Chapter fifteen: Conclusion
We burst out the door and run back to that cursed den.
Almost a week!?
That’s far too long for comfort.
If that snake touched as much as a hair on Prishtoli’s pretty head I just don’t know what I’d do.
That’s not true, I know exactly what I’d do.
But I hope it doesn’t come to that.
We left so quickly we completely forgot to ask Zjeliah for a wig, but at this point, that’s the least of my worries.
I slide down the ladder, closely followed by Inquiry.
At the door, he pulls the key from his vest.
Then grunts as he tries to open the door “She changed the locks!”
“Let me.” I grab the handle of the door and pull, I can hear creaking from within. I pull harder, my rage fueling my strength and then suddenly the door gives way making me struggle to find balance again.
Inquiry manages to grab my arm before I drop into the water.
“Thanks,” I tell him.
Dolls generally hide their strength, it makes humans afraid to be around them.
“Stegarius that’s amazing!”
Unless you’re strange like Inquiry.
Right, I drop the door in the water “Shall we?”
“Let’s go safe your sister!”
We stride through the corridor, my senses piqued on any signs of life.
I go in front, making sure that if there’s any danger up ahead, I’ll be the one who gets the damage. With fury, I tear the curtain down from the rod and in the underground parlour, I find her still looking smug as ever.
“The hell are you two doing here?” Mercury asks with a sneer.
“I should have known you wouldn’t give up.”
Her smile betrays our mutual understanding “Yes, you should have. You see a real scientist doesn’t give up.”
“You’re not a real scientist.” Inquiry spits “You’re a monster!”
“Look, I tried to play by your rules! But your rules are stifling and counterproductive. I need results. I. Always. Get. My, Results.”
“Not this time.” I heard enough, I push her aside, flinging her to the wall. The wind is knocked out for her for now.
She’s not a threat anyway.
I head to the lab where I find the majority of the room taken up by a cage made of a shiny white metal I don’t recognize.
“What is it this time you sadistic hag!?” The doll inside turns to me, her eyes filled with rage.
Until she sees me “Stegarius, Thank heavens you’re here, this lady is out of her mind!”
I’ve never seen Prishtoli like this, her hair is a mess, clothes partially torn to show scratches carved in her wooden chest, her gloves are off, showing off sharp nails.
“That bitch told me she was your friend, that you needed help. I followed her here but next thing I remember I wake up inside this cage and whatever it’s made of I can’t seem to lay a scratch on it.”
The boy walks up to the cage, eyes wide “It’s titanium.”
“It’s the strongest metal known to man, but I’ve never seen it in such quantities.”
I turn up next to him and put my hand on one of the bars, it feels stronger than anything I’ve encountered before “We’ll have to combine our strength, I can’t break this door on my own.”
“You pull I push?” she asks.
I nod, wrap my hands around the bars, and pull. The door to the lab was made of paper in comparison, but right now I’m fueled by fury and there’s no way I’ll leave her in here.
This whole deal, the project, the alchemists, Mercury.
I’ve had enough of it.
The metal doesn’t bend, it shatters as the hinges give way and I topple backwards, door and all.
Prishtoli falls on my chest, then rolls off gracefully as she watches the door behind me intently.
Her fingers are splayed, nails at the ready.
Behind me, I hear Mercury cackle “Well done achieving absolutely nothing.” She sounds…unhinged. I turn to her, it’s only now I notice the scratches along her forearms, the bloodshot eyes and the dilated pupils.
“We got our friend out, now it’s time to teach you a lesson” Inquiry sneers, his voice thick with loathing.
“Yeah sure go ahead,” Mercury says dismissively, but her eyes are focused on me. “Do you remember what the last thing you said to me was doll?”
I get up, toss the door aside with a loud clang “Something along the lines that you’re pathetic?”
“Close but no, you called me short-sighted, and you were correct. This isn’t about me, this is about results. And the more people work on the question the bigger the chance for answers. She walks to a small stack of paper I completely overlooked so far and starts to read aloud “A cash price of two hundred pounds to be awarded to the first member to produce an authentic doll heart for inspection. Or creates a new heart that manages to fuel the test doll.”
“Since when you have two hundred pounds?” I sneer.
“I sold his stuff.” She states matter of factly, pointing at Inquiry “At first out of spite but then I found the little box of jewellery under your bed, was that supposed to be insurance of some kind?”
Even I didn’t know about that, surprised, I look at the boy
“I wore them in the university, but down here there didn’t seem to be much of a point.”
“Well it pulled a pretty penny and it was enough to convince the others my goal is a lot more interesting to pursue than whatever boring stuff they were doing. And now the whole alchemist community is infected with doll fever.” She giggles eyes locked on Inquiry’s ashen face “You know how irresistible the challenge is.”
