyes shut. She set a hand down gently on the book and breathed deeply. After a minute of doing this, she moved a finger to the edge and pulled up very slowly. It obeyed and opened.
"How did you do that?" Glue Stick demanded.
"Well, for starters, Evina and his dad have this... thing. The book doesn't like it. And for anyone else, including you, it won't open to someone with a disorganized mind."
"What do you mean disorganized?" Glue Stick protested.
"You have to be mature and open-minded. You can't be selfish or have any bad motives."
Glue Stick groaned and turned his seat away from her.
"Thank you, Kate," Evina said. "Um, do you mind if I read now?"
"Sure, as long as you don't make it angry. I think it's sensitive."
"I still find it hard to believe that a book has feelings," he insisted, although he handled it delicately just to be sure. His heart sunk when he saw the inside. There were no pages. It was just a blank white surface. "Oh no."
"Exciting, isn't it?" Kate smirked.
Evina wasn't about to give up now. He tapped the book angrily like he was trying to wake it up. He didn't expect it to actually work.
There were some flickers. Then the white surface lit up. It was a computer screen.
"Whoa," Everyone spoke at once.
Text appeared, and Evina immediately began to read it. "Woe to the forces of darkness. They never cease but must be fought. Abusers of the truth will perish. The Graphite will live."
"So, what is that supposed to mean?" Kate interrupted.
"How would I know? Judging by the table of contents, this book must be huge! I don't understand any of these topics."
"I would look through the topics carefully," Gyro suggested. "Search for the ones that seem the most applicable to us, or the ones that the thing wants you to read. Maybe then it will let us rest."
Evina took his turn sitting down in the middle. He read each chapter title and listened for any response from the thing. He discovered that moving a finger across the screen made a page turn. "Wait... the pencil?"
"Go ahead and read it," Gyro said.
Evina was excited to know what this was about.
"The Pencil, a term used in the formal sense of a single entity, is a legendary, ancient artifact originating from the human world. Although there have been many accounts of its sighting and use, little is known about its origin.
"Generations of power-seeking individuals have stolen it, hidden it, and utilized its supposed magical powers. The oldest record of its existence started with Gerald the Dishonorable who claimed he used it to create new toon life. However, it is not believed that he created any such thing. After his defeat, the pencil moved hand-to-hand through many generations on many worlds until, some say, it was taken by a mysterious man of bitterness. After that time, any legends of its existence ceased. It is assumed to be lost forever."
"Apparently not," Gyro mumbled. "That is fascinating. I wonder who could've collected this information. Keep searching!"
Evina flipped through the pages. There seemed to be no end. They covered hundreds of topics that were mostly foreign to him. "Oh." He noticed the thing had selected the right chapter. "This must be it!"
"One of the most unusual and dangerous aspects of toonology is the concept of masking. A mask is an artificial form used to conceal the identity of a toon passing to another universe, specifically the human world.
"Perhaps the most well-known example of its use was in the mid-twentieth century on Earth during a time when toons were given open access to certain cities for the purpose of film production. In 1947, one by the name of 'Doom' was found responsible for violent crimes in the human and toon world, hidden through the use of elaborate masking that was not well understood at the time. (See chapter on Dip.)
"Although Doom was destroyed, the toons still suffered many losses thereafter. The ACME corporation, which provided many jobs and resources to the toon film industry, declared bankruptcy. Soon after that time, the law decided that for the good of humanity they should deport all toons from Earth. They were permanently sealed off in their world now known as Toontown. More recent data confirms that all the memories of the toons and their incidents were erased from the human citizens' minds.
"It is for this reason that we recommend against the use of masking. It requires careful skill, and the technique must not be disclosed to any irresponsible or malicious beings. This chapter will explain the fundamental concepts regarding masks."
Evina continued to read it while the others listened intently. Gyro had taken a notepad and scribbled down as many notes about the masking as he could. When the chapter was finally finished, Evina closed the book, and they all rested.
"Now, that's what we were looking for!" Gyro exclaimed. Evina hadn't seen him so happy in a long time.
"We're going to mask ourselves?" Glue Stick inquired.
"We would be risking a whole lot if we didn't try," Gyro replied. "Until we get to Earth, we must focus all our attention on masking."
Evina smiled. He was glad to have a goal that everyone could finally agree on. He was also grateful that the thing living inside of him was still useful, although obtaining that information put them all in grave danger. But as pleased as he felt, he couldn't ignore some little annoyance. There was still something missing, something that he needed to know but hadn't found yet.
"Um, I want to go do some more reading. I think there's something else I need to see."
Gyro smiled. "Now, I know I said I would trust you, but you be careful, alright? I don't know where that book came from, but it could either be completely crazy or dangerous when dropped into the wrong hands."
Evina ran back to his room and dropped onto his bed. He knew Gyro was right. Knowing how powerful the pencil could be, he felt guilty for allowing it to be stolen back on Kate's planet. It was good that they managed to bring it back. He tried to relax as best as he could and allow the book to be responsive to him. It was skeptical at first but decided, in the end, to allow Evina to read it again. Because the book was a computer screen, he didn't need to turn on the light above his bed for illumination.
Now he was more aware of the fever building up inside of him. There was something else in that book, and he felt like he had been waiting to read it for a very long time. Scrolling through the chapters, he searched vigilantly for any familiar sign. He was not consciously aware of exactly what it was. The thing inside suddenly became quiet. It was like it felt nervous but wouldn't stop Evina from finding the truth this time. So instead, it went away to hide. Finally, near the end of the list, Evina found the chapter he was looking for.
The Shadow is a powerful force living throughout the tooniverse, yet it often hides its actions and tries to be elusive. Therefore, it is difficult to study. Some of our scholars still debate whether it should be classified as a fundamental component of the toon reality model.
The Shadow seems to be sentient and has been known for many peculiar behaviors. Although it is thought to be one omnipresent force, it manifests itself in singular ways. It can easily possess metal and give individual and intelligent life to any machine it wants. While it is dormant and harmless in most cases, it can also become agitated and dangerous. It will never accept a compromise on its goals.
Most strange of all, however, is the very rare occurrence where a toon becomes be possessed by it. Ink and lead may somehow, through unknown means, become stained with its even darker influence until the full scope of its power is eventually realized.
Signs that a toon is possessed with The Shadow include gray eyes, the most obvious symptom that may vary in shade, incredible strength, increased emotional intensity, expanded knowledge and sensory power, unconscious behavior, and many other things.
The Shadow may present a solution for almost any undesirable scenario it encounters; nonetheless, there is a much more ominous side that is seldom foreseen. Every toon that has become a victim of The Shadow has been destroyed, either by its creator or from a collapse of its life-sustaining story due to the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the entity. (See chapter on toon life cycle.) As The Shadow grows in its power and influence over the host, the risk continually rises for creating a tangled web of plot points that will almost certainly lead to a painful end for the toon. There is no known cure.
Evina slammed the book shut and was suddenly left in the darkness. His mind was full of horror, and he didn't have a clue of what to say or do next. My days are numbered. I'm doomed.
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