Nothing is True.
Nothing is There.
Desmond doesn't so much float in the nothingness as he… just… is. He doesn't know how long it's been, he's kind of lost the sense of why of it, too. He thinks he minded it, way back when, an eternity ago, he wanted to leave, maybe? It doesn't really matter. Nothing matters. There's nothing.
Well, that's not exactly true. Not True true, just true. There's something – just enough of a something for him to still be sticking around. It's like a string inside him, a cord frayed to its last sliver, gently waving in the nonexistent wind, just enough to remind him that, that he's still there. He's not gone yet. He's here, here is nothing, and he's in the nothing.
No one would ever see him here. No one would find him. And no one would care.
The Lonely savours him slowly, digesting his slowly ebbing, flowing misery like a tasty morsel. He's a candy on it's tongue, and it's wearing him out slowly, so slowly, tasting every aspect of his Aloneness and humming with the drawn out enjoyment.
The knowledge that he was always alone. Surrounded by what amounted to paper cutouts of people, rather than real individuals. They stand up in his memories now like stand-ins, all hollow and two-dimensional, repeating the same hollow, meaningless words.
Get up, Desmond, the words echo, sharp enough to cut, to bring forth a reaction, to make him twitch. Dad, calling him across the training ring. Get up, Desmond, he says, and never holds out his hand, never helps him up, never does anything. Get up, Desmond, he snaps, impatient enough for Desmond to hear it in his voice, but also distracted, like he's looking elsewhere, his attention on something else, like whether Desmond actually gets up or not doesn't actually matter. Get up, Desmond.
And the Loneliness whispers, No one ever asked if you needed help. No one offered a hand to pull you up. Did anyone ever give you their arm, their shoulder to lean on? Did anyone ever lift you to your feet? Did they hold you?
His mother's hands, cool and perfunctory on his cheek as she dabs stinging antiseptic on a cut. Her fingernails feel like paper cuts, and her disapproving tutting sounds like distant static. "It's just a cut, and you're a big boy, Desmond, you don't need my help."
Desmond knows, theoretically, that his mother helped him. He remembers it. But he also remembers the holes in those memories, the parts where they don't exist. Dad is easier, Bill Miles actually made an appearance in his life, such as it was, but his Mother is only a voice. Voice, and vast holes of absence, where the game creators hadn't bothered to fill up his background. Seventeen years worth of memories.
The Lonely has filled them, bit by bit, with cold shoulders from her, with dismissal, with distracted disregard as she turns away. Just enough care to make him feel it, a hand on his shoulder, a band aid on his lip, just enough to make him long for more – and then the Lonely takes the image and turns her away from him, leaves him at the mercies of a father, who turns more and more callous and cold as the memories twist and turn and...
You were a thing they raised, a fruit of labour, the culmination of a bloodline. They married for lineage, not love, they didn't love each other, they didn't love you – you were just a thing they made, an Assassin of Assassins, the Assassin, their Chosen One, alone and strange and …
Desmond drifts. He thinks he might be floating. He has enough will left to know that this is kind of – not wrong, exactly, though it's that too. The Lonely wants his suffering, his slow anguish, his Loneliness, his Aloneness, his Solitude – and his knowledge of it, too. Wants to make him feel it.
But it doesn't come naturally for him. He can feel it, but it's artificial, in the end. Those people never existed, and those experiences never happened, and he knows it. He knows what he is. The Lonely can't take that away from him – it's the main thing it's feeding on.
He's a Solitary Existence, artificial, hollow, fake, empty, the Lonely can digest him forever. So it won't make him think he's human, not all the way. Whenever he threatens to tip over the edge of that knowledge and into delusion of humanity, it reminds him – he's just code, code, code, nothing but symbols on a screen, unloved and unreal, a thing no one knew, a thing that shouldn't be – and that breaks the illusion of suffering.
Desmond sighs, and the Lonely drinks it up all the while breathing in on it, like blowing on a hot coal, making it blaze in his chest. Alone, alone, alone, and unknown.
Desmond has no idea how long it's been going on. Doesn't know if there's time in this place. There probably isn't. The Lonely can and will feed off on him forever, and he's more or less… fine with that. Would be nice if it wouldn't try and fake it, though – it doesn't feel right. He knows loneliness and isolation, and it can be so nice. So much nicer than fake social isolation. He's never minded social isolation, it's never done that much for him. Sure, he was sad, at times, but true isolation, the feeling of being properly removed from everyone and everything…
Desmond jerks in the Nothing and in the Emptiness, and around him the Lonely shifts and breathes. There's – something. Like a tug in Desmond's chest, in his soul – in his code screen, or whatever it is he has. The empty space that's his body is feeling a drag, though. It kind of feels like he's -
Gasping, Desmond convulses and grabs at his chest, as the Lonely disperses like so much mist around him, and the faked illusions of social isolation and dismissal fade. There's a tether – Desmond can almost see it, and he can definitely feel it. Someone's got a hand around his story and is tugging at his words, at the strings of his code, and he's -
Out there, someone Knows him.
