Dollianna sat motionless as Alowishus approached cautiously yet confidently. As he stood before her peering down at the adorable little bundle of excitable terror he saw so much more than anyone else did in her heart. As he was about to address her, she looked up at him with abject dread in her eyes, and her mouth shakily opened to confess something: “I cannot kill…”
“My dearest doll, I’ve known some time that you cannot. Your marksmanship skills are a sad fantasy, you might only cause death with explosives through unbelievably ironic mishap, you couldn’t stab a fish without dropping the knife—“came the knowing sardonic tease, interrupted by continuation of the doll’s declaration.
“Alowishus, I cannot take a life. It is not within my capacity. I’ve begun having nightmares about really being… just a doll,” she explained, her voice breaking slightly.
There was silence for a moment, and then Alowishus sighed and sat near her, studying her briefly before speaking. “Child, there are moments in life when one must accept unpleasant truths about oneself. Those moments can be devastating.”
Dollianna’s eyes faded from terror to despondency as she looked meekly at Alowishus, motionless as he continued: “It may seem incomprehensible to you just now, but this is not one of those moments. You have just discovered something positive—richly gratifying—something which (were there justice) should give you great joy. As events have previously transpired and in these present circumstances I feel a genuine fear that you may never be afforded the occasion to grasp this reality, to savour it.”
Alowishus paused, distracted by the illusion of a tear welling in her eye. Brushing this off as his own sentimentality he continued: “When Dr Cooper and I were involved in smuggling the fae folk out of their sooty doom in Fitzsimmons’ coal mine to unknown fate, part of the facade we used as cover was a shipment of toys destined for Clockhaven. You were enclosed within that consignment. There was some consternation during loading, and your crate was dropped onto the deck and split open. Breaking open the smashed chest we found you crumpled inside. Your logic discs had been set in motion, and you had begun to formulate the beginnings of behaviour. As we attempted to explain your surroundings to you, it became apparent that you had begun to display oddities in character which can only be described as utter confusion, delirium.”
Allowing her a moment to digest the preamble he studied her reactions before offering his explanation: “The shift within the crate during the incident seems to have altered the alignment of the behaviour discs contained in your guidance module. Having little experience with clockworks’ inception neither of us knew what to make of your peculiarity. We saw neither need nor acceptability in confining you in another container and you were offered some accommodation during the journey. Owing again to our inexperience, I made the misguided gesture of winding your key.” Alowishus again paused to examine Dollianna’s expression to ensure that she at least accepted the possibility that all of this was true. She seemed to be listening intently, and he continued.
“Once wound, your condition worsened noticeably. Cooper tried to warn me as your behaviour intensified, that you were displaying symptoms of just such misalignment. Just as all of this was coming clear to me, you ran out onto the deck in hysterics and fell overboard.
You seem to have washed ashore on the Clockhaven beach strip and become convinced that you were a creature from another world, supposedly occupying a doll as some kind of host body. By chance you made your way to Fitzsimmons, and were apparently swindled into his service as an assassin.
Over the course of a few weeks, you took painstaking advantage of every opportunity to badly bungle one attempt after another on our lives. By the time we became aware of just why you were seemingly struggling to eradicate us, the Tea Hag sank and Cooper was lost.
Washed up on that island, I watched you observing the goons who had kidnapped Addlebrass, and figured out what you must have considered their interest in him. After you left, I noticed Mr Addlebrass seemed to be showing signs of illness, and that his captors were well aware of his condition. Overhearing their evolving plan to release him and set him adrift toward New Babbage, I myself ‘liberated’ a small vessel and made my way after you to Port Babbage.”
Dollianna’s misery began to show signals of transforming into reluctance, into disbelief. She looked at him sideways before murmuring, “Wait just a minute, here…”
Alowishus sighed as it became obvious that yet again the little clockwork was proving too clever for her own good.
Dollianna’s gift for sarcasm invaded the conversation like a deranged assault force: “I am to believe that somehow, magically, I’m not an alien outlaw with a death sentence for some crime in antiquity who’s come countless millions of leagues across the universe in some amazing space vessel to hide here and possess this doll’s body and become a professional assassin and that all of this is a symptom of a simple mechanical malfunction? You must resolve to spend less of your remaining time upending absinthe bottles, old foe and new friend. You are sadly slipping into lunacy…”
Alowishus found his response delayed as he struggled valiantly to restrain a chuckle, wondering if there was any way to make her see how that sounded. At length he contained himself and continued the revelation: “Your crashed ‘ship’ is an illusion, simple debris from a shipwreck long since forgotten. Your Golden Fleece is a metaphor, your Golan’s Fees ironically a tale of fright. The Golden Fleece delivered to you is your sanity, waiting for you to regain it. You are only as alien as the mountains to the North, as the bricks in these walls, as the cobbles upon which we walk. You are only a doll; a simple, sweet little clockwork princess, a smiling gift for a blameless child, tortured by a cruel and most unfortunate knock of destiny. As the discs have gradually begun to work back into their intended positions, logic has become more prevalent, gentleness has begun to guide you, your delusion has begun to fade, and very soon you will see all of this clearly for what it truly is.”
Though she fought to maintain her caustic sharpness of focus and frigid calm, Dollianna felt her resolve crumbling, shaken to pieces by self-doubt. As strongly as she wished to simply dismiss what she was hearing, she felt a smouldering requirement to return to the beach in Clockhaven and verify the truth about his claims, one way or another. She must get to that ship… or whatever it was.
A thought flashed into her geared noggin that it was all a trick; that Alowishus had an elaborate plan to avenge Cooper by somehow sending her to some waiting doom. Yet the challenge was irresistible. There was only so much resolve in any heart, and she had to know if there was anything to all of this madness about madness. In defiance of the old man’s half-hearted protests, she fled and made all haste due east.