Two days into his imprisonment, and Henry had decided quite firmly that he didn’t like being a prisoner. He was restless and fidgety from lack of space to move around—even while stuck in the safehouse, it had been easy to walk the perimeter of the set of rooms to stretch his legs—and a lack of things to do. Productive things, specifically.
Drawing on paper on the floor like a kid sent to the corner in a room of adults to quietly entertain himself didn’t count as productive.
He’d gotten his rest in the weeks he spent with Boris—the real Boris, not this childish bully Boris—in their safehouse, and even after the exhausting madness he’d dealt with in the days afterwards, Henry was by no means ready to settle down all over again.
The angel—who had so far refused to tell him her name—had mentioned that he’d been unconscious for a few days after they’d brought him to their base. Because, of course the logical thing for them to do after killing ‘Alice’ and watching a human pass out from exhaustion, starvation, and a lot of injuries was drag him further down into the hellish studio he was trying to escape from and trap him in a ‘room’ with a cot and little else.
And Henry was left to his slowly worsening infections, his probably cracked or broken ribs, the layered upon layered concussions he was dealing with, and the nightmares resulting from being forced to kill his only friend in the entire studio in self-defense.
So: two days into being trapped in a new safehouse with an unnamed angel trying to feed him ink-soaked sludge and a one-armed Boris copy who seemed to be perpetually pissed off at Henry for no discernible reason—it was safe to say that Henry was ready to break out.
Getting them to trust him wouldn’t matter if he died first, from either starvation or his wounds, and no matter how appealing safety in numbers sounded, his unwilling companions didn’t seem all that inclined to help him escape the studio. Henry would much rather be on his own out there, actually doing something, instead of slowly wasting away in his designated time-out corner.
Besides, there was probably bacon soup somewhere out there. And Henry would never have expected to think that cold, decades-old bacon soup would sound like a feast, but here he was. Beggars can’t be choosers, and if this fake Boris knocked the angel’s feeble attempts at food away from him one more time—Henry would probably lose it.
True to his mental word, the next time he was alone, he tried to escape. It didn’t go well. The crisscrossed bars caging him in were too close together to slip through. They were too sturdy to bend away from the ground. The small gap between the boards in the doorway was just a bit too small for Henry’s adult, and painfully stiff, body.
Despite nearing sixty years of age, he was in relatively good health, and while he hadn’t ever been one for athletics, he’d been holding his own during all the running and fighting that had to be done in the studio. But now, with his body just one more multiple-story fall away from breaking to pieces, there was no chance of fitting through the only open spot leading out of his prison.
Doesn’t mean he didn’t give it his best effort.
The angel walked in on him before Henry could make any solid progress, though. Resigned to trying again later, Henry settled back down on the cot, not in the mood for what passed as a conversation between the two of them. That his back ached worse than before from trying to contort himself was inconsequential.
The second and third escape attempts were noisier, and he was caught both times. There really wasn’t a quiet way to kick thick, wooden boards out of place.
“Why are you trying to escape?” the angel asked after stumbling upon him during his fourth bid for freedom.
Admittedly, trying to gouge away the wood with a scrap of metal he’d found in the corner wasn’t Henry’s best idea, but he was running out of options.
“Because I want out. Is that really a surprise to you?” he asked, rising to his feet. He preferred their interactions, when they were unavoidable, to take place on equal ground.
The angel frowned, before reminding him rather earnestly, “But it’s so dangerous out there! When we found you, you were about to die. It’s safe here.”
Henry shook his head. “I don’t want safe,” he said. “I don’t need safe. What I need is to get out of here.”
“Staying is better for you. With ‘Bendy’ wandering the halls… trust me, we know what’s best.”
“I’m either going to do this my way, or I’m going to die here.” Henry grinned sharply. “And I’ve never been one for giving up, much less rolling over to accept my own death. If I don’t make it out of this studio, it’ll be because I went down fighting, not because you don’t know how to keep a human alive.”
With a sad look, the angel sighed. “Then I hope you realize that we’re just going to stop you. You won’t leave this place before we let you.”
It was probably one of the worst things she could’ve said.
Because as she turned away, Henry could only stare after her, eyes narrowed, and think, Watch me.
• • • • •
Henry’s break came the next day. During his nth exploration of his prison, he accidentally pulled a spoon down while it was still on its hook, and suddenly an entire section of the wall was sliding open.
Oh. Yeah, that’ll work.
(The fact that there was a toilet behind the secret panel was frustrating. All this time, he’d been… well, it was too late to change the past now.)
During one of the rare moments that Henry had the whole room to himself, he slipped into the secret room and waited, ear pressed to a crack in the wall.
