“IT’S A DOLLY, IT’S A DOLLY AHAHAHAHAHA!!!”
The young girl lifted its face up, revealing the same set of hollow eyes and horrendous grin, except its mouth was covered in stitches.
A terrifying sight. The android could feel the sting of a needle piercing through her soft, brittle skin by looking at it. The girl’s shoulder-length hair suddenly hardened as sharp strands of hair began shooting out of the creature’s head in all directions like bullets.
Dolly bent over as she dodged an incoming attack from above, but was immediately forced to back away and rested her back on a tree trunk as more bullets flew by her.
Darn it, this one’s fast!
She took a deep breath and pulled a few pieces of grass with one of her hands as she used the other to block another attack. Now holding onto the green blades, the mannequin deliberately tossed them as a distraction in order to run across the field and hid behind a birch tree. The sound of an annoying, high-pitched giggle continued to rattle inside Dolly’s ears, its voice called out to Dolly.
“DOLLYDOLLYDOLLY, HAHAHAHA, IT’S A DOLLY!”
I barely know the weaponry in this realm!
Dolly gazed around frantically. She hoped to seek a solution.
The blades did little harm, and I don't know if using my blasting abilities would attract other creatures lurking nearby or even other monster slayers!
Out of frustration, the android subconsciously clenched her fists and punched the tree behind her, when she realized that the trunk felt harder than usual.
Wait, could this-
She ripped a huge piece of bark from the birch tree, and it morphed into a thin shield.
Perhaps it was a coincidence, but right at that moment, one of the creature’s hair strand bullets headed towards Dolly. The shield managed to block the impact in the nick of time. It made a clattering sound upon impact and immediately shattered.
Dolly jumped onto a branch as the creature approached her calmly from below; it stopped attacking and instead, glanced up at the android with its creepy, hollow sunken eyes.
“DOLLY DOLLY, WHY WON’T YOU PLAY WITH ME?”
So this monster can say something else other than my name!
“DOLLY WHY? WHY?!”
Suddenly, the young girl’s stitched grin ripped open, causing a loud, ripping sound to echo around the trees. A blood-curdling scream and the sight of an abnormally large mouth would scare the wits out of anyone.
Damn it! Do all creatures yell when they’re in distress?
Dolly immediately covered her ears, but the soundwaves sent the android flying into the air.
One of the tree branches scratched Dolly’s arm, but she did not flinch as she landed on a different branch. The android ripped another piece of bark to shield herself while the monster continued to scream at a distance.
It wasn’t time to be scared, for she had to defend herself and possibly prepare for unexpected attacks.
Especially now that she can sense another presence nearby.
Ugh! I still have open wounds on my face and elbow. I can’t let a potential human see the metallic skin underneath!
Luckily for Dolly, her master was an intelligent man, and she recalled that he mentioned the possibility of getting injured.
If that’s the case, he advised her to use the handkerchief covered with a special chemical mixed with hydrocortisone he left hidden under her white dress flaps.
She lifted one of the flaps and took the handkerchief, and quickly rubbed her face and elbow where scratch marks were visible. Miraculously, the master’s experimental ointment must have worked as the marks on her face and elbow began to fade rapidly.
The ominous noises coming from the bushes got closer with the rustling distracting Dolly’s attention.
“DOLLY DOLLY DOLLY DOLLY!!!”
The voice of a man. Wait, a woman. No, it was both. The drop in the tone of the monster’s voice started shifting between a high-pitched laugh and a low-pitch yell as it squeezed its plush until its head burst violently.
The polyester fiber fell from the now-destroyed teddy bear headed straight towards Dolly.
Unbelievable! This creature looks specialized in long-range combat!
The android started to panic.
I need to distance myself for now and come up with a plan!
Dolly wanted to jump, but the polyester fibers caught up. The explosion behind Dolly sent her metallic body flying several feet forward.
The scraping sound of her knees hitting the dirt irked her ears, although she found barely relieved when she saw her skin was intact. But before anyone else could react, a familiar voice was heard.
The android’s eyes widened when Noah jumped out of the bushes.
