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The Neopian Dolle Shoppe


by flames_unleashed

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Tucked away in the back alleys of Neovia dwells a store with no address. Those that find it do so by chance, or perhaps a stroke of misfortune. If one were to try and seek it out, they would lose themselves in the winding streets until they end up right back where they started, with no store in sight.

           The Dolle Shoppe, hand-painted in old-fashioned text on a creaky wooden sign above the glass front door, leaves little to the imagination - it is the store of a dollmaker. Dolls, beautiful visages of Neopets in all manners from porcelain to burlap, line the cobwebbed shelves in perfect rows. They are displayed with a loving hand, each facing forward with bright and lively eyes, as if ready to jump into the arms of the nearest customer.

           The dissonance between the pristine condition of the dolls and the dilapidation of the store creates an unsettling atmosphere, as if something was ever so slightly out of place, or something was watching you from just beyond your view. And this was to say nothing of the shopkeeper.

          —

          Blais was lost.

           This was nothing new - the Shoyru could get lost in a two-room house - but alone on a cold fall night in Neovia, the last thing you wanted was to be lost. He should've arrived at his friend's Halloween party 20 minutes ago, but every cobblestone street looked the same to him, and his head was beginning to spin. What was the address? The numbers had become jumbled in his mind.

           His friend had only moved to Neovia a few months prior. A dull choice, in Blais’s opinion, even compared to the sleepy Neopia Central suburb he’d lived in prior, but he had to admit it was a perfect atmosphere for a Halloween party. This was his first time visiting, however, and he hadn’t realized just how big Neovia would feel. The directions had seemed so simple.

           A sudden gust of wind blew past him just as the nearest streetlight flickered out. Blais jumped, letting out a little shriek - thank Fyora he was alone on the road, actually - and he huddled further into his coat. Dry leaves rattled past his boots, and he had a creeping sensation that something wasn’t right.

           Forcing himself to look up, he saw a dull light at the end of the street that he hadn’t noticed with the streetlight on. He started towards it without thinking. Most buildings were locked up tight this time of night - if not his destination, maybe they could at least offer him directions.

           The light flickered as he approached. It was a small oil lamp - they still made those? - just barely illuminating the old sign above the door. A doll shop? Blais had never heard of one in Neovia. The house was tightly sandwiched on either side by other buildings as if someone had stuffed a shop in where it didn't quite belong. Neovia was an old town, but this was dilapidated in a way that felt too old, with roof tiles cracked and paint peeling from the exterior. The windows were covered with heavy curtains, dark purple velvet and black lace, but a sign in the front door read "Open".

           A shiver went up his spine as he pushed the door open and walked in. Dust clouded around his feet and a cobweb hung near his face - he wasn't certain it was a Halloween decoration. A thousand tiny doll eyes seemed to stare at him, and every muscle in his body tensed, urging him to leave, now, to just head home and forget this whole night had ever happened. Whatever frantic messages he received from his friend could be dealt with in the morning–

           "How may I help you?"

           "AGH!" Blais jumped, wings flaring, whirling around to see that a small Darigan Ixi had appeared beside him. His cheeks flushed red, in embarrassment or chill, he wasn’t sure.

           She stood a few inches shorter than Blais, and her eyes were piercing red as she stared at him, unblinking. "How may I help you?" she repeated, her voice a tinny monotone. She was sewing, some kind of tiny doll shirt the same rich purple as her dress. How was she doing that so well without looking?

           Blais stammered, shocked out of his thoughts. "Uh... lost," he managed to get out, skin crawling. The feeling of wrongness still lingered in his mind, but it had been dulled. This Ixi looked a little… gothic, maybe, and her gaze sent shivers down his spine, but she looked dainty, almost a little frail. He guessed making dolls all day would do that, not that he had much knowledge on the subject.

           She nodded once, pulling a pair of scissors from a pocket in her dress and snipping the thread she was working with. "This is a shop for the lost," she said as if it was the most normal thing in Neopia. "It's cold outside. Stay a while. Warm up."

           Blais held a hand to his face, only now realizing it was bone cold. He pulled his heavy leather coat tighter around his shoulders and tried to regain his composure. He’d been so excited for this party, no need to go home. And no need to stay if he could get directions. His friend’s house couldn’t be that far, and he could just warm up there once he arrived.

           "Sorry, dolls aren't my thing," he stuttered, surprised at how weak his voice sounded. "I need directions. I'm looking for my friend's house. The address is… uh… where are you going?"