He listened as the angel discovered him missing, as one of them pulled loose some of the boards to check beneath the bed. From his position, he could hear metal tapping on the walls in intervals. It was probably the fake Boris’s fake hand, and he was listening for empty spaces that Henry could’ve snuck out through.
Without knocking against the wood, Henry pressed his back up against the panel. When fake Boris tapped there, it didn’t sound hollow, and the toon continued on with no success.
After another few minutes, Henry listened as they scrambled out of the hideout, determined to track him down before he got too far. As soon as they were gone, he slipped out of the bathroom, out of his prison, and out of the safehouse. Completely and totally unarmed, he was back in the dangerous bowels of the studio.
In the debris-filled hallway beyond the door, it was easy to find a place to hide. Even better, there was an unopened can of bacon soup that he managed to devour without drawing attention to himself.
When the duo returned, obviously empty-handed, they passed by him without a second glance, and once the door thunked closed further down the passage, Henry was up and moving.
It was tempting to take the barge, but it’d make him easier to track, if they bothered. He had a natural advantage, being able to interact with the ink without hurting himself, and he wasn’t about to waste it.
The darkness of the tunnel was far worse than the depth of the ink. Henry realized quickly that it was shallower close to the walls, and all the better to walk with his hand pressed against something solid for support. Wading through the cold, thick liquid was also physically demanding. It sloshed against his mid-thighs, but even the strain from forcing his way through it wasn’t enough to truly slow him down.
He’d gotten right back up after falling countless stories in an elevator. A little ink wasn’t about to stop him.
Eventually, Henry reached a large open area. Loose barrels floated here and there, and a couple run-down barges were half-sunk in the ink, littering the space. Tempting as it was to take a break, Henry decided reaching solid ground was better than lingering in the dark.
The ink got deeper and deeper as he was forced away from the wall to enter a new tunnel. He was practically swimming in the stuff when something brushed against his leg.
Henry went as still as he could while keeping his head from sinking beneath the ripples.
Whatever it was returned, firmer this time. Stay motionless, or make a desperate rush for safety?
Before he could decide, Henry felt something emerge from the ink behind him, looming.
Barely daring to breath at this point, he slowly spun himself around. It was a hand, a massive gloved hand, the arm submerged out of sight. It wavered back and forth.
Like it’s debating what to do with me, Henry thought, only a touch hysterical. To be fair, even this was a bit ridiculous by the studio’s standards. But why was it hesitating?
Looking past the giant hand, he spotted the barrels and partially submerged barges, and a realization struck him. The hand, if it had even a modicum of awareness—which it seemed to—had probably never encountered a living being before. The toons couldn’t very well swim in the ink like he could, and it seemed content to sink the wooden objects that ended up in its waters—but give it a human, and it didn’t have any reference point for how it should react.
Henry felt a bit ridiculous, talking to a hand that could probably completely encircle him, but he had to try. “Can you hear me? Can you understand me?”
The hand stilled, but otherwise didn’t really react. Henry experimentally splashed a little bit of ink at it, and it twitched before sinking partially back beneath the surface. It didn’t move, leaving its fingers sticking out a bit.
Treading closer, Henry reached out and patted the pinky finger. After a long pause, the hand slowly shifted enough so the pinky finger could gently pat Henry’s head in return.
Henry laughed, awe and amazement lighting up his eyes. “I think I just made a friend,” he said to himself, wiggling his fingers. The hand mimicked the movement.
With the hope that he’d more or less secured the hand’s approval, Henry turned and resumed swimming towards one of the tunnels. There was a splash behind him, and then something soft but sturdy was rising up beneath his feet, lifting him just above the surface of the ink. Cupped in the hand’s palm, fingers curled up just enough to serve as support rather than entrapment, Henry held still as his new friend cautiously moved forward, taking him down the tunnel he’d been heading for.
Eventually they emerged from the darkness into a large cavern, which seemed to contain a little village. Henry stared at it in wonder—this, this had to have been built by toons of some form or another. There was no way that this was naturally occurring in the studio.
A little dazed by the sight, it took Henry a moment to realize the hand had come to a stop alongside a dock extending into the lagoon. He carefully stepped off, turning to earnestly say, “Thank you.” He offered his palm up for a high-five, hoping his friend would catch on.
The hand, after a pause, raised itself up only to slowly descend to press itself against Henry’s own hand. It stayed still for several long seconds before it pulled away, offering a wave as it sank fully beneath the ink. Henry waved back until it was out of sight.
Henry turned to survey the village. It was rather impressive, all things considered. There were a few ominous messages here and there, but that was hardly anything new. He couldn’t see anyone through the cracks between boards as he wandered towards the far end of the cavern. The place looked abandoned, despite the glowing lights and lit candles.
