A King In His Castle

Collective unconscious refers to the unconscious mind and shared mental concepts. It is generally associated with idealism and was coined by Carl Jung. According to Jung, the human collective unconscious is populated by instincts, as well as by archetypes: ancient primal symbols such as The Great Mother, the Wise Old Man, the Shadow, the Tower, Water, and the Tree of Life. Jung considered the collective unconscious to underpin and surround the unconscious mind, distinguishing it from the personal unconscious of Freudian psychoanalysis. He believed that the concept of the collective unconscious helps to explain why similar themes occur in world mythologies around the world. He argued that the collective unconscious had profound influence on the lives of individuals, who lived out its symbols and clothed them in meaning through their experiences. The psychotherapeutic practice of analytical psychology revolves around examining the patient's relationship to the collective unconscious.

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"Stupid, stupid, stupid… what the hell were you doing out there?" Diana carried the limp body of Black Knight Unit 783 out of a bush, a twig stuck in her hair. They'd returned to 783's Safehouse, and Natasha followed quietly and curiously, not unlike a lost puppy.

"I was conducting an espionage mission. It necessitated solely the manpower of a single unit."

Diana gently tossed them onto the kitchen table and began searching through cupboards and drawers for supplies. "Yeah, well, I necessitate you giving me a heads up before trying to drop dead right in front of me." Having acquired her quarry, she pulled out a very generic home medical supply kit and sets it on the table. "No calls. No notes. Not even a goddamned carrier pigeon." She flipped up the lid of the med-kit's case and took inventory. "Do you know how long I've been looking for you, idiot?" She began to grasp the clasps at the neckline of 783's armor, but they held Diana's wrists with worryingly strong grip for a person who had been slowly bleeding out for a long time.

"Do not remove the armor."

"Let go of me. I'm trying to help you."

"You will not remove this unit's armor, Diana Evelynn. Only a Technician may-"

"We don't have time for this." She closed her eyes, and her hands stopped trying to grip the armor. Her fingers splayed, shaking slightly. After a few moments of intense concentration, the latches at the shoulders disengaged, and the chestplate popped up slightly, as if spring-loaded.

"How did you-" 783 begins, but is cut off by Diana being dismissive.

"How do you think I got my helmet off? You just have to want it to come off, and it does." She grasps at the neckline and pulls the breastplate off.

Junior Archivist Evelynn was mentally preparing herself for a wide variety of things, and while this was one of the options she guessed would be present underneath a true Knight's armor, it was still wildly shocking. For starters, Knight 783 was definitely human, or something very close to it. Muscles where they should be, pale skin, and a smattering of hair. The unexpected things weren't as shocking as she'd been scared they would be. The minimal amount of chest hair present was a bright white color, and not as if it belonged to someone old enough to have greying hair. The most notable factor removing this chestplate exposed was a very, very significant amount of scarring. Dozens, maybe hundreds of small cuts and stab wounds covered the surface of their body, and from the looks of it, likely extended to the limbs and perhaps the face as well, the most prominent of which looked to be the oldest: a cross pattern extending several inches from the center, right where a navel would be. Diana placed a hand over the left pectoral to check for a heartbeat, and Knight 783 let out a gasp.

"This… I…"

"Your pulse is getting weaker. We've got to get you out of the rest of this monkey suit." She moved up to the pauldron on the arm with a sword hanging out of it, and popped it off of the neoprene-like undergarment. She squinted for a moment, pausing, and stared into the eyes of 783's helmet. "You've never felt anything except wounds under the armor have you?" 783 nodded. "I'll be careful, okay?" Diana removed the dagger that had once held a note to a wall over one of her best friends corpse, and slipped it under the garment, using the impossibly sharp edge to cut the suit and the suit alone down to the wound. Once it made it all the way down, she slipped the rest of the suit off and set it aside, next to the breastplate and pauldron. "How did you even get two swords put in you in the first place? Get tracked down by some of your old unit?"

"The opposite, actually. I was tracking an operation involving annNNNNN-" they began, as Diana pulled the sword completely free from 783's arm.

