Vincent finds the revolver's barrel right in his nose. The gangster is poised to pull the trigger.. except his attention is rapt on the newcomer girl – this dashing woman who has stumbled across the crime scene.
Now, Lil. Although she's just supposedly a model, an inner confidence is arising within her over beating those cockroaches over their silly heads. And seeing poor Vincent, huddled down by the lockers, it is setting her off.
"Lady, this guy's nothin' to ya! It's your last chance, missy, cause we won't hesitate to put a bullet into your thick skull, if you don't turn around and fuck right off-"
Lil grabs the first nearest guy, and with surprising strength, she breaks his arm in one swift stroke. The boss leader, Antonioni, just gazes on in shock as he sees this woman striking his men out in curt movements, and a thought occurs to him; he could use her for one of his own. But what could he offer her, if she does not worry for her well-being like so many others do?
The guy holding the revolver in Vincent's face is shaken, and as he falls, the revolver slips out of his hand – onto the tiled floors.
By then, Lil is panting, shaken by the effort, her hair frizzled up from the fighting. She just has this wizened man to stare down..
"I'm Don Antonioni," he goes, smiling. "And it's an honour to meet you, miss.."
"You're not getting my name." Lil pulls up Vincent, who is in even more shock than before as he's seen the brutality of his saviour. "Let's go." It's almost as if she's hauling him out of this mess, and when Antonioni is left to survey how his men are left groaning in pieces, he mutters a cantrip to himself, before calling in an ambulance.
"You didn't have to go all this way for me.." Vincent is huddled in the passenger seat, while Lil drives the car, almost swerving into a light fixture as she's getting the hell away from the stadium.
"Yes, you're right, I don't." Lil plucks the radio on, with some house music to distract from all the worries. "But you're the source of my questions. Why does it feel like I've always known you?"
"Wait, what about my winnings? I've just won the whole pot.."
"It's your life, Vincent. You're a world-class champ, there'll always be more to win down the line."
The car drifts into the calm suburbs, populated with tight-knit driveways, towne homes, with a healthy dose of cedar trees, and after a few turns, Lil is by her front-door porch, where she idles the car before it shuts off. Then she lets out a huge sigh of relief, resting her head over the wheel as if signifying the end to a long and weird night. As Vincent gets out, he lets the wave of cricket chirps wash over his ears, feeling the crispness of freshly-cut grass. So this was what being in a rich neighbourhood was like – being surrounded by peaceful scenes, like a luxurious blanket that's pulled all around, insulating you from the dust and worn carpet.
Inside Lil's home, there's chandeliers atop giant halls. She takes Vincent's coat off and hangs it in the laundro-cabinet, where it'll get dry-cleaned by the next day. And while she heads into the kitchen to make nighttime tea, Vincent eyeballs the tall posters of Lil, all in various and seductive poses.
He thought she was fairly nice before, but oh boy – she was stunning. It was almost enough to make him salivate, when Lil comes by, with a teacup for him.
"How long have you been doing this?" he asks.
"Modelling?" Lil tries to recall. "About five years." She isn't flustered when it comes to the more revealing photos of her, as though it's perfectly normal, while Vincent struggles with his obvious blushes. His cup quivers as he tries the tea out, and the elixir is sweet in his mouth (like the embodiment of a kiss) – a surge of bodily warmth arises in him.
But it's also too much for Vincent to take, so he finds the nearest seat. A red velvet couch. Lil, her eyes lulling on her house guest, sips her tea, before noticing some of the wounds left on his face. The men have beaten him, what sore losers!
He is resting on her couch like a bruised dog, that she's taken in of her own volition, and now, she has an urge to tend to his wounds.
"I've got to get you some stitches," Lil goes. "Won't you follow me upstairs?"
"But I'm fine—"
"It'll get infected. And besides.. I can't stand seeing you like that." There's a faint trace of a smile, which Vincent doesn't quite catch.
Lil is daintily wiping the grime and sweat off his cheeks, as she has Vincent sitting over the toilet seat. She's done makeup over her own face, and has allowed the MUAs to touch her up so many times, but it is the first in a long while that she is touching the face of a young man.
"Hold still, you baby," she whispers, as Vincent grimaces – the hydrogen peroxide seems to fizzle over his bruises, in those places where they've pounded him into dirt. He tries holding his breath, but ends up faint-headed over the effort.
Lil throws the gauze away, and simply puts band-aids over the bloodied areas. Her calm breathing is a balm, with Vincent looking up at her. If he took her right here and then in a kiss, his mouth would end up falling forever into her lushness, miles deep. She pretends not to notice – only slides his shirt off, and goes to the bathtub where she plugs the hole and turns the tap on.
Is she really wanting me to..?
Vincent rises from the toilet, about to step into the bath-
"What, do you always take baths with your trousers on?"
He hesitantly waits, caught under her gaze while he feels his erection pressing undeniably against his pants.
"I won't look," Lil goes, as he unbuckles his pants. "I promise." She hears his clothes hit the floor, as he wades into the steaming tub, now bubbling and frothy. He lets his whole body soak into the water, and it is scathing at first – but only at first, for soon, all of his daily worries just melt away while he grows easily accustomed to the bath.
Lil hands him the shampoo bottle, and sets some music on the speakers, before she heads out into her own bedroom – finishing her tea, but also giving herself a breather to think what would happen in the next day, let alone the next five minutes. Already, she's treated Vincent far better than most of the people in her life, and.. it's just happening so fast, how close she's getting with him!
