21: Descension

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Powder left the Gold Room with a nasty feeling knowing her next stop was to see the Monstress. She hadn't looked into that woman's eyes yet while at the same time knowing the M was planning to kill her.

On the other side of the door stood Puckerz. He was now wearing a very shiny tuxedo with rolled-up cuffs and gold bracelets. His hair was up in a twisted knot that fastened with one black chopstick. He was probably the only doll this ensemble suited.

"Was that special thing you were looking for in there?"

"No, I found that in the dressing room after all," Powder said as the two began a hasty walk back to the Core.

"That's good. Scotch is still upset, in case you're wondering."

"Really? Wait a minute, what do you know about that?" Powder allowed herself to use a brash and honest voice with him.

Puckerz smiled. "I was the one who told him to check out the sewing room. I knew exactly what would happen."

"You what?"

The doll grinned, not like he was enjoying himself but like he was laughing at her understanding of events. "You needed some distance between you two. The way you were headed, the madwoman would have taken you both off the map if she saw a similar scene to what I witnessed upstairs."

It was hard to comment on that. Although Powder hated it, he had a point. Puckerz continued.

"She also knows about your fight. Heh, she's glowing. A little cocky, too."

"How did she... were you standing..."

"Yeah, outside the sewing room. I told Bittersweet and then he told her. She's so giddy, I bet she's even forgotten that bond you made with Zing."

He wasn't just fooling around. Powder could see the merit in what Puckerz was doing, even if it also made her want to rip a hole from his neck to his non-existent navel. She pulled on her hair and groaned.

Puckerz suddenly shoved Powder really hard down a side hall. He followed, holding a finger to his lips. Powder didn't make a sound but craned her neck to see why he had diverted their direction. The fixed-upward-stare Havoc pranced by. His left arm was pressed firmly across his chest while his right flapped uselessly at his side. A second later a proto Powder had never seen followed. It had most likely been female, her long hair forming a thick, matted mass down her back. Her face had kept its shape well enough but there was bright orange that ran down her neck and arms as though she'd been dunked in paint. She also trotted by without any notice of the two figures frozen against a wall.

"Those knits," Puckerz muttered, stepping out. "Suddenly they're in the open everywhere." He looked both ways and then motioned for Powder to follow him again. "Most of them have been armed. It's strange that those two weren't."

"What are they doing?" Powder asked, grateful that she hadn't bumped into any protos earlier. She and Puckerz were now running to the fitting rooms.

"We can't be sure, but we think they're organizing themselves."

"They have a leader?"

"None that we've seen. But they must."

Powder and Puckerz burst through the back way and not a moment too soon; the Monstress' irritated voice rose from the dressing rooms.

"What do you mean you can't find her? Isn't she always with you?"

"I'm here," announced Powder, panting and assuming the Monstress meant her.

The Monstress turned from Bourbon and Mint, whom she'd been addressing, and faced Powder. She was wearing a nude velvet dress with a royal blue scarf tied in a knot around her waist.

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