Universally enthusiastic chaos-artist & storyteller

Chapter 35: The trap

We descent.
It’s not easy, the little light we had at the top of the stairs quickly vanishes as we disappear under ground level and the steps are very uneven.
Praise be to the person who decided to put a railing on the wall else we’d have been rag-dolling down here very quickly.
“Wait a second” Tungsten says as he vanishes into the darkness.
A few moments later he returns with a lantern which he hangs on a hook on the ceiling. “I’ll grab another one, just mind your step for now.”
I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to expect when Tungsten mentioned catacombs but I guess this tracks?
The space is a wide hall with a vaulted ceiling that drops down pillars every so often so the weight of the structure above doesn’t cause it to come crashing in to say hello.
But this used to be Tungsten’s den?
I guess there are some unexplained stains on the floor and the like but…otherwise I wouldn’t be able to tell.
“So now what do we do?” I ask the group at large.
Tungsten hangs another lantern on the ceiling, revealing how massive this place is “Simple, now we wait.” He then sits down on the stone floor.
“I have a blanket actually.” Prishtoli pitches in “If you can give me a hand in laying it down?”
“Sure, thank you.”

Not much later we’re sitting around on Prishtoli’s blanket. There are seven of us; Prishtoli, Tungsten, Zjeliah, Tyalowa, Tibora, Karokko and I.
So even if all three of them show up we should have enough power to overthrow them.
“Is this your den?” Tiborah asks as his eyes drift over the pale grey stones that make up the place.
“It uh…it used to be.”
“You’re an alchemist?” Prishtoli asks, her voice sharp.
Tungsten puts up his hands defensively “Well yes but trust me, I had nothing to do with what happened to you. I didn’t even know that’s what they were planning and I’m very sorry it happened.”
“You’re trying to tell me there are good alchemists?”
“I, uh, don’t know if I’m good but I don’t want to cause harm if that’s what you mean.”
“What’s the difference?”
Tungsten chuckles sarcastically “That we don’t always get what we want in life.”
“Why a church? I thought these places meant things to humans?” Tiborah presses.
Tungsten chuckles uncomfortably “You’d have to ask my old master, I just inherited the place then got kicked out after I got snitched on by one of my clients.
“I was wondering about that, what is it you do as an alchemist?” Tiborah asks point blank and I can practically feel the awkwardness building inside the big man.
“I, uh, it’s different for everyone. I mostly just cure dogs and give modifications to people who can afford it.”
“Like your tail?”
“Tails, ears, eyes, I replaced this guy’s liver one time but human pieces are hard to come by ethically so I usually just keep to superficial stuff.”
“Where did you get the liver?” Prishtoli asks, arms crossed.
I expected another pained expression but this time Tungsten’s eyes light up “I grew it! You see the liver is one of those few organs that grows itself back so the guy had a brother and I took some of his liver and grew it out a bit before putting it in the other bloke.”
“Fascinating.” Tiborah lets out.
Tungsten chuckles sheepishly “but uh, how about you?” What is it you do all day?”
Tiborah thinks for a moment “I take care of our father’s house. I clean it and repair it and make sure my siblings have a place to stay at or visit.”
“That’s nice.”
“He also organises the best parties,” Zjeliah adds loudly to the shushes of many.
“Parties you say?”
“A human would find them dreadfully boring I imagine, but I’m glad Zjeliah appreciates them.” Tiborah chuckles.
I sit off to the side. Glad to see Tungsten and the others getting along.
Perhaps there really is a future where dolls and alchemists can be friends.
Or coexist at least.