"I would have clipped it off and pushed it out the other side, but… indestructible unknown Black Knight metal and all."

783 attempted to be helpful while bleeding copious amounts. "It's… a… proprietary… carbon-fibre…" They stopped to take several quick breaths. Diana began to wrap the wound in half the gauze in the kit, saving the other for the leg, which went similarly successful. All the while, Natasha observed mostly silently, but asked a single question at this part.

"Why do you apply loose cloth to this limb here? It did not look damaged to me." She points in the vague area of 783's naked lower body.

"That's… I don't think you folks have the same social acumen for modesty, since neither of you have ever taken off your armor. It would be hard to explain." Diana sat back and looked at her handiwork. Both wounds healed, and only an arm and a helmet left on 783's body. "Here, let's get the rest of this off of you. It's hard to rest in armor."

783 was apprehensive, albeit less so than the first time Diana removed any of their armor. The other sleeve came off easy, and then… Diana grasped the faceplate and clicked the latch free. She lifted the helmet very gently off of their head, placing her hand on the back to support it and rest it gently on the table before setting aside the helmet.

Pink eyes squinted up at Diana, meeting hers for the first time ever. Knight 783's short cropped white hair fell loosely onto the surface of the table, but otherwise…

"Wow, you look… very generic."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I expected you to be knight themed all around. Strong nose or… harsh eyes. You're just some guy."

"I am not 'some guy', I am a knight, and I-"

"Hahaha, you're a human dude! I told you, and you didn't believe me!" Diana laughed, the best laugh she'd had in a good time. "Alright, I'm not treating you like a robot anymore, that's dehumanizing. Here, let's take inventory. You need a name… corrected pronouns… what else…"

"I have a human name, you gave it to me. I am Seven."

"No dude, that's a nickname I gave you so that I didn't have to say '783' every time I talked to you. Natasha, why do you have a name?"

She was thoughtful for a moment, and then spoke. "I am named the same as you, my mother was named Natasha, and therefore I am Natasha. What is the name of your handler, Knight 783?"

Diana cut off 783. "You have a mother?"

"Of course! Everyone has mother. Strong lady who teach you how to kill people. I miss her so… but the Diana who train you must have be very formidable indeed!"

"Natasha, that's… my mother's name is Dakota. That's not how names work."

"Mmm… I think it is one point for me, one point for you…"

Diana looks at 783 for a moment, and reaches her hand slowly towards the towel, taking a quick peak underneath to reconfirm her suspicions. "Okay, assigned gender at birth is male… are you comfortable with how you look right now?"

"I would prefer to be immune to most physical attacks, which could be done if I was wearing my armor."

Diana narrows her eyes. "Alright, we'll start you out as a he/they for now, but that can change. And for a name… Seven rhymes with Devin… Kevin… definitely not Blevins… you look like a Kevin. Kevin Eight Three, eight-three, ate-ry, atery… ate-tree. Date-tree? People can be named after trees, right? My sister is named Sequoia. Kevin Datetree." Both knights stare blankly at Diana. "Right, Kevin Datetree it is. I finally copped me a he/they."

"What is… 'copped', Diana?" Natasha asks.

The three of them sit around the dining table, with the newly christened Kevin propped up on a beanbag chair. Bowls of surprisingly normal canned food products sit in front of them, and the gradient of attention given to said food is slightly staggered the further down the table you look. Natasha, sitting at one head of the table, practically licks the bottom of her Spaghettio's bowl while the adults talk. Diana picks more or less absentmindedly at her Chef Boyardee ravioli, and Kevin completely ignores his Kraft Mac & Cheese.

She points her spoon at him. "If you don't eat anything, those wounds won't get any better."

"I do not eat."

"You don't… eat?" Diana shoves the bowl a little more towards him.

"The armor feeds me. And yet, you have taken it off of me. It would also be reintroducing more fluids into my system to help me replenish my blood supply, which is-"

He's cut off. "The armor doesn't give you back real blood, it just pumps you full of whatever that black shit the other knights bleed is. If that's not symbolic, I don't know what is, and I don't want any of that shit in your system." Another bite of ravioli. "Come on, you have all this food in your house, and you don't ever eat it?"

