Read part 1 of the Doll's Eye here.
Long, silk roads that seem to go on forever, intertwining, and undulating. They're all at once brilliant white, colourful, and full of life. Each seems unique, on its own journey, with its own story to tell. We follow them for what feels like ages. Our attention shifts in and out, with dazzling flashes, almost as often as we change which shining road we follow. The road we follow doesn't matter, they all slowly coalesce towards a distant center point, a dark tree that consumes each road's light. So very distant. That twilight growth, that is where we must go.
Getting accustomed to Stagbay
At first, our recent time of drinking with Hroth makes us lustful and restless. We want to continue to drink, to journey, but we are stuck here. We do not like this.
Eventually, the waves lull us to sleep, and there we sit in Stagbay for years.
The non-white-alloy portion of our mace begins to rust, and barnacles and some other parasitic life take up home along us. We assume the organic parts of our grip and hilt rotted off long ago, but we cannot see much of the mace’s bottom half embedded in the muck.
Once, sometimes twice a month, the tide is so low the head of our home is completely exposed to the air, waking us. We can look around, observing for a few short days how the landscape, bug-kin, world and all its influences have all changed. As the tide returns after new moons, it also brings us many visitors: fish of all sorts, but also many non-kin in the form of feral isopods, amphipods, porcelain crabs and various shore crabs. They breed here, the whole bay becoming teeming with life. They also fight, wound and occasionally kill one another, blood drifting through the water to us.
Although much more difficult to parse, we can search the feral's memories. We can get mostly all manner of sensory things, and generally mostly sight and smell. Though occasionally one has evolved a sense for the "odd-wave,” we could not tell what they were getting an impression of with it. Primitive brains. Still, over time we are able to use their memories to map much of our surrounding area Glodr and his henchmen never travelled and to discover the areas some of the ferals avoid.
After the third year like this, one day, when we awoke, the long-empty lighthouse was destroyed, and much of the landscape looked as though it was charred. We wondered if it was Hroth that returned in anger. We did not see many bug-kin for a long time.
We continued the cycle, waking once or twice a month, getting a wave of information, and returning to our slumber, waiting for a new keeper to find us. But the area remained fairly uneventful for 371 years.
The birth of a settlement
On a day in the 372^nd^ year that we wake, we see a small flag on the cliff’s edge. What does this mean, we wonder?
We start to see figures each year now. At first, just a few around the remains of the lighthouse. They are hard to make out from a distance or shadow. The memories we collect from the scattered feral blood in the waters suggest new, unique injuries-- spears, escapes from what we’d assume were hooks and nets. We have renewed hope. We might journey... might drink again.
We drift off. Someone will find us soon. Is it a bell we hear helping urge us off to sleep?
It’s not until the fifth year of seeing the flag that a structure is built near the cliff’s edge. They must keep closer inland. The memories we collect tell us they still hold to the waters around the other edge of the cliffs, outside the central area of Stagbay. Do they not know the minnows and other life schools nearer to us? Even before drinking of the feral and learning of the tides, this much of the bay area made sense to us. The use of the structure is also not apparent to us, nor of familiar construction. It’s not very tall and looks made mostly of stacked wood and mortar. We resolve that they must be simple creatures.
We try to stay awake in anticipation of things to come, but year after year, we sleep and wake in our usual cycle. Occasionally we hear a “gonging” sound but cannot determine what it may be. Some bell?
We see how these creatures have progressed, in what ways they’ve changed the landscape, or if they’ve come any nearer to us. We bide our time, but these things be damned; they are slow! And why do they not come near the bay? It is either fear or stupidity, and we still err on the side of stupidity.
Almost 23 years after seeing the small flag first appear, we are awoken out of the regular cycle. Yes-- this is a good sign! Much blood is in the water, but something also collides with us. What a jolt awake but welcomed. We parse these new blood memories quickly.
The blood belonged to a minnow and a non-kin isopod, feral, more significant than it should be. The minnow was hooked and being reeled in, and it seemed the isopod decided to latch onto its back. Unlucky minnow, but lucky us, for they were both reeled over the edge of the boat-- a boat that had crossed into the waters of Stagbay instead of staying around the bend where they usually do. Many exciting developments, indeed. What did this mean, we wondered? But, finally, with a closer look at our neighbours... we delved deeper into the blood.