It’s ten past ten, everyone should be gone by now and we enter the main hall again.
This place feels eerie in the dark.
The beautiful colours that usually come streaming into this place have vanished completely leaving the place in cold greys and dark shadows.
I sigh a sigh of relief to find the heart is still there.
They’re not here yet.
Steel, Neon and Tin. those are the ones we know. If we’re lucky they will all show up, if not…
Let’s assume we’re lucky for now.
“We should hide. Give the alchemist the element of surprise.” Karokko proposes.
“Good idea.” Zjeliah concurs “We can hide under the benches.”
“I’ll hide under the altar,” Prishtoli announces.
And just like that, we’ve split up, playing hide and seek.
I find a spot for myself in the right row right at the back with Tiborah in the middle and Tungsten right at the end while Zjeliah, Karokko and Tyalowa hide on the other side.
And then it’s back to waiting.
But things feel different now.
Back under the ground the risk was ‘being found out by one of the clergy’ but now the people we’re hiding from have already kidnapped a doll.
If they find us before we have a chance to stop them we could be in serious trouble.
I keep my ears open for any sounds that could suggest foul play.
And then I hear it.
A thunk.
My shoulders jump at the sound of it.
I look around looking for the source, then find Karokko has fallen over right across from me.
Arms stretched and face blank she just lays there.
What the hell?
Tyalowa tries to pull her back out of view but then drops down herself.
What the hell is going on here!?
Is this the machine Prishtoli was talking about?
But that’s supposed to be a massive thing the way she described it and wouldn’t all the dolls drop down at the same time if so?
I want to go to them, make sure they’re okay but. Just where is the danger coming from?
There’s a chilling scream. Zjeliah has jumped from his hiding place to run to his fallen sisters and drops down halfway down the aisle.
I can’t even see where the attacks are coming from.
There’s a laugh that bounces off the walls.
I look around trying to pinpoint its location while trying to suppress the chills running down my back.
Is that Neon?
No wait, the voice sounds too old to be him, Steel?
So we know at least one of them is here.
But we don’t know where.
Now what?
I wish I paid better attention during the meetings.
I hear the slip of a footstep followed by pain exploding from my temple. I scream, grab my face, eyes teary as I try to look at my assailant. A low voice huffs “I hoped that’d sent you to sleep. I’m afraid I didn’t pack a regular gun. Oh well-” I stumble backwards, hand gripping the wooden bench to remain upright as I try to get away from the voice and the pain it brings.
The voice grunts.
Sounds of a struggle.
Sounds like he made it down.
“Tin, you maniac.” He grunts.
“Ah, the furry one joined the party as well?”
I try to focus my mind and eyes and after what seems like a minute I find the big man trying his best to pin down a guy significantly smaller than him.
And failing.
Tin is slippery. Where some people learn to survive by growing stronger I have the distinct impression his strategy was being difficult to capture.
And it works.
Tin is a small man with a balding head and with a face red from exertion he manages to climb out from under Tungsten’s massive arms and darts towards the heart on the altar leaving the big man to chase after him.
“Tin you tiny dick! Come down here and fight me like a man.”
A mocking laugh echoes through the air followed by a resolute “No.”
Tiborah jumps from out as Tin passes ready to stop him but then the alchemist pulls out a gun and shoots him head-on.
There’s no bullet.
No flash of light.
Yet Tiborah tumbles forward uselessly then slides on for a bit as his momentum runs out.
“Any other dolls wanna try and stop me?” Tin calls out with a scoff.
“Now let’s see what we have here. Oh, such a beauty. Thanks for the contribution, I’ll take my leave now.” Tin exclaims with delight as he picks up the heart.
I stumble uselessly after the others.
I have to stop him, I have to-
Two slender hands appear from under the altar and snatch the alchemist’s ankles.
Tin screams, dragged back, topped over and thrown onto his back.
The heart shatters into thousands of intricate shards.
There goes all that work.
Prishtoli jumps from the dark and clambers atop the alchemist pushing down his arms and legs. He tries to direct the gun at her in vain, she merely twists his wrist in response “Don’t even try it or I’ll break it.”
And then our cocky friend crumbles. He drops the gun and pleads
“Please don’t hurt me.”
“You built the machine didn’t you?”
“Y-Yes, but-” he stammers.
“Do you have any idea how I felt? What you did to my siblings.”
“They’re not dead. They’ll wake up I swear.”
