Return to the Gallery of the Dolls
Authors Note: Dear Reader;
It should be noted that this story will make very little sense unless you’ve read Gallery of the Dolls, Aerlliin’s very first venture into the realm of the spooky. Even if you read it when it came out, it would probably be an excellent idea to re-read it and refresh your memory. I can also proudly say that Aerlliin’s writing has become far less pretentious and available to a wider audience, while reducing the errors by at least 30%. She’s also doodled this time.
I can’t help but stare at Amulatt like she has lost her little Eventide head. Or grown a second one. I have her repeat what she said, slowly.
“Thou hast a request to return to Neovia. I doth believe thy Friend said ‘as quick as your Peophin legs can carry you or I’ll destroy you.’ Oh! Thy letter was sent from Jariev, thine Mentor!” She seems shocked that my teacher might actually send correspondence. “I thought she usually Teleports, please do not stare at me so.”
“That’s not why I’m staring at you, Amulatt. Didn’t I tell you why I don’t ever, ever go to Neovia or its surrounding villages? I’m pretty sure I bring it up at least once a week.” She rolls her eyes, which told me she had absolutely heard the story.
“Mayhap you might… embellish the Tale a little as Time passes?” I don’t like violence, but this is the closest I’d ever come to physically harming someone. “It simply does not sound like it follows Logic, sister mine. I’ve read that Journal entry. Thou did not even spell thy Name correctly. Mayhap it was a Nightmare? I am familiar with such Things.”
“Transcription error. Anyhow, it was absolutely true, and I even left some details out. Ance trusts me on this one,” I whine. I’m not proud, but whining will sometimes work in my favor. It draws her attention to us and she just lets out the longest, most exasperated sigh I’ve ever heard.
“Usually I wouldn’t dignify this with an answer. Sweetpea, if you asked me now, I’d probably tell you that you’re a bit of a nutter, but I love you.” She goes back to reading whatever volume of the newest horror novel was out and she’s lost to the world. I do, admittedly, feel a little hurt. I take a deep breath, knowing that I’ll have to plead my case if I want to avoid going to Neovia.
“Alright, even if it was a nightmare, I don’t see why Jariev would be involved. She hates people. I don’t think you want to meet her.” I bite my lip, seeing if any of this is taking root. I let out a sigh that made Ance’s seem like it was just a little bit of a thing. “She probably won’t like you. Mythic definitely won’t.”
“Mythic and I have Tea weekly, sister mine. Thou art going to need to do better than that.” She brings over an overnight bag and I know I’m not going to have a choice. “At least, this Time, I shall be accompanying thee.” It’s no small comfort that I won’t be alone.***
“So, you got my letter. Good.” Jariev is blind and ancient, but sees more than she lets on. “Oh, and you brought the radioactive looking one, too. Sorry, Glitterpony, but Mythic is currently in town. Unless you’re going with Aerlliin?”
“Why art mine friend in town?” This doesn’t sound grammatically correct to me, but Amulatt pretty much butchers the Neopian language every time she opens her mouth. It’s not her first (or sixth) language, so we let it slide. “I thought she despised the Locals?” Her head tilts and it reminds me of a Puppyblew.
“Well, that’s uh. That’s sort of why I asked Aerlliin to come. I mean, it’s a bonus that you came, as well, but…” I glare at her. I’m really glad she can’t see me do it.
“Don’t tell me. I will go back home.” I start to quiver in fear a little. I can’t help it. “It’s the stupid evil demon gallery, isn’t it?” I’m so eloquent.
“See, we know each other so well, I don’t even have to tell you what’s going on.” She grins, and it’s a wry smile. “But yes. It’s the stupid evil demon gallery. It turns out that deactivating the last Staffs probably wasn’t the greatest idea. It was a bandage on something that needed stitches.” I cringe at the mental image. “Turns out the Mutants were a bit more… ah… prevalent than previously thought.”
“Oh Sloth, there’s more of them.” My mouth dries out and I feel dizzy.
“By the Stars, mine sister art not a Liar?!” She corrects herself. “I mean, ‘overly creative to the point of being unbelievable?’” Her grin is almost malicious. “How terrible art they, Mentor?”