The string is tugged – and then released. Desmond stares in dismay as it goes taut and then snaps, withering away like smoke in the wind – the mist of the Lonely eats it up, wears it out, until Desmond is left holding just a – a bit of it, hanging from his chest. It's – thin, and black, plastic.
A… tape? It's thin and flimsy and takes Desmond a bit to actually remember what it is, but… yeah, it's tape. Cassette tape. "Huh," he says out loud, as the thin flimsy string of it loops loosely over his fingers, almost too light to be felt. Been – never, since he's seen this stuff, actually.
"Statement of Desmond Miles," the cassette tape announces into his fingers in a firm, brisk male voice. "Regarding his… existence…"
Desmond's skin crawls and he knows, instinctively, that it's Another. Another what, he's not sure, but it's Another. It feels like – like sandpaper against his senses, like anathema, but also like kin. It's a weird mixture of sensations, not entirely pleasant nor unpleasant. Kind of… tingly, like an itch that's satisfying to scratch.
It has to be the story, the one he made to the Eye, just like that old guy said – that has to be – someone out there, someone with power, just did something with his story. Recorded it on tape maybe? He isn't sure, but…
He has his hands again. And legs. So that's kind of nice.
Slowly, shakily, Desmond finds his feet enough to stand on them, peering around curiously. The Nothingness hasn't changed, the Lonely is still there, looming upon him, wishing to smother him, but – he's Known now, and that changes things.
"You're hungry," he says, which – is probably a weird thing to say, but it's what he feels. "I'm sorry, I'm not that kind of meal. I don't fear being lonely – it's all I've ever been. Can't fear the only thing you've ever known."
The Lonely doesn't answer, of course not, but it leans in, hungry and withering, whimpering and savouring. No one loves you. it whispers in his own voice, which is right enough. No one wants you. You're safe here. No one can hurt you here.
They're not really things it's saying, though, more like stuff his mind is saying at himself, as a placeholder for the things it craves. It kind of – it has the feel of a petulant, lonely child, mumbling into its knees, bitter and unintelligible.
The weird thing is, though it's been slowly digesting Desmond for eons, now, Desmond kind of feels bad for the thing. It's pitiful. Lonely things usually are… at least until they learn to live with it. And Desmond did, a long time ago… given the value of living, maybe, but… still.
"Here," Desmond murmurs, and gives the Lonely not his sadness, because he doesn't really have any to give, but his… serenity, the masochistic, drawn out edge of it – the moments spent alone in his flat, feeling self-righteously bitter about having to turn down an invitation to a party because someone was filming there. He feeds the Lonely the moments in abandoned gas stations when he was at his most desperate, his most alone, and with no one to turn to he turned inward instead, and felt worse for it. The moments of dissociation just after using the Animus, when he felt disconnected from everything, body and soul…
The Lonely flexes around him, and Desmond draws a shuddering, shocked breath. "Yeah," he croaks, shaky. "Now you get it." His mouth feels like dry parchment and tastes like mothballs at the end of a cabinet that hasn't been opened in decades – like an empty tomb in an abandoned castle, where Altaïr sat alone for centuries. "Isn't that better?"
The Lonely lets him go, and Desmond grips the shredded cassette tape in hand, and turns to follow it out.
Desmond comes out in an abandoned building, which is… fitting. He's not sure where he was when he slipped into the Lonely – somewhere with people, he thinks, feeling alone and invisible in a crowd. It was such a long time ago that it's hard to remember – but judging by the looks of this place, it doesn't look like it's been centuries. There are paper mugs littering the floor, a couple of discarded syringes in the corner of the room he's in, graffiti everywhere. Every corner is full of spider webs.
He can… there's something in the air. A tinge of – it's like stale coffee, going cold, forgotten on a dusty table. Mothballs too, and old clothes left hanging too long. A clammy feeling of abandoned, and probably mildew-riddled buildings.
Blinking slowly, Desmond looks down at his hand – he's still holding the bit of cassette tape. Good, he thinks, and gently puts it away – he needs it to lead him to… to somewhere. But first he needs – he needs something. There's something here, and he needs it.
It's an apartment building, the place he's in. Looks like it was only half constructed when it was abandoned – no furniture, no paint on the walls, just concrete and raw structures. Building project that went under and lost funding before it was completed, maybe? It smells old and – and like people have been doing their business in the halls. Which they have. There are stains everywhere.
