Ragdoll awakes to the emptiness of the Pussycat’s estate, nestled deeply into the woods. Hazy rays of sunlight expose dust floating idly around her room as she stares blankly at a wood-panel wall, following the textures in a morning haze.
It had been three weeks since the accident, and one week after she had given up on conversation. She had made it an imperative to avoid talking to friends, family members, and just about anyone for a while.
She remembered the face Mandalay made when she was informed of that decision.
The removal of her quirk left her devastated, completely. She felt embarrassed every time she had to talk to someone she used to know, because she could tell that everything had changed on a fundamental level.
She was no longer Ragdoll to anyone, anymore. She was no longer the founder of the Pussycats. She was a woman with unusual friends named Tomoko, with irrelevant work experience.
The sudden shift caused her to, after weeks of futile effort, just tune out for a bit. She couldn’t handle it, the look in people’s eyes that she picked up as, “I know you’re no longer what you used to be.”, the very act of conversing with people that knew her was just an ugly reminder of her reality.
“Ah, well.”, she thought, getting up out of bed in a nightie and sulking over to the kitchen.
“I was the least important part of the Pussycats, anyways.”
That’s how she copes. The therapist wasn’t fond of that, but that was fine. It didn’t really matter in the long run.
Her day was laid out for her. She had no intention of living rent free without compensating her friends turned strangers once she had chosen to isolate herself from people.
She started on yesterday’s dishes, humming to herself as she cracks open the dishwasher and begins placing everything into the proper drawer, hips swaying as she recalls a dumb pop hit that she recites the hook for ad-nauseam
“Waste time with a masterpiece… Don’t waste time with a masterpiece,”
Plates are done, she jiggles the basket with all the silverware in it, so she can slide it out easily and place it on the island.
“You should be rollin’ with me, oh, you should be rollin’ with me, aaa-aaa-aaah...”
She sorts forks, knives, spoons, and chopsticks carefully, humming to herself as she loses the words in favor of devoting herself to this easy, easy, task.
Fork, spoon, knife, knife, fork, pair of chopsticks…
She remembers the look Tiger gave her when she was pulled out of the hideout.
She grabs a spoon and grits her teeth, desperate to get the memory out of her head, bending it and throwing it over to the other room, staring dumbly as it clatters against the coffee table there, the sound echoing across the empty house.
“You’re a real-life fantasy, you’re a real life fantasy...” She makes her way to the discarded spoon, taking her time to glance at the dense forest just outside their clearing, giving a lazy smile as she fills her thoughts with the forest.
The spoon is trashed without a second thought as she resumes her task without much issue, wiping the island clean of any water once she finished and beginning to vacuum the house and her room.
Her scant list of chores are finished in minimal time, as she prefers, giving her the rest of the day to do as she wished.
For her, this largely meant playing dumb games on her laptop, occasionally moving from room to room of the house so she didn’t feel completely useless.
Around two hours of grinding in video games, she turns the sound on, as the silence of the house starts to bother her in the way that long-term isolation affects humans.
The sound effects and occasional rehashed voice lines make her feel, in some way, like she was interacting with humans beyond faceless opponents that were effectively just smarter AI.
That was good. That was relaxing.
“I’m sorry.”, she spams one emote just to hear the voice over and over again, sinking her head back against a throw pillow as she looks up at the ceiling.
She wonders if this is how people get ‘waifus’, complete isolation leaving them unable to connect with anything other than one dimensional, attractive, characters.
She briefly entertains the thought of talking with her friends again, only to once again recall Tora’s face. Her heartbeat accelerates and she bites the side of her thumb hard. Spoons were acceptable, but she wasn’t about to impulsively wreck an entire laptop because of her dumb brain horseshit.
She swallows, instead just gently closing her laptop and grabbing the pillow she was resting on to hug and squeeze, curling up around it and going limp.
She spends maybe half an hour like this, understanding that she had better things to do than sleep, but also unable to do much of anything besides stay on the couch and stare at the fabric pattern on the couch.
Houndstooth. She always found the fact that the Pussycats had Houndstooth fabric hilarious.But, that was just her. Other people had a better sense of humor.
Breakfast and Lunch was a glass of water with reheated curry on top of leftover rice. Chewing thoughtfully at around midday, she finds herself horribly lonely and grabs her laptop from the other room, opening it up so she could turn on a video and listen to someone talk as background noise.