Coming across a padlocked fence, Henry was just beginning to debate whether it would be easier to break the chain or simply climb over when something broke the eerie silence.
Off to his right, from behind some messily placed boards, Henry recognized the sound of someone crying. As he drifted closer to the blocked doorway beneath a sign reading, Not Monsters, surrounded by handprints of all things, the crying grew louder and more wretched.
The light from the cavern wasn’t strong enough to pierce the darkness beyond, so Henry did the polite thing and gently knocked on the doorframe. The crying immediately stopped, and a far too familiar voice asked, “Who dares approach me?”
Oh gosh, it’s Sammy, Henry thought, taking a step back. He’d thought Sammy had died while trying to sacrifice Henry up in the music department. Although, since he was down here now, it was entirely possible that he had indeed been killed, only to respawn in the bowels of the studio.
“Uh, it’s Henry,” he answered.
Ominous silence passed between them, and then suddenly the boards were being hacked down as Sammy cried, “Betrayed! Abandoned!” He stepped into the light brandishing an axe and pointed menacingly at Henry.
“I trusted you! I gave you everything…” Sammy continued, wildly swinging his weapon. He wasn’t even within hitting range of Henry, not that Henry was complaining. “And you left me to rot!”
Now, unless Henry’s memory was failing him, he was pretty sure their encounter hadn’t gone anything like that. However, it definitely wasn’t the time to be accusing Sammy of being delusional, not while he had an axe and Henry did not.
Instead, Henry raised his hands to show he was unarmed and asked, “Can you explain that to me, Sammy? What did you give me?”
The questions seemed to freeze Sammy where he stood. “I—I gave you everything!”
“Sammy, the only thing you gave me was my second concussion. You tried to sacrifice me to Bendy, remember?”
The axe head thunked against the ground, Sammy’s arm going limp. “But… but he said you’d save me.”
Something clicked in Henry’s mind. Creeping closer to the former music director, Henry said, “That’s news to me. Y’know what I think, Sammy? I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else. The things you’re saying—it’s all meant for Bendy, isn’t it?”
When Henry pulled at the axe in Sammy’s hand, he was met with no resistance.
“…Yes. Yes, that’s—Bendy, the Ink Demon. He, he was supposed to set me free.” Sammy reached up and fingered his mask. “My lord—he abandoned me instead.”
Privately, Henry wondered if Bendy had known he was expected to set his Prophet free. Was that even something Bendy was capable of? Before Henry could ask if Bendy had some sort of powers that Henry didn’t know about—and more importantly, how on earth had Sammy mistaken Henry of all people for the actual Ink Demon—Sammy made some wobbly noises.
“Uh, don’t cry,” Henry said. Pleaded, more like. “I know it hurts, but it’ll be okay.”
Sammy looked to be gearing up for a wail or two. “But if I have no lord, no purpose, what am I to do?”
Patting him on the shoulder, Henry suggested, “Well, maybe try for a change in scenery. Whenever I get down about something, I go for a walk. It clears my head, and I get to see something new to distract me.”
Nodding slowly, the gurgling sounds from behind Sammy’s mask began to die down. “That doesn’t sound like too terrible of an idea.”
Gee, thanks, Henry thought.
But then Sammy turned fully towards him. “I will accompany you. Henry, you said? You can show me how to find a new purpose.”
Henry held in a sigh and offered his new companion a weak smile. “Great,” he said, entirely unenthusiastic. “I don’t supposed you know the way forward?”
• • • • •
Sammy did, in fact, know the way forward. He allowed Henry to keep the axe, and without much further ado, they were off. After skipping over a board that Sammy told him was weak, they pushed into a hallway behind the cavern.
There was a lot of aimless wandering around, and a lot of Sammy chattering about nothing at all, and then they were interrupted by a crash from just beyond the upcoming corner.
“What if it’s Bendy?” Sammy asked, hiding behind Henry, only to immediately pretend that he hadn’t been hiding behind him.
Henry doubted it was, because those shadows seemed to stretch far enough that they would’ve seen them from where they stood. He started towards the noise and cheerfully told Sammy, “Well, if it is, then you can tell Bendy how angry you are at him for abandoning you!”
A high-pitched squeak burst out of Sammy, and the poor man went a little bit melty at the suggestion, but he hurried after Henry regardless. “I’m, I’m sure my lord had his reasons…”
“Oh c’mon, Sammy! That demon doesn’t deserve you!” Okay, so Sammy was as fun to tease as a person made of ink as he’d been as a human, even though his reactions were different.