“Meaning any doll can fall prey to crazy alchemists like you who want to pry them open.” He mutters.
“Exactly! Even if you free this one, even if you kill me, I will get my results.”
“You MANIAC! Do you have ANY idea what you’ve done!?” Prishtoli seethes.
“What I’ve done? It was the kid’s idea to translate the notes, he convinced me dolls were the future. I just took up the cause when he proved too weak to handle it.”
My mind is reeling “You want to risk starting an all-out war between dolls and alchemists. Just for this?”
“Wars are times of great scientific development. Besides all we need is to know how doll-hearts are made, once we know that, we can leave your species alone, we’ll be too busy making our own dolls. So really if you want the least dolls dead, we’ll pry this one open. One soul to safe doll kind.”
“No! Experimentation on unwilling sentient creatures is illegal. You’re gonna tell your alchemist buddies to stand down.” Inquiry shouts, his cheeks red, his hands balled into fists.
“No, no I don’t think I will.” She leers then sits down on the floor looking up at us “So what will it be?”
“What do you think!?” Prishtoli lunges past me, straight to the woman like a lioness. For a second I stand frozen, watching my lovely sister tear chasms in the Alchemists’ neck.
With great effort I pull myself away from my shock and close the distance between us. From the back I wrap my arms around her elbows, keeping her dangerous nails away from me as I pull her away from her target.
“Stegarius what the hell are you doing!?” she cries out I keep pulling while my eyes are trained on Mercury. She gasps for air as her windpipe is torn, blood flowing like water from a tap.
Prishtoli struggles against me, shouting profanities that I barely register as I watch the boy spring into action.
He runs to the cupboard producing a medical kit, then rushes to the woman and sits down beside her. Tearing the lid from the box, tossing out whatever doesn’t serve him to find a roll of yellowed bandages.
He tries to lift the woman’s head, get the cloth around her neck, stop the bleeding.
But her neck is limp and her eyes are lustreless.
There’s no one in there anymore.
And against all expectations, against all the hatred and anger we all feel for the woman, Inquiry weeps.
And I feel Prishtoli pause her struggle as I tell her “I need to go to him.”
I let her go, walk to the boy and hug him.
I rub his back, pat his head “Just let it out.”
I comfort him, but I can see in her eyes that Prishtoli is not done fighting. Behind the boy she stalks the room, tearing up the pamphlets, and smashing bottles. Every time they crash, the boys shoulders jump.
I’ve never seen her like this, and as if to balance out her rage a calm comes over me, streamlining my thought.
I look at the dolls, I look at the alchemists, inspecting the scenario from every single angle.
Laying out the pieces, looking at the bigger picture.
It’s so obvious.
But it won’t be easy.
I look at the boy, he seems calmer at least.
I look at Prishtoli wiping her hands on her already ruined dress “We gotta go back to Bar-B, tell the other to protect themselves, arm themselves-”
“No.” I interject her “We want to avoid war, not incite it.”
“We can’t let them kidnap us! Look at what she did to me!” Her blood-stained hands pulling on her torn dress, showing off the gashes on her chest.
It’s up to me, I give the boy a kiss on his forehead. then walk to my sister. “I know, we won’t let it come to that.”
“We have to do something!”
“Yes.” I embrace her “Go back to Bar-B, tell everyone you’re okay. They’re worried about you.”
“I can’t just leave now? We have to fix this!”
“We’ll fix it.” I put a wooden hand on her cheek “You suffered enough. Go back to the others, lay down on your sofa, have some music on me, don’t mention the alchemists to anyone, make up something else.”
“What are you planning?”
Inquiry’s head whips in my direction like a statue come to life. His eyes squinted together in thought. He’s trying to read me, I try to tell him with my eyes that things will be okay, then he speaks up. “We have to clean up this body, it’s gonna get really messy, it’s not something we want you to see.”
“You want to simply pretend this never happened?”
“It’s a start right?”
“But what about the other alchemists?”
“We’ll take care of it, trust me.”
“Fine, but don’t do anything stupid okay?”
“We wouldn’t dare.”
She keeps looking back as she walks out of the room, there’s no way I tricked her, she’s humouring me that’s all. But it should be enough.
We both listen for her footsteps to die down, when they do Inquiry turns to me “What’s the plan?”
“You’re going to be a legend.”
“What?” He raises a confused eyebrow.
