The chalk strides over the floor, your tendril directing it with sheer precision. As it reaches another streak already on the ground, the piece you hold vanishes. Not too much nor too little, you use exactly what is needed.
Onto the next portion of the circle you’re crafting… You pick up another piece of chalk, bring it to its starting point, and begin to etch it in. The piece slides along the ground, and— a loud bursting noise behind you! The shock of the surprise causes you to lose focus, for a mere moment, and you end up drawing a line over a portion of the circle you’d already completed work on. At the same time, light pours in from one side of the room, illuminating your blunder.
Furious, you turn around to see just who dared interrupt your procedure. A porcelain-skinned doll with white hair and a flared red dress has barged into the lab, bringing with it the sight and sound of the outside world. This doll is your first doll, Maple. As with many witches’ first dolls, it is the closest confidante you’ve ever had.
As it stands in the doorway, it is visibly trembling — an unusual sight for a doll. “someone is coming to the mansion, my Lady!” it says.
You are not expecting any visitors today, nor the rest of the week or year for that matter. You have no outstanding appointments. You’ve taken great care to ensure that your home would be an uninteresting place to visit. Who could it be? Why today, and for what purpose?
“Did you see this intruder, doll?” you ask. “Do you know who it might be?”
“no, Miss,” it responds. “cynthia spotted them while tending to the garden.”
“Then you can’t describe them?”
It shakes its head.
“And where is Cynthia now?” you ask.
“it told this one it would return to the garden to try to better get a view of our visitor,” it explains. “this one tried to stop it but it was insistent!”
“You forget you have no authority over the others, my doll.”
It bows. “terribly sorry Miss, after cynthia had informed this one… it became panicked. no other option presented itself.”
You extend a tendril to its neck, forcing its chin up to meet your gaze. “Your judgment is as it is, doll,” you explain. “You were shaped in a specific way and you did exactly as such dictated, as did Cynthia. If it of all dolls believed this to be so important as to return to observing after reporting to you, then it is worth my involvement. Quickly, retrieve my bathrobe.”
“yes, my Lady,” it responds, as it bows and leaves the doorway.
You retract from the doll and your comparably petty experiment, and take a moment to gather your focus again. You pull yourself inward, and let out just an ounce of your power into the world. In a well-practised reflex, you take the released energy back into your form, and let it fully permeate you… and stumble, having nearly lost your balance in the process of reincorporating.
You take a moment to stabilize yourself as your old senses return to you. Inhale. Exhale. It’s been quite some time since you’ve needed to do those things. You straighten your stance, arms on your hips, and legs slightly crossed, right behind left.
Your eyes meet Maple’s, who has returned with a black silken bathrobe clutched in its arms. As you expected, it’s staring right at you — but its gaze doesn’t meet your eyes. It’s staring just below, at your figure.
“Well, Maple?” you ask. “Did I get everything right?”
The doll doesn’t respond.
“Maple!” you shout.
It jumps in place slightly, shakes itself from its lustful stupor, and meets your gaze once more.
“I’ll take that as a resounding yes,” you answer.
It simply nods.
Now that you’ve taken the time to properly orient yourself in the world (and properly scolded the doll for properly admiring your shape), you step toward the full-length mirror affixed to one of your lab’s walls so that you may observe your handiwork.
Even with only the diffuse light of the manor’s halls leaking its way into the room, the view of the mirror is clear enough for you to get a good look at yourself. Your figure is shapely, yet the muscles on your arms, legs, and abdomen are all modestly defined. Your breasts, too, are ample yet still somehow firm. Delighted, you raise your left hand to your face. Long black nails meet your skin, as your lips part to form a grin so large that your face should be unable to contain it. You look your reflection up and down. Long, golden hair. Deep, blue eyes. Skin, perfectly clear — except for one blemish: a mole above your lip. This single imperfection, however, is calculated. Your dolls adore it, and to your bemusement people seem afraid of it. Without it, others would fail to see you as you really are: a witch.
Still, time is pressing. There is an urgent matter to attend to and you cannot spend the entire time admiring your handiwork. At the very least, you need to cover up. While in most any other situation you would use this form as a signal for a desire for intimacy with your dolls — and indeed, you do feel a sort of hunger for it right now — that hunger will have to wait.
You turn to your doll. “Bring that here,” you order it, to which it complies.