"I grew up in this house, that food is probably ancient."

Diana narrows her eyes. "You… grew up here?"

"Conceptually, yes. This is the domicile in which I experienced a simulation of a life, such as to communicate certain concepts difficult to impart by those that trained me." Kevin looks at the mac and cheese with a raised eyebrow.

"With like… a family?"

"I was exposed to a memory system, and raised by Jasper and Jessie Mantell for 18 years of life in the downtown suburbs of a town called 'Anaheim'. This is the process by which all knights mature."

Natasha, slowly growing bored with conversation, loudly announces, "I will be patrolling grounds now. See you in little while," and gently kicks the door open, only for it to slam behind her.

Diana walks hers and Natasha's plate to the sink, and starts washing them. In part, this is habit, and in other parts, she's trying to pass the time while listening more intently to his story. "And… what did you do then? What was it like? What did… did they call you something besides Knight?"

"I attended a school. Met a great many people. The sensation of experiencing life as someone besides yourself is not equivalent to living it yourself, but… it felt as if it were my own. There can be quite a dramatic shock to live as 'Jonathan' for two decades before returning to status as a Knight to find a shared comradery in this life lived. Yet, this was considered integral to my training, and therefore I complained none."

"This house… you said it's from the simulation?"

"All knights, and therefore, extrapolating from incomplete data, all humans have access to a small section of the Headspace allocated just for them. Unlike all humans though, there is a significant likelihood that all Knights share a functionally identical safehouse, due to the shared memory system."

"I've never heard of such a place… no one has ever reported such a specific area."

"Your team has an area set aside for such an eventuality in your record keeping. I reviewed it along with all data available on your life before entering the Headspace after it was collected by the Sentinel sent to kill you." He looks mournfully at his pasta, and then scoops a small portion up to examine it, as if anticipating a poison.

"We don't have any… that thing that was sent to kill me was a Sentinel?"

Surprisingly, the unarmored knight makes his first ever apparent facial expression: his eyes narrow as he says, "If representations of archetypes from the selective unconsciousness are labeled 'Cluster 1', should not representations of individual consciousness be labeled 'Cluster 2'?" He takes a bite of his food, which seems to be a bit overwhelming for him. He shakes his head and continues, "Can we talk about our objectives now?"

The last dish is set in the rack to dry, and Diana drapes a towel over her shoulder and sits again. Kevin makes a motion as if to sit up, but she reaches across the table to settle him. "Don't strain yourself."

"Pain is fine. It makes me… human. Maybe one day, I'll cherish it. Can we talk about our objectives now?" he asks.

"Alright, we've got this… whatever you call it-" Diana begins.

She's cut off by Natasha, who raises a finger in the air and says, "Ah! This one I know. Encabulator."

The Archivist takes a quick breath and begins again. "Yes, we have the Encabulator, thank you, Natasha. Now, Kevin… what does this thing even do?"

He looks puzzled. "You mean… you don't know what this does?"

"No, I was rather hoping you understood."

"I do understand the object. I don't understand the reasoning behind obtaining it without understanding what it does."

"I wasn't going after the Encabulator when I defeated Natasha in an elaborate high speed death race, I was… I just happened to be in the area, looking for you. When I heard there was an artifact being defended by the Knights, however, I knew I had to grab that."

"You mean 'cop', yes?" Natasha uses her newfound vocabulary with a hint of glee.

"'Cop', yes. Please do not make me regret teaching you that word…"

Kevin breaks into the spiraling conversation to bring it back on track. "In short, you've acquired what most would refer to as a 'time travel device'." Natasha stares blankly while Diana furrows her brow.

"Time… travel?" she asks.

"In a sense. The rules here are not as they are in typical reality. So far, breakthroughs in time travel within non-liminal space have been limited to say the least, but here, we know roughly how it operates."

"Go on."