Case in point: instead of getting angry or defensive with Henry, he shakily said, “Yeah, yeah! What’s my lord—I mean, the Ink Demon—done for me?”
“Exactly! Now go get ‘im, big guy!” Henry nudged Sammy forward, exposing him to whoever was in the new corridor.
Sammy released a little shriek, flailing away from who he believed to be Bendy. Henry snorted, trying desperately to swallow his laughter at the sight of a Lost One instead.
The poor Lost One was picking themself up from a pile of broken wood, looking to be from a chair or three. At Sammy’s dramatic reaction, their head turned towards them. Glowing amber eyes met Henry’s, and he waved at the motionless creature.
Sammy peeled himself away from the wall he was cowering against. Straightening, he huffed. “See, it was nothing to be afraid of.”
“My hero,” Henry said, rolling his eyes. “Why don’t you help the poor fellow up?”
When Sammy didn’t move, practically radiating disdain, Henry sighed and moved forward himself. Shifting the axe to his left hand, he offered his right to the fallen Lost One and fake whispered, “Sorry about Mr. Sourpuss. He’s been having a bad day.”
The Lost One accepted Henry’s help, staggering to their feet. They shrugged and waved their hand, using the apparently universal gesture for it’s all right, don’t worry about it.
Wait, but that meant—
“Can you understand me?” Henry’s hope burned brightly in his heart when the Lost One nodded. “Do you have a name?”
The Lost One nodded again.
“Well, unless you can speak,” Henry started, pausing as the Lost One shook their head sadly, “do you think you can write it down?”
After some contemplation, the Lost One shuffled over to the nearest wall and shakily raised their hand. Trembling, it began to draw a line down, achingly slow.
Sammy apparently shared similar thoughts. “We’ll be here all day at this rate. Can we not simply leave this pitiful creature and move on?”
Henry sent Sammy a disapproving glare. Only a second passed by before he guessed, “Wally?”
The Lost One froze, barely halfway through the ‘W’ and turned to point at Henry in confirmation.
“See?” Henry said to Sammy. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Even with the mask covering Sammy’s face, Henry knew he was distastefully eyeing Wally. “On the contrary,” he answered, “I believe our situation has only gotten worse.”
Snorting, Henry muttered, “Oh hush, you giant, overdramatic ink-blot. You didn’t see me complaining when you decided to tag along.”
“Please don’t tell me you want this creature to come with us? It’s—”
“He is just like you, only he can’t talk.”
And Sammy didn’t have a comeback for that.
• • • • •
“Are we lost?” Sammy asked as Henry randomly chose a new hallway to venture down. Wally practically bounced along beside them, needing to be absently steadied by Henry every now and then when he got a bit too enthusiastic.
Henry thought for a moment before shrugging. “Can we really be lost if we’re not heading anywhere in particular?”
Wally gurgled, presumably in agreement. He poked at Henry’s hand, and Henry held it up for him to examine. The callused flesh seemed to fascinate him. Did he even remember what it felt like to have skin? To have a body that wasn’t ink?
“I should think you’d be trying to escape,” Sammy said.
“Yeah,” Henry admitted. “Only problem is, I don’t even know where in the studio I am anymore. I can only guess that we’re extremely deep underground, but… does this place just keep going down, or does it spread out?”
He didn’t get the chance to find out if Sammy had an answer, because Wally came to an abrupt halt beside him, and since he was gripping Henry’s wrist, Henry was pulled to a stop as well.
“Hey, what’s wro—” The words froze in Henry’s throat as he followed Wally’s gaze.
Through a metal grate embedded in the wall, he watched, heart racing, as the Ink Machine slowly lowered past them, suspended in a dark chasm by thick chains.
“Where’s it going?” Henry whispered. His fingers clenched around the axe’s handle, wishing he could cut the blasted thing down and let it crash to the bottom of the abyss. “Sammy, where’s it going?”
Sammy shuffled his feet. “…They say the Ink Demon has a lair. I would guess that the Ink Machine is connected to it when it’s not above.”
“Take me to it.”
Wally squeaked in alarm. Sammy shuddered and stepped forward. “Henry,” he said, “if you go in there, you will not come out.”
Henry only continued to stare down into the darkness. The Ink Machine had descended out of sight, but he couldn’t quite tear himself away.
Sammy took it as his cue to continue. “There have been others, others that have gone in. Lost Ones, full toons, even a few humans. None of them were ever seen again.”
“There have been others like me?”
“No,” Sammy said immediately, only to correct himself, “I mean, yes, there have been humans, but none of them have been like you. They… all they did was attack us, whether or not we attacked them. They screamed and shouted and called us monsters. You stand before me holding an axe that I have not seen you lift against anyone.”