It didn’t help much, and after about two minutes of the average Let’s Play overexaggeration and general character acting, she closed the laptop again, staring down at it as the audio continues for a scant few seconds prior to cutting out as the computer fully hibernates.
Dishes are washed and she finds herself, once again, in an empty house with nothing to do. She paces around rooms, fluffing pillows and adjusting furniture she’s already adjusted, and finding herself well and truly without a single reason to meaningfully do anything.
She takes a deep breath before sighing, shaking her head. She wished the Pussycats could just, one day, wreck the house so she could have a whole day of blissful work. But that wasn’t about to happen any time soon, and such a fantasy was just proof of how much she craved some kind of reason to do something.
Tomoko was about to vacuum for the second time in a day, but decided against it out of an obvious understanding that she was just trying her absolute hardest to waste as much time as possible so she didn’t have to think about anything.
She rifled around in the medicine cabinet instead. She could’ve taken any number of half-finished prescriptions on her own, and no one would’ve noticed a thing. Fortunately, she had zero desire to hop herself up on a variety of pills, instead grabbing a bottle of Melatonin and one of Ambien (which she had doctor-shopped hard for).
Taking an unreasonable amount of Melatonin under the understanding that it was natural, therefore good in any dose, and one pill above the recommended amount for Ambien, she replaces the pills in exacting order, licking her lips and closing the medicine cabinet before slipping into bed, the clock barely striking three as she begins her mantra.
Lucid dreaming was her replacement for social interaction, and it was why she hadn’t broken earlier. There was some brand of strange companionship in her head, which she appreciated deeply. It had proven itself, so far, to be a wondrous replacement for talking with people, the thought of which made her stomach turn sour.
“I must lucid dream.”
“I must lucid dream.”
“I must lucid dream.”
“I must lucid dream.”
She repeats, endlessly, until the medicine kicks in and she naturally closes her eyes.
And so, begins her sleep.
Chapter 2: The House at the end of the Shieldbearers Domain
Ragdoll explores a little bit.
Ragdoll wakes up with a dull headache, in her own bed. Sitting up, she stretches and works out the aches that come from sleeping wrong, her back arching as she lets out a yawn. Wearing cat-print pyjamas, she was about to open the door to the hallway, eager to see if the Pussycats came back, when an intrusive thought entered her mind.
“Check the closet.”
Her stomach immediately dropped panic setting in, like she had done something wrong and was waiting for it to fall against her. Swallowing, she curled her fingers into fists and sighed, turning around to face the closet door.
Feeling her heart beat against her chest as she made her way over, she caught herself constantly looking behind her for signs of intruders, signs she was being watched. Hastily, she threw the curtains over her windows, even if the only thing that flanked her room was the forest herself.
She didn’t know what was out there.
Finally, she had worked up the courage to entertain the thought, grabbing both handles to her closet. She hesitated, briefly.
Then, of course, promptly remembered to one-two-three. A cute little gimmick she thought up to get the rest of the Pussycats able to do terrifying things. No matter what, they had to count to three and do whatever scared them on three.
Her knuckles whitened as she grips the door, closing her eyes and mouthing.
On three, she tossed the doors open and dove into her unused clothes, tumbling through inky darkness and cloth for far too long, until she ended up on the other side of her closet.
Oh, right. She was dreaming.
She stares at the landscape before her, not necessarily because it was something new to her, but because she’d be greatly distressed if she could pick out anything different from the scenery. God knows what that would mean.
She was sitting on nothing, and would later on stand on nothing as she surveyed the area. Thirteen doors, including the one behind her, which lead to her closet. Underneath her were chittering creatures that floated and idled around each door and the center of the room. She didn’t like staring at them, as that produced an emotional instinct equivalent to standing directly on top of a shark tank and making eye contact.
Hugging herself, as she always found that this particular part of the dream was cold as can be, she gave a good, long, look at each of the doors.
She was a coward, before. She had no real desire to check out the doors, but…
What else was there for her? She had no reason to go outside, not much reason to do anything inside, and hardly any reason to correct either of those two problems. Her eyes grew tired as she thought of a world beyond dreams, and she shook her head. Sticking a finger out, she murmured to herself as she worked through her flawless decision-making algorithm.
“Eenie, meenie, minie, moe. Catch a kitty by the toe, if she hollers, let her go, my-mama-told-me-to-pick-the-very-best… You!”
She approaches the door she chose, barney-purple in color and studded with runes of nonsense characters, a child’s attempt at drawing Kanji, almost. She runs her finger through a couple, before curling her fingers around one with a sizable lump that could’ve been an attempt at a door-knob, tugging it open and taking a few seconds to stare at the dark black rectangle, as if someone just erased everything from that particular area.