You jut an arm into one of the bathrobe’s sleeves, throw it behind you, and catch the other sleeve with your other arm. With a shrug, the robe falls into place. You reach for both ends of the simple belt still attached to the bathrobe, and tie it closed. At least everything’s covered up. This will have to do.
“Escort me to Cynthia,” you tell the doll. “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
You exit the manor accompanied by Maple and second porcelain doll, Tabitha.
Tabitha is wearing a black frilly dress, white frilly stockings, and a white hat topping its head, covering most of its jet black hair. You’d never intended to have a maid doll — let alone one dressed as a stereotypical maid — but no matter what you tried with it, nothing else seemed right. With each new doll you made, you found that their forms and functions would lean toward what you would discover to be each doll’s ideal. You initially thought of the idea of dolls having their own twisted form of agency to be nonsense, but as you’ve come to intimately know them you’ve grown to understand that it is just in their nature.
It is a sunny afternoon — not a cloud in the sky — and everything is so bright! Almost oppressively so, as you recall loathing the brightness in the past when you wore this form much more often. You regret not retrieving your big hat while you had the opportunity, but given your exposure to the world you err on the side of not exposing the extent of your power. Even so, a Big Hat wouldn’t much help with the level of humidity with which the world is assaulting you today.
“what could it be, Miss?” asks Tabitha.
“That’s what I intend to find out, doll,” you respond.
You and the dolls reach the garden that Cynthia should be tending, but you fail to see her.
“Where has that doll gone to?” you ask.
“it is likely hiding, Lady,” answers Maple. “as this one noted, it seemed distressed at the visitor and wanted to gather more information.”
“Is that doll still playing its spy games, then?”
“of course, Miss. this one recalls that you felt it to be, uhm, ‘rather amusing’ is the wording it remembers.”
Your lip curls slightly. Indeed — they’re always good for amusement, these dolls.
“Very well,” you tell them.
You inhale sharply, and exhale slowly for a few moments, giving off a barely audible whistle. In response to your whistle, the two dolls stand at attention. In the corner of your eye, you notice a third doll rise from some nearby bushes.
Cynthia’s platinum blonde hair is tied back into a pony tail. Atop its head is a bandana, and its body is adorned by a simple long green dress — visible now only because its back is turned toward you — and you spot the straps holding what seems to be a thick, off-white apron. If not for its body being made entirely of smooth and polished dark wood, it would probably appear to be quite an ordinary gardener.
Cynthia turns to face you, and you extend an arm and point to it with a finger. You turn your hand over, repeatedly curling your finger inward, beckoning it to approach.
“did maple inform you of what this one saw, my Lady?” asks Cynthia.
“Indeed,” you respond. “Tell me about this person.”
“w—well Miss, it looked—” “Doll, we use ‘they’ as a default for people.” “r—right Miss, forgive—” “It’s alright, doll. Continue.”
“o—oh-kay, well…” it stammers, “it—they looked almost like a bee. the colours both flowed… brown — nearly black — above, yellow in the middle, then a lighter brown below.”
“…a girl?” you ask. “Alone?”
It nods. “yes, Miss,” it answers.
“Nothing accompanying the woman?”
“Where is she now?”
“they—she entered the thicket path nearly two minutes ago.”
“Which means… we should expect company very shortly. Return to your gardening—” “this one’s gardening is complete for the day, Miss.” “—then consider gardening to be your cover.” You turn to the other dolls accompanying you. “Follow,” you tell them, as the three of you begin making your way from the garden to the dirt path leading to the main entrance of your manor.
Once you have placed yourself firmly between the manor’s front door and the path on which you expect your surprise visitor to travel, Maple and Tabitha join you just behind, supporting you from the flanks.
You and your dolls wait for the visitor to arrive. You stand tall and your dolls try to do the same — a bit difficult considering their stature but it’s always amusing to watch them try — and not 30 seconds later, she enters into view from behind the trees that line the dirt road that leads down the hill on which your manor stands. Her head turns just before the path does, with her body turning in turn along with the path.
Her movements are so precise — the way she follows the path, her gait, it almost reminds you— and then you make eye contact with her. Her pace slows, and her mouth opens slightly. At this distance, it’s hard to tell, but you surmise she might have gasped at the sight — either of your home, your dolls, or yourself, you couldn’t quite be sure — but one thing you were sure of is that this woman was definitely not a doll, even as much as she reminded you of one.
You continue peering into her as her approach continues. What exactly is going on here? You’ll have your answer soon enough.
