The alleway connected to one of the countless non-descript roads that wove straight, bland paths through the eternal nighttime of the pseudo-city. Every building along the way could barely be discriminated from the last. Gas lanterns clung to the walls and atop stone pillars every thirty feet or so on either side. The Gothikrey is remarkable for its indistinctness. Few others roamed the street at that time, but the ones who did drew Eliza's fearful stare.
"Must you gawk at everyone we pass?" I asked, annoyed.
"They look like people," she noted.
"They were people," I confirmed.
"Are there vehicles here? Or, horse-drawn carriages? It seems like there should be horses here. Oh, I haven't ridden a horse in ages..." Lizzy said wistfully. I got to let her down.
"There are no horses here. Just people. And that."
"And what?" she asked, following my motion upwards. "The night sky?"
"Keep looking," I advised her.
She dawdled in one spot in the street for a moment. My hands went to my hips, and I sighed with impatience.
"You're still missing it? Come, girl, the silhouette against the lighter backdrop. Can't you--"
Lizzy cut me off with a scream. I grinned ear to ear.
"What is that?!" She hunkered lower to the ground, as if this would provide some better protection from the form above. "What is that huge shadow moving over the city?"
"That, dear, is a leg."
"A leg? You mean it's attached to something bigger than that?" she posed, taking my claim as partially preposterous.
"It's called The Insect. As far as anyone can tell, it has six legs. Some say they've seen the head, some purport to have been able to see a wing. Regardless, it seldom interacts with The Gothikrey. It just nests here. We think."
She shook her head in disbelief. "That's terrifying."
"That leg is probably kilometers away, Lizzy. No worries."
"Why? Why a giant bug? Ugh!" she exclaimed in disdain.
"I told you, I'm a cog. I don't know the what and why of the other gears down Volurna's line. I'm familiar with the ones around...me..." I trailed off. A certain redheaded cemefaerie with a black lace strip over her eyes had just emerged from behind us. That smirk! By Volurna, that maddening smirk only a putrid bitch like her could keep up--
"Arkett! Darling!" I greeted. Lizzy scuttled behind me like an untrusting puppy.
"Katya...! How are you? Still sporting the purple and black, hm? You know, it still really makes that plain hair of yours pop," she opined in that god-awful Long Island accent of hers.
"Ah-hah," I fake laughed with a total lack of enthusiasm.
"Who's the little cutie behind ya there?"
Lizzy unexpectedly emerged from behind me, her hands folded together as she partially bowed her head with a practiced grin of her own.
"Lizzy DeGraves. Nice to meet you, Ms. Arkett."
"Oh, look at you," the bitch said to Lizzy. I found myself practicing immense restraint. "She's adorable, Katya. Takin' her for a walk?"
The girl didn't seem to catch the veiled insult, but rest assured, I did. I stepped forward to go nose to nose with that red-and-black draped floozy.
"And what brings you here today? Hoping to find an alchemist who deals in the mange?" I inquired. She kept grinning that stupid grin as Lizzy obliviously jumped in.
"You sound like you're from New York!"
Arkett didn't answer her. She addressed me instead. "Don't you ever get tired of answering their stupid questions? You and your little pet ghosts, Katya, really."
"I like to practice virtues, if you've heard of those," I countered. "One is called patience."
"Please," she scoffed. "You're just a desperate narcissist. If you get your fix by impressing the cattle, go right ahead."
I said nothing as she walked past me.
"It was nice meeting you, Lizzy DeGraves," Arkett said. "Katya."
"Arkett," I said as she walked back the way she came, meandering into the shadows among the lantern light. I turned back to the girl, who looked as lost and vulnerable as ever with her arms now wrapped around herself.
"What did she mean by 'cattle'?" Lizzy asked. A gentleman dressed in a beige fedora and clothes similar to the time period the girl had gone for kept a leery eye on us as he crossed the road a distance ahead of us.
"Arkett is a classless hack. She spouts hurtful things for the sake of it," I explained.
"No, I got that," she assured me. "But 'cattle'...why that term?"
The reason I lied to her about The Insect was not for the empty thrill of getting one over on her--that sounds more like Arkett--but to operate in her best interests. If she had acted rash then, the situation might be even more dire than it is now. But...I'll get to that. Anyhow, the same reason is why I omitted the truth regarding Arkett's harsh words.
"Don't ask me what makes that witch so ineloquent. Let's keep going." She did as asked, training an eye upward every now and then at the looming monstrosity.
There is ostensibly no rhyme or reason behind the layout of The Gothikrey. But with all things within these realms at the precipice of death there stands the reasoning of the goddess. As we came to a slightly unfamiliar cluster point of roads, I found my skin crawling. The paths were like mad wheel spokes, even to me. What unnerved me was that in her vision, in her grand schemes, those roads had a perfect function in a larger picture. Sometimes I find myself afraid that I might become unknowingly snagged in some part of this web well after it was too late to flail loose.
And perhaps it was at that point that I rebelled against my own fear. I wanted more control. Control calms me.
"This way," I told the girl.
"You're sure? It's very dark and confusing, the way these streets run."
And I gain my own sense of control through instilling fear in others.
"Quite certain, darling."
This particular road lacked proper lighting, most likely because those charged with its maintenance didn't favor travelling it. The girl was affected by this immediately, practically plastering herself against my side.
"I have nightmares just like you, Lizzy," I stated. "They aren't of this, though. In my nightmares, I'm in a wooden house, with creaky floors, and dim lighting like you'd find on a rainy afternoon. The walls are blanketed in white writing, and in lines, like a massive, garbled blueprint."
She clung to me tighter, following along on scared faith alone.
"And the rooms are empty, save for one. In that room, in a corner between two windows, sits a woman with her back to me. She's playing with a dollhouse."
I caught them casually walking out of the alleyways before the girl did. They began to line up along the streets. I suppose they're curious, or maybe even territorial...I'm not sure. I just know the Dolls have an impact on many.
"Oh my god! What are they?" Lizzy squealed upon sighting the fact that they had blank cloth faces and mangled yarn for hair. Their clothing was cheap material roughtly hewn in decorative floral shirts and skirts. The males (I assume) seem to have a penchant for button-downs.
The dream, of course, is true. I've had it many times, almost too many to rightfully classify it as just a dream. The house, the woman...the question. It always ends with her question, and when I don't have an answer, I wake up in a jolt, like I had to step outside my body and shake myself awake to escape.
"We call them Dolls," I replied to her. The mute beings continued to watch on as we passed (I suppose...difficult to say when they have no eyes). "They never leave the sidewalk. Just keep to the middle of the street, dear. You'll be--"
They were supposed to stay on the sidewalk, near the buildings. That's the way it's always been. But somewhere between a wide swath of unlit lanterns, they came from the dark toward us. I didn't sense this until it was too late.
Lizzy screamed as she was yanked from my side. No. This was not supposed to happen.
"What is the meaning of this?" I shouted. No Dolls answered, but they may be incapable of answering. Their vague forms moved patiently back into their alleys, but crossed my path as well as if to intentionally misdirect me.
"Lizzy?" I called. I could hear the girl's cries of terror falling away from me. No, this was not supposed to happen, because this was not me being in control at all. This was something, I guess, akin to fear. The web was snagging.