“Greetings, Miss Dolly, fancy meeting you here!”
“I understand you missed me, but don’t worry, I got you!”
The man tossed a couple of blades at the polyester fiber, which forced them to explode in midair. A loud howl, another that pierced into their ears. Soon, they might go deaf from all the yelling.
“Ugh! These monsters are insane!”
The android’s eyes watched as the creature shot more of its hair bullets toward the smirking man.
“Eh, they may be, but I’m fine with it!"
His speed was one that Dolly never witnessed from a human. He spun around the bullets like a dancer in a fearsome competition, the twirls of his body satisfying the android’s stare.
And with a powerful slice, Noah managed to cut the hair bullets in half. Pieces fell all around him like raindrops.
“Noah, how did you get in here?”
Dolly asked frantically knowing he didn’t have a key to unlock the realm.
“I’ll let you know as soon as we defeat this thing!”
“OK, that’s true, you got a plan?”
Noah let out a mischievous laugh and gave her a thumbs-up. It emphasized his quirky confidence.
“There’s something you must know about me, Dolly…”
His heterochromatic eyes glistened. “...I never have plans!”
Noah proceeded to grab onto the grass below his feet as he ran, and tossed the morphed blades toward the creature.
A futile attempt but proven well for a distraction. As the monster continued laughing, Noah lunged forward and pulled a flower. Its soft petals mercilessly ripped from its stem, and Noah could smell the scent of nature right as he blew them toward the creature’s direction.
“Alright, get out of the way!” Noah yelled as the petals flew forward.
The creature was agitated that Noah was running from the scene. Out of frustration, it used its hair bullets once more and the petals were torn to shreds.
“Wait what are you doing-” Dolly yelped as Noah grabbed hold of her and pulled her away from the area.
“Trust me, just get out of here!”
The ringing in Dolly and Noah's ears intensified when an explosion occurred behind them.
Pieces of grass and leaves scattered aggressively throughout the field as Noah and Dolly stumbled. The poor man leaped forward right as the explosion occurred, sending his body falling and right on top of…
Noah blinked, and suddenly the flustered expression became imminent. His arms started to shake faintly as he struggled to keep himself atop the android.
“Ah! I’m sorry!”
“Just get off of me.”
The man got up and stepped aside as Dolly sat up, her back ached from such an impactful hit. She glanced ahead and noticed the disintegration process taking place. The explosion earlier must have caused the death of the creature.
But how did that happen?
“Noah, did those petals cause the blast?”
He rolled up his sleeve, then said teasingly, “Ah, and so you’ve just figured it out.”
“Cut me some slack, the both of us have only been in the realm for several minutes, I can’t have possibly discovered every plant’s transformed state.”
Noah sounded confused.
“What do you mean? Didn’t your master inform you about Plant Weaponry?”
Dolly’s eyes focused back at the area where the monster once stood. There was nothing but the body of a teddy bear laying on the grass.
“No, I wasn’t told of anything.”
She started to walk towards the teddy bear as Noah sighed.
“Wow, your master must be hiding some secrets there! First, he didn’t tell you much about finding the right realm to enter for your mission, and now he withheld crucial information?”
Dolly shrugged and grabbed onto the plush, expecting another glow and a sense of calmness. However, to Dolly’s surprise, nothing happened.
She said as she flipped the plush around, seemingly trying to search for something.
“I thought something would happen if an item left behind by a creature gets touched.”
“Ehhhh! You’re really clueless!”
Dolly sent a glare in Noah’s direction, but he only laughed.
“Not all monster items act as keys,” Noah explained, “some of them stay behind and transform into edible energy bars!”
“OK fine, to be honest, I'm not sure if all of them would transform into food if they’re from the realm. But looking around, I don’t see refreshments for us.”
Dolly sighed. She assumed she would never get an answer out of him, so she dropped the subject.
“It’s up to you whether you want to believe me or not, but the next time we fight a monster, you’ll see!”
The android rolled her eyes and let out a sigh. Noah could tell she was not having any of it.