There's also something there, on the second floor, near the stairs. A nest of mattresses, a curtain awkwardly hung on the stairs, to hide the little safe space underneath them. Someone's living there, keeping warm. They're asleep.
They're having nightmares. Desmond can feel them. A mist wafts off the nest of filthy mattresses and pillows and blankets, a clammy chill of lingering misery.
Slowly, inhaling the scent of loneliness hanging about the mess of hard won comfort, Desmond savours it, only half aware of what he's doing, or why. He can almost see it, inside his head. The reason for the human's misery – only not, not quite. It's not really a seeing thing, more of a feel of things piling on top of each other, turning into an insurmountable wall, an unclimbable pile, an impossible thing to overcome that isolated them, turned them into an outcast, left them so - very - alone...
"Shit," Desmond whispers, closing his eyes. It's not a lot, nothing like what the Lonely was drawing from him, but – he's never – it's – it's heady, the feel of human misery. It's also – disconnected.
Not the sort of misery the Lonely feeds off on, is it? No, the Lonely more used to things isolated in horror and fear, because that's what they do, that's what they are, they're fears. This is just aimless, unrelenting despair – this one, they're not afraid, they're just miserable. It's not… quite right.
Opening his eyes, Desmond shudders and then leans back. He feels – better. Which is frankly horrifying.
"Shit," he says again, and then backs away, brushing a spider off his shoulder.
He thinks he could reach out and bask in the human's seclusion, like it was cool breeze on a hot dry day - or warm candle flame in the darkness, and he could stifle the source of it, and drink it all in.
He leaves the apartment building instead, feeling stronger – and so much worse – than he has since he'd come out from the code.
The Lonely follows him. It – lingers – wherever he looks. Little whips of mist and thin mire of fog that lingers everywhere, obscuring bits and pieces here and there.
There are lonely places everywhere. Places people built, but didn't design for anyone to inhabit. Corners on the stairwell which are like traps, you can get stuck there, and it's not going to be a comfortable place to get stuck in. Alleys that end up in a dead end, which are cut off by bits of fence, closed up islands of no-man's land inside the city of millions. Places you can get trapped in, and who is going to hear you yell for help? Bits of street that are awkward and where cars don't move, where people don't walk.
There's a tree Desmond passes, which has wisps of seclusion lingering around its roots, cold like lingering dew, uncomfortable. Someone sat there, a lot, feeling all alone, so much that it's gotten smeared on the tree. Never having seen a tree feel alone before, Desmond considers it and then turns away, more confused than ever. It feels like rot.
He's… acutely aware of the fact that people don't see him. He's walking in front of motorists and bikers and pedestrians, and people pass him, avoid him, part in front of him like water, never touching him. He's isolated in a crowd, and it feels just about right, but also, yeah. Weird. Very weird. It wasn't like this before, when he was barely physical enough to even register as a person to people, and now – he's like negative space.
Desmond waves his hand over a woman's face, and she ducks under it with a shudder, her expression never changing as she moves away quickly, ignoring him.
"Huh," Desmond murmurs.
So, the Lonely had… done something to him. He'd figured it would, you don't get to hang around in a place like that for that long and not come out unchanged on the other end. But this is a bit more than he thought. This feels like – almost like a power, really.
"I have become Ezio," Desmond murmurs to himself, trying for a joke. It falls flat. "Invisible in a crowd."
Not really, though. Ezio blended in a crowd. Here, the crowd is collectively ignoring Desmond, all but scrubbing the impression of him from their brains. Dozens of people, hundreds, thousands – they flow past him, endless flood of strange faces, and not a single one of them acknowledges him at all. He's… he's kind of tempted to reach out and grab someone – just to see if he could. Would they notice him then?
Would be a bit rude, though, right?
What the hell.
Desmond reaches out and grabs the arm of a guy, a bit younger than him, with headphones on and hair dyed bright blue. The guy jerks, confused, and looks around – their eyes meet, briefly and -
The guy's name is Jason, and he'd broken up with his girlfriend four days ago. He's sad – he'd liked her, they'd been good. She was a painter, she'd dyed his hair, he thought it was love. She didn't. The break up had been amiable.
He's feeling a little lonely – not much, but, just a little. Hadn't seen his sister in four months now. Mom hadn't called that week, she was in Mexico on a work trip, too busy. Dad never called anyway. Jason was thinking of visiting his dad, maybe they could go out on drinks, father and son. He could tell his dad about the book he was reading, give them something to talk about.
Desmond sees a little… lingering… doubt in Jason's mind…
And he breathes life into it.