"In typical reality, things break down to the atomic level and possible quantum changes happen billions of times a second. Here, atoms are only as real as you consider them to be. Ideas interact with other ideas directly. That means that minds control the time stream." Diana sits back in her chair, considering the implications of this, which Kevin delivers on shortly. "Living beings that act in unprogrammable and diverse ways are the only alterations to a possible timeline, and typically, those forces are human minds trapped within the Headspace, such as you. Decisions you make are, to force an analogy, the quantum particles of the backrooms. You're faced with millions of binary choices a day, and those choices result in different outcomes, which are represented as timelines along the headspace. Currently, we reside on something called a 'prime timeline'."

"What? Why is this a 'prime timeline'? What if it stops being one?" says Diana.

"A prime timeline is the result of balanced choices. Say you have 10 coins, with heads or tails representing choices you make. In one toss of all 10, the first 5 could be heads with the last 5 being tails, and in another toss, it could alternate heads-tails-heads-tails until the end. In both, the outcome is that 5 heads and 5 tails have been tossed. This is much more likely than, say, 10 heads, which can only happen one single way." Diana nods. Natasha stares into space. "These similar outcomes are represented by waveforms with the same… how should I say this… temporal wavelength? These waveforms collapse into one another, strengthening that outcome, or timeline. Therefore, the timeline that occurs the most often becomes one single, stronger timeline than the rest. This is a prime timeline, and the only timeline on which Knights typically operate, such as to avoid confusion and conflictions. To move between them, in very small use cases, the Encabulator was created."

"Could you give me an example of those use cases? Could this be of benefit to us?"

"Certainly. This is often used to visit lost items or places, things that have been discarded or destroyed in the prime timeline. Of course, the reverse is also possible. If you visit a timeline in which something is destroyed or a location is lost, there can be side benefits, all depending upon the timeline in particular. Keep in mind that visiting timelines where you yourself are the 'lost' item is ill advised."

"Ill advised… why?"

"Timelines in which you are dead will typically refuse to even let a variation of you stay living, that is to say, the archetype of the Grave will have some significant pull on you despite your living status. Recovery of individuals who have accidentally encountered this anomaly has been difficult at best and at worst-"

"Stop. Slow down. Using this device-" Diana picks up the Encabulator and shakes it slightly, "we can get into the Grave? Alive?"

"Yes, but-"

"Then that is the game plan." She sets the box back down, and slaps the hand of Natasha, which was moving dangerously close to picking her nose.

"What? I was paying attention!" she says.

Kevin looks slightly nervous. "What possible reason would we have to enter the Grave?"

"When I was looking for you… I went to speak with someone. She's awfully knowledgeable about the rooms and how archetypes interact. Do you know what's in the Grave?"

"Other than the dead? I hope I don't know what you're talking about…"

"The gravesite of the Red Knight is there, and through it, I might be able to… communicate with him? Ask him for advice, or assistance, or something that could help with-"

Without warning, he pounds his fist on the table. "No."

"What do you mean, no? It's the Red Knight-" Diana begins, but is cut off again, this time by Natasha.

"Diana, you mean to consort with demon such as Red Knight? To do this… very stupid of you. Dangerous too. You must not consider."

"Guys… why are you acting like this?"

Kevin rubs his eyes and drags the palms of his hands down his face, a sigh of exhaustion slipping out as he does. "Using a malevolent murdering force as a weapon is a poor course of action, regardless of misalignment with the Black Knights."

"What the hell are you two talking about? The Red Knight is a powerful force, yes, but a force of good. Protecting the innocent, returning lost souls to a place of safety, and defending them from attacks."

Kevin puts his hand over Diana's, and looks into her eyes. "Diana. I know what your records show. You do not know of ours. May I?"

"May you what?" Diana almost pulls her hands away, but reconsiders. "Yes. Show me."

In a cramped, dimly lit hall, the overhead fluorescent lights flicker. A squad of Knights crawl forward, some with svartalbranders drawn, some with the guns for which Diana has no name. In the rear, observed by whosoever this memory was drawn from, a Knight is held aloft by two compatriots. His armor at the abdomen has been pierced by a blade some time ago, and is bleeding profusely.