“That’s not the point you cruel human pest!”
“Mercury asked me to do it. And then when she died Steel took over the reins so it’s really him you ought to be mad at.” he sounds like he’s crying.
“I’d be justified in snapping your neck you know? For all the shit you and your crazy friends pulled!”
“Killing me won’t solve anything. You have to believe me.”
Tungsten kneels down at Prishtoli’s side “Hey Prishtoli, we don’t want them dead remember?”
Prishtoli keeps quiet for a moment. I try to stumble to her side “Prishtoli, please.”
Prishtoli huffs “I’m not going to kill him for real, but we need to restrain him. And destroy the gun.”
“I’ll tie him up then,” Tungsten says pulling his tie from his neck in a smooth motion.
Prishtoli nods and lifts the struggling little man off the ground. He tries kicking at Prishtoli a couple of times to get her to let go before going limp.
It’s a bit awkward that the only chair in the room is normally reserved for the pastor.
But as long as we leave undetected it really shouldn’t matter. My eyes glance at the mess of glass and brass faintly sparkling in the moonlight.
As Tungsten works on securing the target Prishtoli takes the gun off the ground and crushes it to bits in her hands.
Reminding me how glad I am she’s on our side.
“Can I have your tie please?”
“Oh! Yeah, sure.”
“All right that should do it,” Tungsten tells me.
“So now what? You’re going to bring me to the police? You’ll have a lot of explaining to do then.” Tin sneers but with snot leaking from his nose he doesn’t look all that tough anymore.
“Where are Neon and Steel?” Tungsten asks “Are they here?”
Ton scoffs “You wish, I’m on my own, and I would have succeeded if I’d brought a real gun as well.”
“I told you they can’t be negotiated with.” Prishtoli crosses her arms.
“We have to try regardless.”
Tin scoffs “Using what bargaining power, the heart’s broken now, what else can you offer me?”
“The heart was a fake, the real one is safe in an undisclosed location.”
“So what you’re saying is that if I go along with your silly shtick I get a heart out of it?”
“We’ll need it in writing.” Prishtoli huffs “And for you to keep your word or else.”
“Yeah sure sign me up.”
“Not so fast, we’ll need to arrange a meeting where the other dolls are conscious, and the other alchemists need to be there too. So where do we find Steel and Neon?” I ask.
Tin pulls up an eyebrow, then directs his attention to Tungsten “You didn’t go to Neon yet? He’s in the same place as always.”
Tungsten’s tail takes refuge between his legs “I have my reasons okay? So where can we find Steel, he moved out of the harbour.”
“You really ought to talk to Neon first.”
Tungsten huffs “Why? Neon works for Steel, if I can convince him Neon will have to fall in line.”
“I don’t know how you imagine convincing him. Are you gonna try and fight him like me? Are you going to try and talk about morality? I may be a coward but that man is not. He won’t be impressed by a couple of pretty dolls-”
“These pretty dolls can snap him in half-” Prishtoli seethes.
Tin rolls his eyes “You think he didn’t consider that? Steel took over Mercury’s den where the original machine can knock out all your doll friends at the same time. Neon has known the guy his whole dang life, if there’s a man who can convince that guy of anything it’s Neon.” His lips pull into a dark smile “And you might wanna get to him while you still can.”
Tungsten balls his fists but doesn’t speak.
“Right, then we’ll go there next, Tungsten?”
He blinks, seemingly caught from somewhere else “Uh…right…sure. Actually, how about you stay here and keep guard over the dolls until they wake up? I’ll go.”
“No offence Tungsten but you look like you’re going to flake out.” I cross my arms at him.
He grits his teeth and grunts. I take a step back just in case he wants to take a swing at me.
Then he turns to the door “Fine, let’s go.”
I look back at Prishtoli “Can you talk the details through with Tin, let him go and then wait for the dolls to wake up again?”
She huffs “This man is not leaving until all the dolls are awake.” Her face is wooden but her glass eyes soften “But I won’t hurt him.”
“I’ll take it. Thank you for the help.”
Prishtoli shrugs, then turns to Tin “So, how long until my siblings are awake you miserable man?”
We take the long way out, through the catacombs and out the hatch again.
Tungsten doesn’t speak.
I wonder if he’s angry with me.
I wonder if I’m angry with him?
We might have been able to skip this whole ordeal with the heart and the funeral if Tungsten just took me to Neon, to begin with…
But then on the other hand I guess then I would be a Winton still.
The threat of Prishtoli going to prison wouldn’t have gone away.
I guess things just went the way they went.
There’s not much use in wondering otherwise.

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