“Well, first you two might want to sit down. Let me get some tea started.” She’s stalling, and I just glare at her. “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice, Aerlliin.”
I really hate it when she does that.
“Jari, please. Just tell us what we’re doing here so we can get it over with and I can look at pictures of Puppyblews and Kadoties until I feel better.” I almost spit it out, and don’t even apologize.
“It’s just as well. I’m not sure I have any tea here. Or anywhere to sit.” She goes on to explain that the dolls reanimated themselves and now everything is attacking everyone. I eye a houseplant warily, and I’m pretty certain I see it blink, so I lose track of what she’s saying and interrupt her.
“Uh… everything?” Amulatt sees what I’m seeing and jumps a solid two feet into the air.
“THY HOUSEPLANT HATH EYES!” Her celestial wings keep her aloft as she bats them furiously, a form of magic that has always baffled me. They’re not even real wings, but they work.
“Yeah, I was afraid you were going to say that.” Jariev turns her head in the direction of the rebellious rhododendron and casts a silent spell, sending it flying through the wall. “Probably why there aren’t any chairs in here.” There are, actually, but they don’t appear to be animated. Yet.
“So… how do we stop this?”
“Do you have any sort of, oh, I don’t know, plan?” I kick at the houseplant that has come back through the hole in the wall, but that just makes it mad. It wraps itself around my leg. I bite through it. Not a big deal, I’ve dealt with perilous plants before.
“Nope. We’ll deal with it when we get there.”***
When we get there, ‘unbelievable nightmare’ isn’t quite enough to cover what’s happening in Neovia. Shoes and socks are chasing after their owners, nipping at their feet. Chaise lounges are growling and holding people hostage in alleyways. And worst of all are the dolls. Most people wouldn’t know them as dolls, but they’re not real mutants, either. They’re something more- something evil. And I hate them.
“Well, we’ll see Myth’s magic here in a minute and it should clear the way.” Jari stays in one spot, almost belligerently oblivious to the chaos around her. The ground shakes beneath us as a blast of yellow-white light comes from the city center. It immobilizes most of the mutated things, if not completely eliminating the enchantments that keep them animated. “Ah. There we are.”
“What was that Magic?” Amulatt hasn’t touched the ground since we left the cottage. I don’t know how she isn’t screaming her fool head off.
“Just an immobilization spell with a twist of light magic. Lets us deal with the bigger problem without having a bunch of little problems,” Jari offers. I swear, I’ve never heard this mare speak a complete sentence. Maybe once you get to a certain age, like she has, you save your energy for more important things, like defeating demon-possessed armchairs. I hear a shriek from where Amulatt last was- she’s now even higher in the air and beneath her is a familiar sight. It’s the dolls again.
“Come here, little pony…” they chime at once. It doesn’t get any less creepy the older you are. “We’ll give you the greatest gift of all…”
“Thou art Abominations, now leave me!” She kicks out her little hooves, sending stardust glittering a few inches in every direction before it disappears. Hers is a magic that’s unknown to pretty much everyone. She flitters her wings, sending more of the same down. “My Magic has no power over these Abominations, sister-mine!” Her magic doesn’t have much power over anything, so this isn’t news.
“Remember, you’re the one who wanted to come so badly.” Last time, these dolls were controlled by a thing I destroyed- a Usuki Staff. I don’t even have the remnants on me, nor could I reconstruct it. “We’ll need to destroy them for good.” Another burst of light fills the area, this time pointed at us.
“Most intuitive, faerie Peophin student of my mother’s.” Mythic, a Chocolate Uni, steps from the middle of the frozen chaos she’s created. She doesn’t like me much, but at least she speaks to me. “Mother, you may want to sit this adventure out. There are some things here you won’t be able to see. Like lampposts and water fountains. I will be able to combat this with the help of my friend and her sister.” She didn’t call me a lighthouse or an exceptionally heavy Kau, so I think I’m winning her over.
“Mythic, I’m blind, not stupid. I know you want to hang out with your friends.” The old mare smiles. “But I do have the townspeople to protect whilst you tinker with the expulsion spells. Don’t blow anything up, my dear. The people need a place to live in when this is all over.”