Henry stepped back from the grate. Wally inched closer, as if expecting Henry to run off right then and there.
When he didn’t get a response, Sammy said, sounding so painfully like the man he used to be, “You should leave now, Henry, while you still have the chance.”
“And what about all of you? This—” Henry gestured at the ruined studio walls around them— “is no way for anyone to live.”
“Don’t worry about us,” Sammy said, Wally nodding along. “We’ve survived this long.”
Henry shook his head, smiling. “Here I thought you were one of the smart ones. Of course I’m worried. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’m invested in all of you guys. Have been since Boris.” Leaning his axe against his leg, he put a hand on each of their shoulders, gripping tightly at the ink. “I couldn’t save him, but I’m going to try my best to save all of you.”
“Oh,” Sammy said, sounding smaller than he ever had before. Wally, lacking a voice of his own, somehow perfectly mirrored the emotion. “I didn’t…”
There were a lot of ways that Henry imagined he could finish that sentence—expect you to care, think I deserved help, want to watch you leave—but he didn’t make Sammy choose. Instead, he took up his weapon and stepped back. “C’mon. We’ve got a ways to go before we can end this.”
• • • • •
It was hard to believe that just a day or two ago—there was simply no way to reliably keep track of time passing down here—Henry had been a prisoner. He had to wonder what those two were doing now, whether they were still fearfully holed up in their base or had left it behind. Unlike Henry, though, the angel and fake Boris didn’t seem to have any greater goal beyond surviving. Yeah, the angel had talked about hope and escaping and stuff like that, but it didn’t look like she was ever actually going to do something about it.
Still, despite how they’d held him against his will, Henry mentally wished them well. He wished everyone in this hell the best, honestly. They all deserved a chance for a happy ending.
Those thoughts didn’t stop Henry from cursing under his breath as he dodged a swipe from Charley. All three Butcher gang members were chasing after him as he rushed through the maze of corridors.
Sammy and Wally were waiting outside the area, since they’d be of no help with transporting globs of ink. They had the axe, but that was for the better. Henry was really tired of killing the poor toons who already looked to be in enough pain.
The sounds they were making weren’t helping. Their gurgled, not-quite-words made his heart hurt. Something about them—perhaps their relatively short statures, the incomprehensible babbling, or the way they tripped over themselves as they hobbled after him—reminded Henry of toddlers.
Well, that was an idea, wasn’t it. Some toddlers throwing temper tantrums were only looking for attention.
Eh, why not.
Henry turned on his heel and slid down to his knees, practically tackling the trio as gently as he could. He strategically made sure to trap their arms against their little bodies, holding them in an unbreakable grip against himself.
Their cries grew quieter, and after some frantic wiggling, they fell still one by one.
“See,” he said, “isn’t that nice?”
Edgar’s entire body leaned forward, snuggling beneath Henry’s chin like a cat. Barley’s swinging head thumped against Henry’s side. Their ink was smooth and cool, rippling against his skin in a way that was distinctly alive. They sat like that long enough for Henry to hum his favorite Bendy song twice over.
Finally, Henry pulled back, slow and steady. They made no move to attack as he struggled up, knees crackling like bubble wrap. And when he turned and took a few steps back the way he’d been going, a glance over his shoulder showed them sedately following.
The moment they left the maze, Sammy and Wally’s heads popped up from behind a table turned on its side. Wally waved, his eyes bright.
“No,” Sammy said. “Absolutely not. This one,” he gestured at Wally, “was bad enough, we do not need—”
Wally smacked him over the back of his head, knocking his mask crooked. He stood, planted his hands on his hips, and looked down at Sammy with an impressively disapproving air about him, especially for an expressionless Lost One.
“Sorry, Sammy,” Henry said, while working the last glob of ink they needed out of his shirt pocket. “Two against one.”
His inky friends emerged from their little table fort, and the way Sammy took in a breath perfectly matched the way he used to as a human, when he was gearing up for a rant. He had one finger raised and everything, but his whole self deflated when Edgar put one of his hands in Sammy’s.
They stared at each other for a while, and Henry very carefully held in his laughter. Beside him, Wally was carefully examining the other two little toons. He reached out and wound up Barley’s fishing pole, eliminating the worst of the uncontrollable swinging.
When Sammy looked up, Henry raised an eyebrow and asked, “You good?”
“Yes. Let’s—” Sammy’s voice cracked. “—go. What are we waiting for, there are places to—why are you making that face? What’s so funny? Henry, this means nothing, I don’t know what you’re implying—”
“Sure you don’t, you big softy.”
• • • • •
Getting lost in the studio’s maze was nothing new to Henry, and he was content with wandering aimlessly for the most part, confident that he’d find his way sooner or later.
