9: The Music Box

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    Powder had not forgotten that this woman, who now talked like she would make Powder a peer in the Dollhouse designing dolls and clothes, was also the same person who sewed a name into her flesh at their first meeting. They may have both been human, but the girl and the dolls were labeled possessions and expected to comply with every request.

Following the Monstress to the fitting stage, Powder was about to receive her costume when something strange happened. The production started and she was in it, her memory snipping out the minutes that transpired in between putting on the costume and entering the Stage. There was a strong sensation of the Globe accelerating and the story progressing so quickly that she stopped comprehending the shapes and sounds ricocheting around her. Then it all slowed and Powder found herself in the middle of hand-to-hand combat in a dark courtyard with three men, dressed head to foot in black like herself. Flipping, kicking, flying... all the stunts felt within her normal capacity to perform and only in the furthest recesses of Powder's mind did something scream wildly that this was not believable.

An unfamiliar person interrupted them and the assassins vanished. A man in red Powder had never seen before was standing in front of her. He had an unreal elegance about him and his gaze was impossible to look away from. Powder felt a jolt and all of her surroundings in the night air went from surreal and dreamlike to vivid and present.

"Why did you bring me here?" the man asked, a bit frightened.

Powder had no answer. Everything sped up. Several lifetimes seemed to whirl by and then disintegrate. Her organs felt like they were expanding rapidly and then contracting. A minute later and Powder was on her back, clawing at Mint and screaming so loudly that that it hurt her own head.

"Powder! Stop!" Mint held her arms away from him. Something cold splashed Powder's face and she froze, shaking.

"That was wine!" said Mint.

"It's the only thing I could think of!" said Syrup.

Powder's eyes were open but it took a few seconds to realize she was looking at the doll, not human, version of Mint. He let go of her arms and leaned back, sitting on his heels. Powder sucked in air like she'd been deprived her entire life. A shadow fell over her and Syrup's upside-down face appeared.

"You okay?" he asked. Powder nodded, wiping some of the wine out of her eyes. Its pungent smell enhanced the nausea that was creeping up. Her hands clasped around her stomach. There were no other dolls on the Stage, but up on the staircase Powder could see Bourbon herding a few of the others back to the dressing room.

"How do you feel?" Mint asked.

"Like everything that just happened was real."

"Some of it was. I mean, you do move around on the Stage."

"I hope I wasn't actually doing those backflips."

Powder got onto her feet but stayed hunched near the ground, remembering how discombobulated she had been the time before. She would have stayed like this a little while but Mint and Syrup each took one of her arms, lifting her up to standing position. They led her up the stairs to where Bourbon stood in front of the double-doors, arms folded.

"Are you in pain?" he asked.

"I feel about the same as before," Powder said. "Maybe more... drained. I can't remember anything that just happened." The insides of her stomach were burning now but it was better than feeling nauseated.

"I told Madame that she should be more careful with you," Bourbon said. "She's not always around to see the effects."

"Thank you," said Powder. She wondered if she should apologize for asking the questions earlier that had led the M to suggest doll lessons.

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