Jason's dad didn't really care about his books, never had. Just humoured him, because he was nice, but it was never an interest of his. It was more of a nuisance really, wasn't it, Jason babbling on about his stuff. No one cared. Rita was right, she'd just – she'd been so bored with him, hadn't she, hadn't really cared about any of it. Wasn't her fault. She had her own thing going on. He was just holding her back.
Better Jason just goes home and concentrates on his own thing for a while. It's fine, really. He can figure it out on his own. He's fine. It's all fine.
Jason slips out of Desmond's hold and heads away – a halo of grey smoke lingering about his head as he goes, his face pale.
Desmond releases the sudden tension that's overtaken him and his shoulders slump. "What," he murmurs, "the actual fuck."
Every word comes out with a thin, curling wisp of mist, cold against his teeth.
Jason would become a recluse, that day onward. Close his door, turn his music on high, and not think about things, while thinking about things all too much. He'd read the book again, and again, and then get the idea of writing his own. It wouldn't be very good, but he'd try his hand at it, it would distract him, keep his mind occupied. The loneliness would linger, settle, make itself home in his chest. He'd never have another girlfriend.
He'd dream about being all alone a lot, of being stuck in closed up rooms, or lost in wide open spaces - of standing in a crowd where people had no faces. He'd fear that no one would ever hear him and he'd fear ever speaking up. Jason wound fear people crowding him in almost as much as he'd fear being left all alone. It would only isolate him further, until after a while people would stop reaching out to him completely...
And the Lonely would feed off on his solitude until his eventual death – which, too, he would go through… alone.
Desmond freaks out in a park, for a while. Tugs at his hair and pinches at his skin, tries to figure out where flesh starts and mist begins. It's – yeah. Really fucking freaky. But hell, he's not empty anymore, so, there's that? There's that. He's not sure it's enough.
He's not sure what he is, now.
Desmond has this sense - it's almost like the Eagle Vision, but more inside his head than ever. He can feel the… the lonely things around him. They're like…
Like there are these holes in people - or maybe little embers, but cold, and instead of smoke there's just a chilly mist rising from them. After Jason, he can see them, like sparks of light under the Eagle Vision, only grey and lifeless. Little voids in the hearts of people where they feel just a little bit… alone. And the bigger they are, the more mist they expel… the wider the empty spaces are around people.
Desmond keeps thinking, almost remembering - he used to be a… bartender. Right? Yeah, that sounds right. He used to be a bartender. It wasn't real, but he still remembers it, and maybe something had patched up some of the holes in his code there, because he can remember people. Clients, customers, patrons. Bad Weather was a quiet sort of bar, the kind of place where people talk to their bartender, and people talked to him.
Because they were lonely. That's why you go to a bar for the most part, right? To be a little less lonely.
Everyone is alone in their heads, though, in their grieves and grievances, with their nagging doubts and disbelief, with their suspicion. Little things, big things, long drawn out bits of solitude and moments of just being by themselves – everyone is all alone, all of the time.
And now Desmond can feel it - can feel how easy it would be to reach out into those little voids, those little holes in people's chests where doubt and sadness are seeping in, how simple it would be to drive a wedge into those gaps and tear them wider, turn niggling doubt into anxiety and fear and whisper, no one will ever understand you, no one will ever see you, you're all a l o n e…
And it would be sweet, feeling trust turn sour and love grow cracks, watch the seeds of loneliness take root and drag the person down, down on their knees, into quiet cloying sadness, and finally into the Lonely.
Desmond shakes quietly in that secluded spot in the park, feeling spooked and strangely energised with sheer potential of people's little miseries. God, he's never felt so alive.
He's never felt so completely, utterly alone, either. Because he's… not really alive, is he?
Damn it… he feels like he's forgetting something important, too. Something - something he thinks the Lonely might've taken from him. What was it, it was - it was… it's gone. Whatever it was, he feels almost unmoored without it. It's really not helping with him trying to make sense of things, knowing that something was missing.
Seems like something the Lonely would do - it's been digesting him for so long that it's polished away the things it didn't enjoy, the rough bits, until only the perfect marble of isolation remained.
Blowing out vapor into the cold night air, Desmond looks down to find an abandoned cat winding around his foot – she's a little injured, covered in fleas, and alone. He thinks she can feel him being alone too. Cats, the symbols of the lonely. Looking down at her, Desmond is also looking at his chest, the white hoodie he's wearing, the dark shirt under it. He's wearing the clothes he died – came to life – in. He'd also apparently walked through some spider webs, because there are little silk strings hanging off his clothes.
Brushing them away, Desmond can still feel it there, the lingering impression of the torn cassette tape, tugging. Someone out there, the one who made the tape… Knows him.
Maybe they Know what the hell is going on, too.