Sammy, the only other member of their party of six who could speak, was not of the same mind.
All Henry could say to his worries and complaints was, “I don’t know where I’m going, Sammy, and unless you do and just haven’t said anything, wandering until we find something is all we’ve got.”
Privately, he couldn’t help but think that with the way his luck had been playing out so far, they’d find Bendy’s lair eventually—because it was the worst thing that could happen to Henry from the universe’s point of view, and the best thing in his. One or the other would win out in time.
At the next intersection, Edgar tugged Sammy’s hand towards the left. The other two little toons bounced ahead, and that was as good a reason as any to go that way. Henry was busy trying to reason out how long he’d been stuck in the studio’s extensive walls when the others drew up to a halt. He stopped as well, just a few steps in front of them.
The corridor ended in a large, ruined room. Ink smeared the walls, more than in any other room Henry’d seen. A few crates were pushed into the corners, but what really captured his attention was the unreasonably massive vault door clean ripped off its hinges on the opposite end of the room.
Drawn like a moth to flame, Henry headed straight for the vault. It was dusty and mostly empty, just a few forgotten film reels in boxes littering the space. In the far right corner, a metal door appeared to have been punched open. Beyond was a dark tunnel.
“Henry?” Sammy asked. “You aren’t planning on going through there, are you? The lair…”
With a gentle smile, Henry turned and told him, “You and the others are more than welcome to wait here, if you’d like.”
“Don’t go,” Sammy said. “I… I have a bad feeling.”
Wally nodded and reached out, as if to pull Henry away. The others cowered behind the taller toons’ legs, faintly trembling.
“I think I have to, Sammy. But there’s nothing to worry about, okay? Everything will be fine.”
“It’s never been fine for the others. They die. Whatever their goal—to destroy the Machine, the Ink Demon, or to simply try to escape the inevitable—they do not succeed and they do not come back.” Sammy paused, and in that moment, he seemed the most like the man he’d once been. “If this was a story, Henry, that place is the end.”
Though he appreciated their concern, there was nothing that could stop Henry from continuing on. He’d fought for every step he’d taken from the moment he closed the front door behind him, and to give up and turn back now was unthinkable.
And perhaps his friends saw something of that in his apologetic eyes, in the set of his shoulders, in the steady, unshakeable grip he had on the axe, because Wally came to stand beside him, Barley trailing behind him by the hand. Charley and Edgar followed, Sammy dragged behind the latter.
“They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results,” Sammy grumbled pointedly.
Clapping a hand on Sammy’s squishy shoulder, Henry said, “Don’t worry, pal. I have no intention of trying the same thing as the others.”
Together, the six of them left the vault, pushing forward through the darkness.
Emerging from the tunnel into a massive cavern, they all stared up at the giant nozzle sticking out of the far wall, dripping ink into a lake around it, like a moat. There was a very clear passage beneath it, facing them where they stood on the shore. Twisted pipes and rotting gears larger than Henry himself, hanging chains stained dark, and the sharp shadows being cast across the exterior turned the whole structure into something straight out of a nightmare.
And even as Henry watched, the source of that nightmare, the Ink Machine, slowly descended from a hole in the ceiling. He glared until it had sunk out of sight.
Henry let out a long breath. He knew he was on his own from here; none of the others would be able to safely cross the moat. From their silence, they knew it, too.
“Good luck, Henry,” Sammy said quietly. “If you see the Ink Demon, tell him… tell him he is no lord of mine.”
The callback to how they’d met—well, met for the second time—brought a brief smile to Henry’s face. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he promised.
Wally gave him a few pats on his back, and then a clumsy thumbs-up. Edgar, Charley, and Barley bounced around at his feet for a moment before they each latched onto a leg for a hug.
“We’ll wait here,” Sammy told him as Henry stepped up to the edge of the ink-moat. “For as long as we can.”
For beings who had no need for food, sleep, or anything, really—that could be a very long time. With that in mind, Henry raised his axe in something like a salute. “I’ll try to be quick.”
It took every ounce of effort he had to turn his back on his friends and wade into the cold, thick ink. His aches and pains barely slowed him down, his determination to finish this once and for all, to find whatever happy ending he could, gave him all the strength he needed to take one step after another.
After a minute of trudging, Henry pulled himself up onto the path leading into Bendy’s lair. He sent a last glance over his shoulder at the line of toons believing in him before he squared his shoulders and marched into the unknown.
The hallway was harmless, though eerie. Towards the end, a few alcoves with frozen human forms, all doused in ink, made a pit form in his stomach. And then, beyond heavy mechanical doors, waited an empty throne. It was made of an armchair with metal poles sticking out of the back like horns. Broken bits of projectors littered the raised mound of ink it sat on.