“Well um, speaking of items, now’s the perfect time to tell you how I got in!” Noah said, trying to change the subject. “I assume you unlocked the realm with the girl’s hat, right?”
“Well, shortly after you left, I think its sister came along.”
“Wait, but I am! Someone started to scream and shouted profanity down the hallway so I followed the voice. Turns out another girl wearing a hat was attacking an injured monster slayer, so I had to help him defeat it.”
“Oh?” Dolly felt intrigued. “Where is that person now?”
“Hmm, I think he’s at the Headquarters’ hospital.”
He paused. The uncertainty on his face seemed to conclude his lack of knowledge.
“I’m not too sure. Never thought about where injured monster slayers go. But some important-looking people, probably doctors, came rushing in to take him away.”
“Man, hopefully, he’ll come back! I thought he was cool. He looked like a fashionista. A black and white slim jacket that rocked so well with his golden necklace.”
There was a peculiar silence, so Dolly decided to walk away from Noah.
He blinked briefly and waved his arms as he tried to continue the conversation. “H-heh, I mean, who would send such a weakling to a mission such as monster-slaying, right?”
Upon realizing Dolly was only walking further away from him, Noah panicked.
“W-wait up! Don’t leave me, Miss Dolly!”
“It’s just Dolly.”
Several hours later, the two were resting beside a river they found within the deep forest.
Noah was exhausted after fighting three more monsters with Dolly, so he requested a break. Dolly figured a break wouldn’t cause any harm, seeing that the boy was, in fact, human after all. She was definitely surprised when Noah discovered berries from a nearby plant and even recommended that he could eat them as he was complaining of hunger.
Not wanting to get involved in his whiny efforts to get her attention, she started to reminisce about what she learned about the world today.
It is no wonder humanity was at the brink of extinction, and many survivors of the catastrophic event had to settle underground, for the air above became too toxic. It explained why many of the buildings on solid earth were covered in large domes; similar to the ones she had seen from books her master previously gave to her about humanity living on Mars.
And if I recall, they need a lot of people to be test subjects for other realms…that’s why many of them weren’t slayers…
“Ahhh!!” Noah exclaimed. Clearly, his exhaustion was getting to his body. “I still can’t believe those monsters we killed didn’t leave any energy bars. I’m starving and I don’t want to eat up all my emergency food yet!”
“That’s what happens when you expect something,” Dolly pointed out.
“But my teacher said that most of the monsters usually leave out one,” he continued, “sure, the ones that just up and leave after disintegrating typically means it’s weak or a key….UGH BUT STILL! I thought they were strong!”
“So what would this flower do?” asked Dolly curiously, changing the subject while Noah sat on a rock. He splashed his face with cold water from the river.
“That’s a dandelion,” he said as he wiped his eyes. “If you blow the seeds, you can make a wish and your wish will come true.”
“Ahh, Dolly, what makes you think that?” whined the boy, making a pouty face while he can. “It’s true. Many people used to blow dandelions to make a wish.”
“Ok, but you know that’s not what I meant.”
Noah sighed hopelessly. He placed his hand on his hair and ruffled it.
“Dandelions are used for healing. Sometimes, people who become monster slayers become depressed because all that killing can get into their heads. Blowing a dandelion’s seeds would cause a trigger within the atmosphere by manipulating the individual’s serotonin levels. Makes them happy, you know?"
“That sounds nice.”
“Except, like all things, it’s temporary.”
Dolly looked back at the dandelion in front of her.
Noah glanced at the grass field around them. “Oh, and those flowers over there, that’s called hyacinths. They're purple so its powers focus on bringing sorrow to the person.”
“How does that work?”
“Find a way to get the creature to slice that hyacinth in half, and they will automatically feel intense sadness. It can be a great way to kill a monster when they're down haha!"
Dolly gazed at the purple hyacinths.
She noticed there are other colored hyacinths nearby but decided that she will figure them out on her own later. After all, Noah was busy drinking his water, and Dolly needed to relax after hours of walking.
However, the sound of leaves falling from trees, and the flickering river that curved gently through the forest only gave Noah the opportunity to talk more to his favorite girl.