Well. It was only a dream, right?
She takes a cautionary step forward, before shaking her head.
“One, two, fuck you.” She’s almost disgusted with herself, too scared to walk into a door? What a shame. She has a running start as she leaps into the entrance.
She hears a door click shut, and she stumbles out into a heap.
Once again, she’s standing on nothing. Below her, something massive and grinning floats idly in the black space. Harmless, no gut-feeling from her. She gets up onto her knees, and her cheek brushes against something smooth and flat.
She turns around and sees a face staring back at her, causing her to muffle a scream and plant a slipper directly against it, kicking as hard as she could.
Unfortunately, such a performative attempt did less than nothing as the face refused to budge. She stares curiously at it, before standing up further and finding herself face to face with something. Almost human. It’s face was simplified, a mixture of symbols that when arranged, suggest a face. Nothing more, nothing less. The face she saw beforehand was merely a shield it was carrying.
“Hello?” She asks, the Cherry-red face unmoving.
“How’re you doing?” She gives her best Pussycats-smile, waving at him.
“Hello? Hi? Hello? How’s it going? Dude? What’s up?” She’s starting to get worried. She thinks that she’s talking to something with a personality, and yet it won’t budge! Not even a suggestion of movement is given, and Ragdoll huffs, folding her arms.
“I’m. I can’t believe this! So, I disappear from the spotlight for like, what, a month, and no one wants to even say ‘hi’ to me? I can’t believe you. I can’t believe this. Fuck you!”
She verifies that whatever this glowing neon thing was, it has a foot, which she stomps on.
Promptly, and deservedly, her heel is immediately met with the feeling one gets when you step on a particularly small and pointed rock. Covering her mouth, she lets out a litany of impotent curses and pain-screams as she stomps her feet on the Nothing, resembling a cartoon as she jumps up and down and shakes her foot in a dumb effort to work the pain off.
She just cursed out a statue. A fucking statue.
Pinching the bridge of her nose as her heel throbs in pain, she shakes her head. “I gotta get my shit together,”, says the woman investigating a dream world of shield-bearing neon statues.
She walks dumbly around the void until she spies something jutting out from the Nothing, a massive black gate covered in white circles, surrounded by a… Grove? Fuzzy neon plant-life surrounds the whole thing, a breeze she couldn’t feel periodically shaking them and producing glowing candy-colored sparks that dissipate into the stagnant air of the dreamscape.
Curious as could be, she finds herself marching over, chanting one-two-three, one-two-three, in a steady cadence to match her foot falls. She couldn’t pussy out on three, nope. As the flora worried her, her marching soon turned to a light jog as she intended on jumping through.
Sure, she hasn’t been harmed in her dreams yet, but she felt that if there was any time to decide to err on the side of caution, exploring an alien landscape would be one of those times. Her knees bending, she managed to get some pretty good air as she vaulted into the gate. A door clicks, and she finds herself landing in…
She finds herself looking down at the ground, which sure as hell looked like grass, but sure as hell felt like carpet.
She jogs on over to what looks like a tuft of grass, an outcropping, and slaps a hand down on top of it, ruffling it. Just long strands of green carpet. She stares at her hand as if she’s trying to find something particularly wrong with it, and goes to a tree to test her curiosities.
The trunk, skinny and dark, felt like plastic similar to the sort you’d find on playgrounds. Brushing her hand through the ‘leaves’, she found them to be felt imitations that merely looked the part from a distance.
“Ooooh… Kay. I’m in a. Kid’s park. I guess.”
She scratches the back of her head, turning around and getting a glance at the most obvious object in the entire area, a whole goddamn house.
Tilting her head, she approaches it and glides her hands over the beige walls of it, looking in near disbelief as she glances over her palms.
“Playplace Plastic. It’s all fucking McDonald’s Playplace Plastic. I'm being condescended to in my fucking dreams.”, She runs over to the front, and slaps a hand against a window.
More goddamn plastic. Her dreams were safety-proofed! She almost wants to laugh at how absurd the idea was as she tries to get a glance through the window, which was unfortunately completely opaque.
Tilting her head, she finally goes to the door.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The silence, indeed, was so raw and deafening that her knocking carried an echo far longer than she thought it would.
Well, why the hell not?
It’s not like this mattered. Just a dream. A stupid, stupid, dream.
Another door opens, and closes.