Now, I know Mythic well enough that she already figured out how to take care of this. And the way she’s looking at me tells me I’m not going to like it. “We need to go to the source of this dark power. “ A whimper escapes my throat. “The nexus, to be more precise.”
“The watercourse?” I ask hopefully. Amulatt sighs. People have been doing that to me a lot today.
“If thee believeth that, thou art Duller than thy are Pretty, and thou art very Pretty.” The look she gives me is a pained one. I know the look on my face can’t be anything other than shock.
“Did you just insult me? I didn’t know you knew how to do that in Neopian.” Or at all, but the fact that she delivered it so flawlessly has almost made me forget where we’re going. I’ve apparently stayed shocked enough to follow my sister and Mythic directly to my least favorite place in the universe. I watch as they pass a grin between themselves.
“We must deactivate the powers within.” I look up to see a new-ish wooden sign, telling us that it’s no longer a toy emporium, but ‘Frobert Frouchworthy’s Farriery and Foodstuffs.’ That somehow doesn’t make me feel any better. “What does this sign tell you, student?”
“That we’re going to die in there and be turned into shoes and a side of beef,” I answer plainly. Another sigh. This time, it’s accompanied by Mythic rolling her eyes.
“It’s not the same building it once was, genius. The walls and such are the same-“
“And it changes based on phases of the moon and your own perception. We’re walking in expecting it to be the center of this invasion, not a shoe store. Didn’t think about that, did you?”
“Oh.” She peers into the window, her reddish eyes seemingly missing nothing. “It’s frighteningly empty.”
“Why wouldst the Building be empty?” Amulatt sticks almost her entire face up to the window, inspecting it. “Not even a Miamouse.” She steps back from the window, biting her lip. “This art going to be a bad Time.”
“Yup.” I kick open the door, knowing that while this might be someone’s livelihood, it’s also the center of all the evil things that are happening tonight. I mean, Neovia is usually full of evil things by association, but people generally don’t freak out here about ghosts and the like. A different kind of normal, I guess.
The building is eerily silent. Amulatt has summoned what looks to be a cricket bat, and it shimmers with the effort of her holding it. I feel bad for her until I remember she’s the one who voluntold me for this little adventure. I smell mold and the mustiness of decay- and a hint of sulfur.
“I changed my mind I don’t want to do this anymore let me go.” Mythicalia puts me in a bubble of magic that I’m unable to escape as I attempt to bolt out the door. I might be bigger than she is, but she’s older and has a firmer grasp of magic than I do.
“You would leave all these people to this? I knew you were a coward. I never would have thought you were cruel.” I suddenly feel about ten inches tall. “I know you don’t want to be here, Aerlliin. But sometimes doing the right thing means heading into really scary situations.”
“I see two perfectly capable Neopets that could do this themselves.” Her words hurt, though. Am I a coward? Yup. Scaredy-Kadoatie? Guilty. But I am not cruel. “It’s not as if the village would be totally without help.”
“True- but you’re the only one that’s ever been anywhere near the nexus. I’m not unreasonably mean, even if it is funny to watch you nearly trip over your fluke to get away from a doll.” Her gaze hardens and steadies on me. “But we have a job to do. You can scurry away like a terrified little foal after you show us where the room with the nexus is.”
The Nexus of All Evil and Doom, as the dolls called it (but I had left out because it’s a little overboard), is a small room in the center of this labyrinthine building. The more you think about getting there, the longer it takes to do so, unless you can teleport. But then you run the risk of finding the lava pit, instead, and that’s a mistake you only want to make once. The nexus never wants to be found. And it is, without a doubt, protected by many creatures and possessed objects that also don’t want the nexus found. I knew we would be able to sneak past most of them, and we would be ignored. And we are, for the most part- a few flying books try attacking Amulatt, but she screams and whacks them as hard as she can with the cricket bat. They squeal, and small hisses escape as they hit a wall somewhere in the darkness. A coolness runs through me, and I see my mentor’s daughter and my sister shudder violently.