“Is Dolly a code name? It’s just, I’ve never heard of a name like that.”
“Oh. Uh….” The android subconsciously snapped her fingers several times, struggling to think of a random excuse to answer his question.
“Wait, are you embarrassed? Is it a NICKNAME?”
“What’s the difference?”
Noah snickered. “Where have you been? You must have lived under a rock to not know something as simple as a nickname and code name!!”
The boy continued to laugh while Dolly grumbled. She definitely felt ashamed after he humiliated her like that.
“L-look! I don’t know a lot of things about the world, OK? I was heavily trained to conduct research, solve mysteries, and fight!” She retaliated, but her statement only gave Noah more jokes to throw at her.
“Wait, ‘conduct research’? ‘Solve mysteries’? Haha, even the way you speak sounds so scripted!” He laughed harder, only for his face to receive the impact of a powerful slap.
“Stop it, it isn’t funny,” Dolly demanded.
Noah rubbed his face, but the sudden aggressiveness only seemed to get him excited. “Woah! Woah there, princess, I know you’re strong, but my goodness, you ARE sheltered.”
“What do you mean sheltered?” The android’s annoyance was getting obvious.
“Wait, SERIOUSLY…” At this point, Noah didn’t think it was funny anymore. “You’ve never heard of the phrase ‘being sheltered’?”
“Um...I mean, I do have a home? So I was sheltered.”
The innocent reply restarted the cycle of laughter in the man, who uncontrollably slapped his thighs while he’s at it.
Dolly’s crimson face only spoke volumes about her naiveness. “Come on! Just explain it already!”
“S-S-SHELTERED AHAHAHAHAHA!!” Noah dramatically wiped a tear from his eyes. “Oh my gosh, this is why I like you, you’re hilarious!”
As an android who lacked social skills, she wasn’t aware of how humans generally communicate. Of course, this meant she took Noah’s comment quite literally.
“Wait, you like me?”
“Huh?” Noah’s laughter abruptly paused as he nearly choked on her question.
“WHAT- NO I DIDN’T-”
Dolly clapped her hands together as she spoke to herself, while still maintaining eye contact with the flustered man.
“This man who I’ve met for a day said he likes me, that means…”
“WAIT HOLD ON-”
“I reject your confession.”
The poor man started to sniff in such an exaggerated manner that Dolly genuinely didn’t think she unintentionally hurt his feelings.
“HAHAHAHA Y-you’re so funny!” blurted Noah while he’s equally exaggerating his tears. “Look at me, I can’t stop crying at how great your jokes are!!”
The man turned around and held his fist onto his chest.
“Ah, my poor heart,” he whispered, making sure the pink-haired android didn’t hear him.
“Hey, you still need to tell me what being sheltered means,” Dolly said. The impatience crawling in her skin was being tested.
“Well,” Noah turned to face Dolly and decided to sit next to her. “Heh, it just means you don’t know much about the world.”
“Well, I know that the explosion-”
“But it sounds like that’s all you know.” He interrupted.
“I…..” She was at a loss for words. After all, she can’t deny it.
“What about your personal life? Your favorite ice cream? A place you would go on vacation? Heck, do you exercise at your local gym?”
A light bulb flashed inside Noah’s head as he made an assumption.
“I’m sorry, were you forced to dedicate your whole life to fighting?”
“To think someone would make a beautiful lady such as yourself to only focus on fighting for the sake of humanity!”
Noah’s theatrical skills kicked in as he placed his arm on his head. “I mean, I understand choosing to risk your life. But to be so sheltered and not have a life outside of your career choice, that should be ILLEGAL!”
“It’s not illegal to choose someone else’s purpose, especially if it’s for the sake of humanity.”
“Geez,” the man dropped his mischievous act and gazed at Dolly with a pitiful expression. “You must be fun at parties.”
“I think so.”
Noah sighed, then decided to unexpectedly poke Dolly’s cheek. “Don’t worry, if other people won’t invite you to a party, I will. I bet it’s also going to be your first!”
“Oh,” Dolly blinked, “thank you. I think finding the scientist does call for a celebration.”