Leaning against one of the armrests, a pristine film reel sat on the chair’s seat. Lacking so much as a single drop of ink, it might well’ve been the cleanest thing in the studio.
Henry, after leaning his axe against the bottom of the armchair, carefully picked it up, rolling it around in his hands as he stared at the dozen screens placed high on the walls of the throne room. Each played different scenes that he’d worked on, scenes and characters that he’d dedicated countless amounts of time, effort, and—perhaps most importantly—love to.
Lost in his thoughts, Henry almost didn’t hear the pat pat of something dripping rather close behind him. The sound wasn’t familiar, exactly, but he knew what was waiting for him all the same.
And for once, Henry didn’t feel afraid.
He turned around on top of the ink pile and looked down into Bendy’s obscured face. The demon tilted his head, teeth bared.
“That’s enough, bud,” Henry said, loud in the quiet for all that he hadn’t intended to be. Without looking, he placed the film reel on the throne. The axe stayed where it was.
One slow step after another, Henry descended to the floor. Bendy didn’t move.
“No more,” Henry continued. “No more of this. No more fighting, or chasing. No more games where there’s no such thing as a winner.”
Bendy’s face tilted to follow him, regaining his height advantage as Henry crept closer.
“This studio is poison, top to bottom, and everyone trapped in here is drowning in it. And I think that includes you. So, please, Bendy… no more suffering.”
For a long, frozen moment, they merely stared at one another, easily within reach. It would have been as simple as Bendy lifting his hand to wrap it around Henry’s throat to kill him to end it. Axe-less, Henry had no means to defend himself. But truces weren’t made while weapons were drawn.
Bendy’s head finally raised, looking past Henry, before he refocused on the weary human standing helpless in front of him. And then he shrugged, a slow, open-palmed gesture that turned into an empty offering.
“You don’t know how to stop, do you?” Henry asked. He watched Bendy flex his hands, his fingers large and claw-like. He racked his brain, straining with every ounce of his being to understand. “The others… they said that people have come here before. Now, I don’t know about all that—” Bendy growled, clearly not happy with the reminder, “—but they must’ve had a reason, just as you must’ve had a reason for… killing them.”
“I don’t suppose it’s something as simple as just wanting to stop us?”
Miracle of miracles, Bendy nodded again.
“But stop us from what? Destroying the Ink Machine?” A firm shake of the head. “Okay. Killing you?” A wiggly shrug. Not right, but also not wrong. “It’s something about this place. Right? I certainly didn’t stand a chance against you out there, so if there’s a way to do it, it’d have to be here.”
For a heart-stopping moment, Henry thought he was done for. But, instead of tearing Henry limb from limb, he pointed over his shoulder, back towards the throne. More specifically, the film reel sitting innocently on it.
Watching to make sure Bendy didn’t react badly, Henry returned to pick it up again. This time, he examined it as he turned it over.
The End, it read.
Henry glanced back at Bendy, confused. The ink demon twitched, and if Henry wasn’t hallucinating, he looked a bit bigger.
“The end?” Henry asked. “What’s it the end of?” And like a light bulb flicking on, he got it. “The end of you.”
Bendy bared his teeth at the reel—and did they look longer and sharper, or was Henry seeing things?
“Now hang on, how could this kill anyone, especially you?” He frowned. “Sorry, no. Stupid question, this is a studio where everyone should be dead one way or another. This isn’t even the weirdest thing I’ve seen today.”
An unused projector sat beside the armchair throne, an empty screen on the wall across from it.
And Henry was standing in the perfect place to use it. No way would Bendy be fast enough to stop him—he seemed to know it, too, from how tense he was, staring down at the film reel in Henry’s hands.
Henry, so quickly it startled even himself, felt fury course through him. A rage he didn’t recognize ignited in his heart, and for the first time since he’d set foot through the front door, his mind felt clear and his breath came easy.
No animator ever expected to see his creations literally brought to life. When his were, however long ago Joey had started this, their first heartbeats were broken and hurting, angry and lost and alone. Poisoned, like Henry’d said.
And if that wasn’t enough—if these poor creatures suffering endlessly wasn’t enough; if innocent men and women desperately fighting for their lives only to die surrounded by cold, unforgiving ink wasn’t enough; if good people like Susie and Wally and, yes, even Sammy being trapped in a half-living hell wasn’t enough—
Bendy’s life hinged on a film reel. Joey did that to him, bound him to something like that and might as well have told Bendy, ‘If you want to live, you’ll have to kill,’ when he lured who-knew-how-many people to be pawns in his heartless game. Every creature in this studio had been unwillingly pitted against each other, becoming the villain to anyone they stood against.
