Chapter 1:

Bird's Cage

Doll's Vestige

Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.

The first sensation I had here was the steady dribble of water on my cheek. Hard stone on the back of my head, along with the moisture of a puddle surrounding me, matting down my hair. It was a gross feeling, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to move – instead, I laid there, staring at mossy stone brick lining the ceiling. At dim, moon-like light filtering in through rusty iron bars. It was eerily silent – not even wind nor echo serving to break the steady, rhythmic splatter of water droplets on to my face.

Instead, I laid there, and I thought to myself.

I’d just died, see. Though, I guess “just” is relative? For all I know, millennia could have passed since I kicked the bucket. Or maybe time didn’t even matter in this situation? Things were a little… fuzzy, but of that fact, I was sure – I died, and now I was where ever this was. Why I was sure… I furrowed my brow, attempting to dig deeper in the slurry that currently made up my memories.

And I kept digging.

Kept going.

… Nothing. Why the hell was I sure?

I sat up with a grumble, wiping the moisture off my face and rubbing the side of my head, nursing the headache that I could feel coming on the more I tried to remember why I was so sure I was dead, and why I was sure that this wasn’t just a dream. Like, come on, do I need to pinch myself? I paused.

“Ow,” I couldn’t help but vocalise. Okay, no, that’s just a cliché, that’s not going to help. Instead, I decided to take stock of what I COULD remember.

My name is Belisa, I was coming up on my 24th birthday, and last I could remember, I was just getting off shift in my job as barista and putting away my uniform. Then… Nothing.

Cool, short taking of stock, then. With a sigh, I’d move to get up, making an instinctive grab for my bag. My fingers didn’t quite close on a bag though – my eyes drawn downward, I found pale digits closing around the handle of a blade that whilst I was sure I’d never seen it in my life, it was somehow familiar to me. A fencing sabre, my memory told me, but not why it felt familiar to me, nor why it left a longing in my heart. Nor why I watched tears drip down on to my ghostly pale hand.

“Another new arrival, 'ey?”

That rough voice jolted me out of my stupor – and I couldn’t help but stagger back in surprise, nor suppress the yelp that pushed from my lips as my vision settled on the figure that posed waiting for me past the ruined cell bars of the room I found myself in.

A mannequin like creature – empty black holes carved into it’s head where it’s eyes should be, a void crafted in facsimile of a smile – stood before me, dressed in what looked like a Russian commissar’s uniform. It cocked it’s head, and I could hear it’s joints rattling, the sinister looking mask unbudging, gravelly tones continuing from where it was.

“Right, right. I forgot since the other one didn’t skip a beat – look, I’m not here to hurt you, I’m just here to take you to the meeting place, yeah? Everything’ll be explained there,” it continued, the cell door creaking open. And then it froze, seeming to look me up and down. “Whoah, no need for that. Look, if you don’t want to follow me out of here, you should be able to make your way fine on your own, just don’t fall off the edge.”

It was then I realised my body had swung into a fluid fencing pose, with the sabre I found in my hand mere inches away from the doll-creature’s face. It’s hands raised into a mock-surrender post, it took a step back, gave a short bow, and left before I had time to process anything nor justify myself. Briefly, I could see another doll-like creature peer around the wall with long, straight, ghost-white hair scattered messily across it’s face. And then, that too left me, with two sets of footsteps clicking on stone away from where I found myself.

Again, I was left with silence.

I couldn’t remember it, but I guess I’d learned fencing or some sort of swordplay at some point in time. I stayed in that position for a while, just in case, but with minutes passing, I lowered my guard to take in my bearings, yet again. I crept carefully and slowly to peer out the now open cell door, and immediately, I could see why it’d warned me to not fall.

Whilst there was another similar cell immediately opposite mine, the back of that cell had no wall. Instead, the stone abruptly crumbled away in a semicircle, with bricks of stone floating off in to a black, empty expanse. To my left, likewise, a few more cells gradually crumbling more and more away, up until three cells down where rusty iron bars and bricks appeared to be glacially floating off into nothingness. To my right, another few cells, before what looked like a crumbling, barely together tightrope of a path extending in to that nothingness, with bricks floating off to either side.

If I focused, I could roughly make out the familiar shape of that first doll, along with a shorter, dress-wearing figure walking along-side it - though they both were obscured by a deep, black fog which stopped me from seeing too far. Distinctly different than the abrupt halt to the pathway to my left – it seemed if I wanted to go somewhere, I only had one direction to go.

Instead, I crumbled to my knees and wailed in the middle of the cell block, curling myself up in a pathetic ball to scream out the confused terror I could feel building in my chest. I thought I could see that figure pause and turn to face me ever so briefly, before disappearing entirely beyond my view, leaving me to this strange, empty, crumbling world I found myself in.

Joe Gold
Doll's Vestige Placeholder Cover

Doll's Vestige