“Ahhhhhhhhh!! Is there anything else you can talk about without it being related to the explosion or the scientist??”
Without the sky to determine what time it was, Dolly had to rely on Noah’s sleeping schedule to figure out when it was time for her human partner to rest. It had been a long journey, and after their endless friendly bickering between Noah’s dictionary definitions and Dolly’s gullible questions, the man finally concluded that they should settle down to sleep by the river.
“Aren’t you tired?” The man yawned as he placed his fanny pack onto the grass. “I even made a shrub for you.”
He proudly pointed at two jasmine shrubs he created. Dolly stood in front of one, with Noah observing from behind. The android crossed her arms.
“How does one sleep on it? It's covered with a bunch of jasmine flowers-”
Suddenly, Dolly could feel Noah’s arms pushing her into the shrub. The jasmine flowers fluttered around her, and the shrub was extremely delicate and soft, like the mattress of a comfortable bed.
The beautiful sight danced in her vision as Noah jumped onto his.
“WAH!!” He yelled as his back hit the soft brittle shrub. His laughter reverberated across the creek.
Dolly’s mechanical eyes glimmered as she watched the Jasmine flowers dance around him, his joy contagious as time seemed to slow down once his back impacted onto the shrub.
The sight of countless white-colored petals glistering under the twilight sky seemed to emphasize Noah’s playful and cheerful personality. The sight was…
“Pst, Dolly,” The man smirked mischievously, which snapped the android out of her fixated trance. “You’ve been staring.”
“Ah!” Dolly shifted and turned away from him. “I’m going to sleep.”
“Aw, come on!” Noah whined. “Why do you deny it-”
Dolly raised her voice a little louder. “I said thanks.”
Noah smiled. “You're welcome.”
I guess he’s not so bad… he’s been nice enough to tell me about all sorts of stuff humans do, and he even…
Dolly’s mind flashed back to Noah’s enticing smiles whenever they were together. Her face flushed with confused emotions.
Something about him feels familiar, and yet I don’t know why…
The android closed her eyes.
This shrub is really comfortable…
The man eventually drifted to sleep, as the mannequin scrutinized her thoughts.
A sound, a whisper, or…
A breeze. The wind blew into Dolly’s ears, signaling her to open her eyes. Strangely enough, she thought they would encounter more monsters, or at least, other slayers while they were asleep.
Then again…this realm is probably very big.
She gazed ahead. Noah was sitting on a rock in front of the creek.
“Good morning, did you sleep well?” He asked, his eyes teasingly stared into hers.
Dolly approached the river and observed her reflection in the crystal clear water.
“Ah, then I did my job,” Noah said proudly and wiped his face.
The water drops that dripped from his wet hair shimmered under the ray of sunlight.
“If you slept well, that means I made you feel comfortable.”
UGH… It’s moments like this when I can’t take him seriously…
“If you meant the shrub, perhaps. But if it’s being around you, I don’t know yet.”
“That’s not a no, so I’m getting there haha!!” he chuckled, then handed a new towel to Dolly from his fanny pack.
“Shall we go now?” Noah asked as she wiped her hands on the towel.
“Sure, if you’re ready.”
The two individuals were about to leave when a loud pop was heard at a distance. To their surprise, a tree started to fall and disappeared from their vision.
Then, it was a strange deafening silence as smoke started to creep out from the tree lines.
“Noah, let’s go.”
“We definitely share a brain cell!”
Dolly and Noah started running towards the sound; smoke began to fill their peripheral vision as they got closer to the scene. They entered a darker area of the forest where there were barely any rays of sunlight seeping through, but it did not faze them.
“Hey,” Noah coughed. The smoke was getting to him, so he covered his face. “Do you think this was done by a monster or a person?”
“No need to ponder,” she replied and stopped running. The android placed her arm out to signal Noah to stop as well.
Noah stared ahead. In front of them, two shadows became visible from the thick cloud of smoke.
“Yeah, I don’t know. They could be monsters with humanoid forms.”
“That’s a good point, but I don’t think so.”
Dolly squinted. “Because that girl right there is also Dolly.”