On the other side.. Vincent is rubbing the vanilla shampoo out of his eyes – "Agghh!" as it stings so much, even though it smells just like her. A childish enjoyment emerges just from playing around with the dainty bubbles, while the music is like a cherry on top.
In reality, still onboard the train, Pino peeks her little head out of the cupboard. Frightened as she may be, she's seen the spindly woman steal away Vince and Lil. It's up to her to rescue them! So Pino waddles out into the empty caboose, where she accidently rattles a broken teapot by her feet, and ends up leaving some stained footprints from the puddles she's stepped in.
The train has stopped, and when she steps out, it is a city that's caught in perpetual stillness, with so many of these buildings lit only under pale moonlight.
Pino is getting the sprinkles in her tummy. What if Vince and Lil are embodied under these numerous cobwebs, spread before her feet in the streets so endless? She stumbles over a mound, and looking back, it's an atrophied body, still caressed by the little spiderlings.
Pino is glad not to end up like that.
"Vince! Lil!" she calls out. The stuffed bodies go on forever, and Pino's waddling is more frantic, as she tries uncovering the cobwebs, looking for the familiar faces of her friends – but they are all strangers, in varying stages of sloth.
And there's dust.. dust in the air.
"Vince.. hello? Please wake up!"
She hears something around the corner. It sounds like rattling, and when she creeps around, it looks like a man in the shadows – naked, emancipated, and just struggling to walk.
"Hello?" Pino approaches him. "Can you help me? Find my friends?"
He is wobbling, and Pino gets unnerved; she steps back.
"W-who?" he rasps out. "Where is my family? My son – he still needs me!" It is as close to screaming that a voice can get, after thirty years of cigarettes. Then he sputters out a violent cough, hacking the air from the deepest recesses of his lungs.
"I.. don't know you!"
Pino squirms, and she runs, as fast as her little legs can carry her. She runs, and it seems like there are faces from the walls, watching, and the fields of webs are so endless that she's lost track of where she's come from – as all her footsteps are just broken webs which are hard to distinguish, like wading through silky haystacks.
Eventually, she feels tired, and she curls down into a little ball, huddling herself like when her caretakers would get into a very bad argument.
"Vince.. Lil.. I'm very scared.. help me, please.."
Then she hears a distant rumble. She even feels it to her bones, and when Pino gets up, she spots atop the city's former skyscrapers, an intricate, giant web, spun by giant spiders. No – not that..
The shadows around Pino grow more definite, and the rumbling isn't stopping – she looks up at the web, and something is arising behind it. It's bright, white and round, like the domes in the wilderness, and Pino would call it the moon, like in those little stories she'd read.
The moon glimmers, casting all within under its mesmerizing light.
Pino gasps, as she finds that her hands and arms emit streaks of starlit brightness. As well, the entire web network's nature is revealed – as pulses of exchanged energy, resembling the meandering paths of several lightning bolts. In a way, it's beautiful, but Pino is distracted by her own glow, as she finds numerous fireflies in her vision, and it's not going away.
When she runs, it's like a girl set alight in fire, and she ends up through a doorway – where inside, the fireflies stop.
In that moon, sits Proxy Argounova. Her head is entangled in a mesh of webs, like velvet curtains draping over her skull, as she sits atop her rightful throne – watching over her land of fears and desires. In one half of her awareness, she relishes the total joys and ecstasies of her inhabitants, and in the other half.. their pain and suffering. And especially now, it is truly fascinating for another Proxy to be under her spell, as a once-in-a-long-while chance to see the fears and joys of another like her.
But she feels an anomaly. Some of the neural connections have been tangled up by an unknown agent, as if someone has been stepping over her crops – and as a result, people are waking up, people are having cross-tangled memories, it's no good.
So, for the first time, Argounova brings the Seer in search over the grounds. In her vision, she sorts the broken webs – their times and locations - into a path. It seems logical to imagine that a person has been sneaking around. But.. how? She could sense the tinest fluctuations of human energy, for as much as the dome surrounds.
A sense of doubt arises in her. The order that she's spent so long developing, in bringing the whole city to stasis.. in seeing so many people lost to the first trials.. in being a voyeur to the endless lies she's enveloped them in..
No. She will not lose it all.
There's two likelihoods: (1) that Vincent, the Proxy of Death, has subconsciously taken control over the dream, and is spreading chaos every passing second. An unlikely one. For Argounova has dealt with another proxy, many years ago, even to the point of making him believe himself as an ordinary man, flesh and blood and weakness, and seducing him in the world as – her lover. Her Equal.
And her love for him was so strong, so full of yearning, that it's ended up sapping the poor lad of his entire virility, god bless his soul. (Even now, she misses him.)
The second possibility is that an agent she did not detect has snuck onboard, when she took in Vincent and Lil. There is such a thing called AutoReivs, who have some semblance of autonomy, but who are not humans. Argounova has never believed in such artificality (despite the hypocrisy of her make-believe worlds); why allow in something that she cannot manage? Through the history of her dome, AutoReivs were denied, and it's one fact that she's proud of to this day.
She's willing to lean into the second possibility – and what a nightmare for her, as none of her senses would aid her.. she'd have to search for the damned thing in person.