           She eyed him closely before disappearing behind the shelf in the middle of the store. He still hadn't seen her blink once. Was he blinking at the same time as her? Every time? Was that possible? He followed her dumbly, still a bit taken aback, but determined to get directions. He saw her stop at a small counter in the back corner of the store. There was a small mechanical cash register on top, but it was dusty with disuse and had been partially covered by piles of material.

           The Ixi began to rummage through some piles at the counter, and as he stepped closer, Blais realized she was shuffling through swatches of fabric. She held up a shimmery light blue, clicked her tongue, and switched it for a softer cornflower. Blais meant to ask again, but he couldn't get the words out. Words had all but escaped him as he stood watching her.

           She walked over to him and held the fabric near his face, studying it. "Such a pretty shade of blue." She shifted her thin glasses. "I think that's close."

           "Close for what?" Only when she moved away did he realize he hadn’t breathed while she was next to him, and he gasped for air. Every muscle in his body was tensed, but there was a disconnect with his brain, some instinct not getting through. He was calmer than he had been all night.

           The Ixi didn’t answer, so Blais continued to watch. He’d never been crafty in his life, but he suddenly found the thought of it fascinating, the amount of fabric and thread piled on the counter, different sizes of scissors, and some stranger items such as cogs, and wires. A small clock, barely large enough to read, that ticked incessantly. He eyes a mechanical doll on the shelf to his right - a Robot Kacheek. Had she built it from scratch? Its eyes stared at him, almost pleading.

           She had gone back to the counter, setting things aside from the pile. Blue fabric, blue thread. A small marble with swirling colours and a lump of toy stuffing. A small pair of beady black eyes - they looked so lifeless when they weren't attached to a doll. She swayed a bit as she worked, and it sounded like she was humming to herself.

           "Did you make every doll in here yourself? By hand?" Blais looked around, every shelf crowded, too many to count in a glance. He saw a Halloween Grundo perched on a low shelf, and his thoughts jolted back to him, briefly. "How much do you sell them for? That Halloween Grundo would be a hit decoration at the party I'm headed to." The party. What time was it? He had to be half an hour late now.

           "Yes," she said simply, failing to make it clear which question she had answered. She gave him another glance before pulling a small piece of brown leather from the pile of fabric.

           Blais felt a bead of sweat roll down his forehead. It had to be the coat, but he didn't feel any warmer. "It is a shop, yeah? You sell them? I can throw in a little extra if you can give me directions too." Directions. What was the address again? His hands were cold.

           "Not many leave the shelves." The Ixi took the marble from the table. "It's more of a hobby than a profession. Such a labour of love." She held the marble close. Its colours almost appeared to swirl, going red, then blue, then giving off a dull glow. "It's hard to bear the thought of parting with them. I just seem to keep adding more to the collection."

           Blais shivered hard. Had a window opened? The whole world felt cold and glassy. His head spun, and he seemed to feel a thousand beaded eyes no longer staring at him, but through him. Where had he been going? He couldn't quite remember. A sigh seemed to echo through the shelves as if a tension had given way.

           The Ixi plucked the tiny clock from the top of the pile. “Ah. Midnight,” she said softly. “Time to start a new project.” The store in front of her stood empty.

           The Ixi placed the marble gingerly in her dress pocket. She picked up her needle, took up some of the fabric she had selected earlier, and began to sew.

          —

          A bell chimed as a small Bori pushed open the door to the Dolle Shoppe, shivering despite her large coat. A gust of snow blew in behind her as she pushed the door shut, looking around worriedly. Something in the back of her mind yelled at her to turn around - but it was so cold outside.

           The dolls lining the shelves were clean as anything, but the rest of the shop was coated in a layer of dust. She peered around an overcrowded shelf in the middle of the room to see a small counter in the corner. A Darigan Ixi sat behind it, threading a needle, so absorbed in her work she didn't bother to look up while offering a curt "Welcome."

           The Bori gave a nervous swish of her tail. "I got a bit lost in that sudden storm," she admitted, feeling a bit embarrassed. "Is it alright if I stay a bit to catch my breath?"

           The Ixi began to sew, soft cornflower blue fabric in her hands. The beginning of a Shoyru doll sat on the counter in front of her, its beady eyes shining with life. She looked up briefly with a deep red gaze. "Of course. Stay as long as you like."

     The End.

 
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