Two surprised bug-kin faces stare at what they’ve reeled in. On the left, a brilliant, metallic green and copper carapace flashed in the sun, distracting the fish and scaring it even more. On the right is a darker, broader head emblazoned with vibrant orange stripes, antennae with orange ends, and one of the most ridiculous facial expressions we’ve collected thus far. So they were stupid. The fish flopped about anxiously and in pain, trying to get the isopod off and the hook out. The feral isopod, angry as they ever are, seemed intent on its primary task. That is until the metallic-kin started prodding it with the tip of a spear. At that, it unlatched, reared back, and bared its fangs. This only gave a better view of its abdomen, we imagine, which was suddenly pierced with the spear, and then the isopod was shaken off overboard. The orange-stripe-kin looked disappointed, as though it was having fun with the whole bit. The isopod fled, crashing into us, hoping to try and burrow for hiding. We assume they kept the fish; either way, we did not collect any fresher blood from it than what was shed from the mutated mouth and claws of the isopod. This was all so interesting to us.
It was only a week until the regular cycle of things would wake us, so we attempted to force ourselves awake. Perhaps others would venture close again. Through the thin water and foam, we could see the shadow of a great structure the bug-kin were building near the remains of the old lighthouse suddenly come tumbling down. Rubble splashed all around, luckily not burying us beneath it. We thought we also felt a slight vibration further away a moment later, but our view was obscured by all the mud thrown up for days. This was not good. If they were too inept at building here, on this rocky terrain, what if they left without finding us? If it was some other danger, what was it? By the time the water receded at its regular time and the muck with it, all we could discern was that two large construction projects had fallen or taken major setbacks somehow. That, and how lucky we were not to be covered in rubble, now surrounded by it from the collapsed construction above. We slept, weary of excitement and wary of optimism.
It took them almost twenty years of toiling away, but on the cliff directly above us, where one of the settlements’ projects had toppled years before, stood a looming stone tower-- impressive looking and decorated, too. On the cliff opposite, where the other large project we noticed had fallen, now stood what looked like a great hall. It looked sturdy, and as though they had pivoted on their construction materials, though again, we could not make out exactly what it was at our distance. It reminded us of an old style of architecture we’d only collected in our memories once before. From the hall’s base, they had begun to carve stairs into the bottom of the cliff down towards us in Stagbay. Maybe these creatures weren’t so stupid after all? The settlement itself had grown modestly around these more prominent buildings. We could make out foliage poking out over the cliffs-- they must have found a way to grow in the rocky area of Stagbay! This would likely speed up their construction in the years to come.
Three years later, we found ourselves admiring the progress on the steps carved into the cliff and how the rock that was being carved away was being used for fortifications around the settlement. It was midday, and the sun beat down. The shadow of a large cloud started to move across the bay towards the workers on the steps-- no, not of a cloud. What then? The shadow moved silently, but the settlement saw and was aware of whatever caused it; the workers began to clamber upward. What happened next was even more unexpected to us. Several bugkin of the settlement teamed together to move a larger, reflective object and some smaller objects into the sun on the cliffside. Were other bugkin also fanning with large leaves in the direction of the approaching shadow?
At last, what caused the shadow moved into our vision. A hulk of dirty white with protuberances coming from the head appeared. An albino shrew mole, both mutated and overtaken by fungal growths covering most of its head. It frothed at the mouth, raising its head to the air, likely smelling, we thought. As it stretched upwards, we saw its forepaws and claws were enlarged. It must have smelled whatever the bugkin were fanning toward it and lumbered that way, never once making a noise we could hear (at least from how far away we still sat in the bay). Maybe it caught sight of the shiny object that was left out (so not totally blinded by the fungus, then) because it took off running-- and it was fast. Now we could hear it, as it trampled towards the settlement and also because it was screeching an awful noise! The shrew mole closed the distance quickly, clutched the shiny object in its mouth, and took off in the opposite direction whence it came on the other side of Stagbay. A clue. If this was why the bugkin avoided much of our area of Stagbay if they could help it, and so they knew this creature was here, why didn’t they leave? Who were these bugkin, and what was this settlement? Our curiosity felt renewed.
Another 15 years passed, and we did not see the shrew mole. We wondered how many times the settlement had encountered it while we slumbered. The steps down the cliffside to the bay were now finished, and the settlement had many fortifications. A new smell was also on the wind, one we hadn’t smelled in a long time-- a forge. Interesting. Were they preparing an attack on the shrew mole? We had not much time to wonder about it as our thoughts were interrupted by... talking?!
“I’ll hide in the rocks, Toby. They can’t see me here! They can’t know that I’m here, can they?”
“Come hide in the shallows with us, child. We’ll help keep you safe.”