I walk to him and explain “A human died at the hands of a doll today. If this gets out then context makes way for fear and hatred. Dolls can only live inside society as long as the public is convinced we wouldn’t hurt a fly. The alchemists knew what Mercury was doing, if they saw this they would know her death is doll-inflicted. If they figure out they can use the outrage to dehumanize dolls. It would be the perfect environment to strip us of our rights and get away with their experiments. But right now no one but them knows about this place, Mercury has been underground for years. The only ones who would miss her are the alchemists so if we appease them we can sweep this whole thing under the rug and-”
“No.” His voice is resolute.
“I’m not even done ex-”
“You want me to kill you and pull your heart out so the alchemists won’t have a need for other dolls. Hoping they’d be grateful enough to look the other way on Mercury’s murder.”
“Not just that.” I put a hand on his shoulder and look into his eyes “We need a way to unify the alchemists, it’s no use to have one doll heart if it’s not universally accessible. If it’s easier to kill another doll than get to my heart we’ll fail nevertheless. Besides it’s not just morally questionable to let them do their own thing, it’s dangerous. They need rules to abide by, they need to be monitored and they need to learn ways to experiment both safely and ethically. They need a university, just like every other science. A university you can build.”
He pushes the hand away as a wave of red pulls over his face “You’re crazy! How do you expect me to do that!?”
“Way back when you pulled me down here for the first time you told me you wanted doll making to be an open science. Well this is your chance. You have more power than you think. Especially if you allow others to help.”
The moment I say those words his eyes widen with a start, he then looks down guiltily “I don’t wanna go home.”
I shrug “I don’t wanna die.”
His lips start to quiver and twitch “You can’t ask me to kill you. It’s not fair.”
“It’s the most effective method, the way that sacrifices the least lives.”
“There’s nothing in the world I want more than my family to be safe, if my death can facilitate that it’s a small price to pay.”
“But what about me!?” he shouts, voice filled with tears.
I pull him close and hold him tight “You’re family too.” I explain “The dolls will always treat you like a friend and ally. You will be the bridge between dolls and alchemy, father of the new generation, brother of the old one.”
“I’m only twenty-four though.”
“Already twenty-four.” I correct him.
He almost chokes on his tears as he laughs nervously. Then he shakes his head “Stegarius I’m scared.”
“So am I.”
“I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.”
“This is all my fault, if I had just stayed in university none of this would have happened.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not, it really doesn’t matter now does it?” I kiss his forehead.
I’ll be brave for him.
I’ll be brave for everyone.
I gently let go of the quivering boy “We shouldn’t waste time, this isn’t our lab, if someone walks in we’re in trouble.”
He nods, pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket and wipes his tears away.
I sit down on the operating table, there’s a moment of hesitation as my hands travel to the buttons of my vest. I’m a doll, there’s nothing to be ashamed of and yet this feels off.
“Are you okay?” Inquiry asks.
I nod and take off my coat. With each layer removed, I feel more vulnerable, the reality of my situation becoming clearer with every button.
I’m going to die.
I’m going to die, and it was my own idea.
Inquiry looks chastely away, arranging the tools on the workbench as he waits.
Bare-chested I lay down. The table is uncomfortably hard and smells of chloroform.
“Ready?” He asks still looking away.
I make a noise somewhere between affirmation and uncertainty.
He looks at me and a great need to cover myself stir up inside me. Be an example, be proper around your ward.
As if that could fix anything.
I look at his face, twenty four or not I could never see him as anything other than that sweet kid. My kid, my son.
Crying over me as I am about to die.
He puts a soft hand on the wooden surface of my chest, the seams around the hatch are thin and smooth, you have to know they’re there to even see them.
I nod and with a small click the door pops up, just a bit, but it’s enough to open it up the rest of the way.
It feels scary opening up to him, letting him look inside me at the beating glowing heart that lies within the cavity of my chest.
But drastic times ask for drastic measures.
And then something beautiful happens.
As that scared little kid looks inside his eyes I see that same curious sparkle that drew me to him so many years ago. “I, I know I saw your drawing before but seeing it for real like this…it’s beautiful.” He whispers as he wipes the tears from his eyes.
“The second human to even see one in person.”
He shakes his head “The first human to kill a doll.”
I lay my hand on his “I know right now you feel like the villain, but you’re not, you’re the hero, and I’m so very proud of you.”
“Oh great, just when I thought I was done crying you had to say something like that didn’t you.” He sobs.
I smile inside. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, thank you.” Holding one hand the other slips into the cavity in my chest “I love you.” His voice trembles and his hand lays reluctant on my heart.
He moves his face closer to mine and kisses my forehead.
It makes me wish I could cry, but I’m not sure if it’s sadness or happiness that fills me.
I smile inside thinking perhaps dying isn’t all that ba-