Henry’s eyes burned with hot, angry tears. The film reel creaked beneath his clenching fingers. Bendy waited motionlessly for him to pass judgement.
What gave Joey Drew the right?
“You are mine,” Henry whispered harshly. Bendy startled, and that would’ve been funny if Henry wasn’t so furious. “I created you.” He looked up at the cartoon scenes, looping endlessly above their heads—a monument to his work, his dedication, his care.
“I’m the animator, and your story ends when I say so—” He pried a loose metal bar from a broken projector at his feet and viciously scratched out the neatly drawn words proclaiming The End. Dipping a finger into the ink, he scrawled out his own in the blank space around the edge of the reel. “And I say—”
Bendy stepped closer, smaller than Henry’d seen him yet, as Henry flipped the reel around for him to see.
To Be Continued, Henry’d written.
He spoke the words out loud, sure and strong and true, and Bendy’s body, with a great splat, melted.
• • • • •
Henry wadded back across the ink moat to where his friends were bouncing in anticipation.
“You’re alive,” Sammy said, sounding confused and happy and a bit like he was going to faint.
Wally gestured wildly before jabbing a finger up towards the hole in the cavern’s ceiling, where the Ink Machine had descended from.
“I don’t know why it went back up, Wally, but I’ll get to it eventually. Maybe it can be of some use before I tear it apart.”
The three smaller toons danced around their legs as Henry finally stepped back onto dry land—for all the good that did his ruined shoes and pants.
“You’re alive,” Sammy repeated.
Henry smiled, genuinely happy, and said, “We both are.” He kneeled down so the Butcher gang could also see the little figure cradled in his arms.
When Bendy had practically liquified, Henry’s outrage had immediately turned to panic and fear. He’d leapt to the ground, right over to the bubbling puddle, and, with no other idea of what to do, plunged his hand into the ink.
He had reached, not really sure what he was reaching for—and then kept reaching, until he was shoulder deep in a pool that shouldn’t have been enough to cover his hand. There was just enough time for him to think that the studio’s laws of physics would never make sense to him, before something brushed against his palm.
Even without being able to see into the cold depths, Henry hadn’t hesitated to grasp the something and pull. He had to fight for every inch gained. The moment he’d found better leverage with his legs, his free hand joined the first.
It had occurred to him, around then, that he was holding onto thin wrists, weak fingers pressing against his own.
His infinite determination meant he had refused to let the ink win, and in the end, a wet pop marked the moment a small, perfectly on-model Bendy tumbled right into Henry’s open arms.
The sudden surprise of it had knocked Henry back, and he’d found himself sitting on the floor with a trembling, wide-eyed little demon sitting on his lap. Bendy, probably only about two-and-a-half feet tall, had blinked up at him.
“Henry?” Bendy had said, slowly and quietly, like he wasn’t entirely sure how to speak at all. In total bewilderment, he’d stared down at his hands, almost as if he hadn’t recognized them.
“Hey, bud. It’s good to see you like this; I’d wondered if… well. I was so worried about you.”
Bendy had leaned back, supported by Henry’s hand, and stared for a long moment. “You…” he’d finally said, hesitant, “you were worried about me?”
And Henry had scooped him up to leave the lair behind and said, “You bet I was.”
Now, Sammy and Wally stared down at the much less intimidating form of Bendy, with the Butcher gang gathered around.
“Hi.” Bendy waved.
Wally and the others waved back. Sammy took in a deep breath behind his mask and blurted out, “You are not my lord!”
Bendy stared for a second before leaning closer to Henry to whisper, “Henry, you sure we gotta bring that one with us?”
“You’ll get used to him,” Henry whispered back, before settling Bendy on his own two feet. He wobbled a bit, but only needed a steadying hand for his first few steps.
“Well,” Henry stood, brushing his stained palms together. He was a complete mess, and nothing less than a long, long wash was going to change that anytime soon. “Onwards and upwards?”
“To greater things,” Sammy agreed.
Wally tilted his head back, as though stargazing, before nodding, uncharacteristically solemn.
Edgar clacked the teeth on top of his head together, as much an encouragement as a reminder that repairs needed to be made to all of them.
Bendy took Henry’s hand and said, “Can’t think of anythin’ else I’d rather do.”
Edgar latched on to Henry’s other hand as they started off, and Henry smiled. “Together, then. And who knows,” his smiled turned mischievous as he glanced around at the others, thinking about how he’d been alone when he first set out, been alone for most of his journey through the studio, before he started picking up tagalongs left and right.
“Maybe we’ll meet some more friends on the way.”