“That must mean we’re getting close,” Mythic states ‘helpfully.’ “Your aura is pulsating.” She’s referring to the ball of light that surrounds me. The magically gifted can barely see it- but when you make magic your life, like Ance, Jariev, and Mythicalia do, it’s pretty much all they can see of me. Jariev nearly kicked me out of her house once when I’d fallen asleep because she couldn’t recognize me without it. Mythic’s is bluish, like Amulatt’s. I like to think they’re friends because they’re made of the same ancient star dust. I’m not entirely shocked when both of their auras disappear. Mine does, too, which isn’t good- I was using the light to see in the dark. The magic has suddenly vanished from Neovia. I hear Amulatt clatter to the ground, and then she mutters something she doesn’t bother to translate. She’s been awfully silent, otherwise.
“Well, this isn’t good.” A single torch marks where we need to go.
“It’s actually the best case scenario, Mythic.” I bite my lip and press on. None of us can fly without magic, and Mythic is the only one with a built in weapon- her horn. But I know once we get to the actual nexus, it’s going to be fine.
On the other hand, we might all be vaporized.
My ears pop, and I’m back in a familiar room. It’s been years, but the room is unchanged. The moon is shining through the window, full and huge. I know now that it’s not a real moon. Well, it is, but it’s not ours. Amulatt gasps.
“What foul Magicks art these? The moon art Waxing Crescent, not Full!” she declares. Her small ears are pinned to the back of her head in anger. “This not be the Nexus, though, doth it?” I shake my head. As unsettling as the not-Kreludor is, it’s not the terrifying thing in the room.
“Perhaps, my friend, the obvious is too obvious.” Mythic’s eyes dart to a few shelves, and then finally the cauldron in the center of the room. It glows with a viscous green hue, bubbling over, but the liquid never hits the ground. “This can’t be destroyed.”
“No, it can’t. I think the proprietor of the Galleria tried. It… it broke him, somehow. Twisted him.” I feel the compulsion to put my face in the cauldron. I tell this to the other two.
“’Ohhh, a glowy Pot in a demon lair, let us stick our Face in it!’ Art thou mad?” But she’s silenced by Mythic.
“There’s got to be a reason for you wanting to do it. A nexus isn’t always solid good or bad. You broke the balance by destroying the one mean of controlling all the evil in Neovia. It’s likely it wants you to fix it.”
“I cannot believe thou stuck thy Face into a boiling Cauldron of virulent looking Goo to retrieve an Object that likely will make Things worse.” It’s a pink and purple staff, much like the ones I destroyed. It feels, momentarily, like the room is collapsing on itself. In a moment, we’re all outside again.
I hate magic sometimes. But sticking my head in the cauldron gave me more than I let on. I know what I have to do, now.
The staff splits into three, one for each of us. I hand Mythic and Amulatt their pieces, and take a deep breath. “Just… point the staff. It works its own magic. Or it’ll make things worse, let’s be honest.” They nodded and left, leaving me with the central piece. It wasn’t long before I heard cheering in certain parts of the city, screams from the dolls, and the sound of furniture shattering as it hit the ground. Chesterdrawer’s Antiques will make a fortune after this from people replacing their broken chaise lounges. The ones that were… chasing them. I make this little joke to myself, and then see what I’m looking for.
She is a small doll with a chipped porcelain face. Her dark hair falls in ringlets past her shoulders, and it doesn’t move as she gives orders to the other dolls. Her blue marble eyes lock on to me, and her face twists into a wry grin. I can barely suppress a shiver. She calls a male doll over to her, one I haven’t seen before. It’s not surprising, really. There are hundreds of these terrifying things hidden throughout the city, and I’ve only seen a fraction of them. A twist of the doll’s hand turns the lights a dull grey color, sapping out the subtle hues of the quiet Neovian street. I can hear her shoes tapping, dragging, over the cobblestones. And my own heartbeat.
Click, shhhh, click, shhh, click, shhh.
I take in a single deep breath, and reveal my Staff of the Condemned. Now, it’s my turn to grin. I do so as I point it at the dolls, their faces awash with shock and agony as the light disintegrates them into nothing.***
While I’ve gotten rid of the dolls in Neovia (my sister and new friend did their parts, as well!) I don’t think they’re completely gone. Do me a favor, reader. Check all your shadows tonight. And if you hear an out of place giggle or someone stares at you a bit too long? Run.