"Comrades, I… do not think I can…" the Knight begins, but as his head falls, his body loses collision and falls through their arms and into the ground beneath them. Each of the Knights holding him look at one another, and then brush themselves off, and keep moving. Suddenly, the flickering worsens, and the lights cut out entirely. When it returned, he is standing there. The blue lighting does nothing for the typical grandeur he commands, and his billowing cape, moving in some unknown wind, has lost it's hue. Despite all this, Diana knows: it's the Red Knight.

"Your exploitation of this space ends here. Vacate this realm, or it will be done for you." His hand floats over the hilt of his sword, hidden behind his shield. The Knights hold position, the front most of which begin kneeling in order to allow fire over their heads from the rear. "So be it." What proceeds is a near effortless sundering of the entire force. The Black Knights begin firing on him, but a clenched hand from the Red Knight and a glow causes the beams to slow, halt, and then reverse, cascading back into those whom had fired them. With the entire front guard defeated, the rear guard began to charge with swords drawn. Each of them were summarily killed in turn. The first of them swung with a great overhead arc, which was bounced back with the Knight's shield so impossibly hard that the arc reversed, and the sword buried itself several inches within it's owner's skull. The next charged with point forward, but before he arrived, several cuts down the length of his blade from the Red Knights sword rendered it a hilt and nothing more, followed by the only remaining sword of the two going directly into the Black Knights heart.

One by one, each Knight fell. One by one, each Knight vanished into the ground. Until the last Knight, the Knight which had experienced the event, stood standing. Ever loyal to the cause, it charged, but an unknown force prevented him from moving, his veins as cold as ice and his vision blurry. "I have already caused the unnecessary deaths of two more of your groups before this one. This third group puzzled me for a short time. It occurs to me that the avenue of their dispatch may be unknown, and for that reason, let me convey this to you." He grasps the sole remaining Black Knight in his gauntlet by the chin. "Your force is not welcome here. Further attempts to invade this place will be met with equal measure. Relay this information to whomever is considered your superior." He lets go of the Knight, both physically and magically, letting them fall to their knees. Before stepping through the wall and out of sight, he gives the frantic, gasping knight a "Good day."

Diana is pulled from the memory, and she blinks a couple times, clearing a slight blur from her eyes. Afterwards, she notices that her compatriot has slumped over onto the table, bleeding from the nose slightly. "Kevin!" she yells, and moves around the table to assess him. She checks his pulse. "Fainter than before… Natasha, help me get him upstairs to a bed." They heave his body, carrying him up the flight of stairs, and after a few more checks, Diana prepares a cold compress for his fever.

Natasha sighs, sitting beside Diana. "He will not make it out of this without outside help… you know this right?"

"What? No, he… this isn't lethal. He just needs some rest."

"You say this, Diana, of learned experiences you have take from outside world. Just because… eh… 'Kevin', is a human, like you or me… does not mean he is precisely human like you or me. His… how you call it… 'immune system'… it is largely uninvolved. The armor, it does most of work. Without it, he is not well."

Diana thinks about this. She hadn't considered this a possibility. "Should we put him back in and-"

"No. That will not help, it has been much too long. We need Knight's medical supplies. If I tell you, you go and get?"

"Natasha… of course I will. Where am I going and what am I looking for?"

"Good, because I stay here and watch over 'he/they'. You want Level 543. Very dangerous place. It is silly, because… very easy to clip here. On accident even. You must be careful. You are look for black box, in big tower. Very unassuming. You get, you bring back, we install in armor, and Kevin is better. I have seen happen before, very nasty alternative. Quickly, before we run out of time."

Diana stands, draws a sword, and plunges it into the bedroom wall. "Get him back in the armor, quick as you can. It might keep him living for a little while longer. I'll be back as soon as possible."

"Good luck, friend and comrade Diana Evelynn. You will need."

She steps through the clipping point, and her horizon opens to a vast, nighttime cityscape dominated by a single tower. Above it hovers a single spinning hologram of the sun, which dimly lights the metropolis. Sheathing the sword, she begins the sprint to the outer limits of the city, hoping desperately that she'd be fast enough, just this once.

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