Your visitor is wearing a long, flowing, bright yellow sundress. She has long, dark brown hair. Both details are as reported by Cynthia. Her skin is a light bronze colour — from the look of it, she’s very tanned. This woman clearly spends a lot of time outside. She’s shorter than you, of course, but still quite taller than your dolls. Her eyes, too, are dark. They’re deep, but unlike the dolls to which you were tempted to compare her, they’re lively if still determined. In fact, you’d say that she’s just brimming with life.
Compared to your pale skin, dark clothes, and golden locks, she seems like a mirror opposite of you as you currently appear. Though the intrusion is still unwelcome, you begin to suspect that she will make for an interesting guest.
As she comes within what you know to be a normal range for human hearing, she begins speaking.
“I— uh— sorry, am I interrupting something?” she asks. “I see you’re just sort of standing there… are you expecting company? Is this a bad time?”
The sound of her voice is robust. From the slight pull on her neck as she spoke, it’s obviously quite practised and you can’t help but assume it used to sound quite different.
“We’re not expecting any company as such, no,” you answer. “I was alerted to your impending arrival, and sought to meet you before you got any closer. I do not know you. What business do you have here?”
“You… must be the boss here?” “Indeed, I am.” “I want to talk to you.” “About which matter, precisely?”
The visitor pauses for a moment.
“I’m looking for somewhere to live and your mansion is not only quite large, it’s also beautiful. Do you have room for one more?” she asks.
The question surprises you. Your manor and its dolls, to your knowledge, have managed to evade suspicion. To all who’ve investigated your affairs, you seemed to be a wealthy and very private recluse who employed a few maidens to tend to various business matters in the manor. To your knowledge as well, none in the area knew of your true nature, nor of your dolls’ true identities in relation to cases which local “authorities” stubbornly insist are “missing persons”.
“Do you mean to request room and board, madam?” you ask. “This is my priv—”
“Please!” she shouts. “I insist— a—at least on talking about it.”
Her interruption, as with her presence, is unexpected. Over time, your dolls have taught you that there can occasionally be such a thing as a pleasant surprise. Still, it has been such a long time since you’ve had any kind of visitor, and though this girl is in a way an intruder, you feel at ease enough to entertain the idea of having a discussion with her.
You look to Tabitha. “You may return to your duties,” you tell it as it nods, spins around, and begins making its way back inside. You turn back to the visitor. “Follow me, would you? I’d like to get under some shade.”
After a short walk around the side of your manor, you, Maple, and your guest arrive at an outdoor patio. It is decorated with a few cast iron tables, metal worked into ornate shapes giving the appearance of vines and topped with glass made with uneven imperfections as to slightly distort the objects beneath. The view is much like what one might expect to find at a café.
Despite its recent disuse, it is naturally spotless. Tabitha always did such an excellent job taking care of the place, after all. The awning above should provide plentiful refuge from the harsh elements that have plagued you thus far in this little adventure.
You look at your guest, then gesture an arm toward the chairs. “Please, take a seat,” you tell her, to which she promptly complies, and you join her across the table from where she now sits.
“The walk up the hill must’ve been quite tiring,” you say. “May I offer a snack? Something to drink, surely?”
“Oh, yeah, it sure was,” she responds. “Uh, snack-wise I’ll take anything you’ve got. As for drinks… Well it would be rude not to ask for tea from a place like this.”
Tea… is she toying with you? Does this woman somehow know what this place is…? No. You shake the thought from your mind.
“No tea here, I’m afraid. Would ice water suffice? It’s quite warm out here — surely you’d appreciate something to cool you down.” You turn to Maple. “Two ice waters, Maple. Make mine extra cold. As for snacks… get us whatever Willow can spare. If you must, insist that it’s for me and our guest.”
Maple nods. “understood, Miss,” it says, as it turns and proceeds to enter the manor through the patio door.
You turn to back to your guest, whose gaze is affixed to the patio door. After a moment, she notices that you’re looking at her, and quickly turns her focus back to you.
“You definitely command a lot of respect here,” she says.
“And you’ve somehow managed to command my attention,” you reply. “You… who exactly are you?”
“Oh!” the woman exclaims, startled. “My name is Vi. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I wasn’t sure if… well, if you’d be here.”
“Well then,” you ask. “Who exactly do you think I am?”
Her lip begins to tremble at the question. She closes her eyes, inhales deeply for a few long seconds, then swallows.
“You’re a witch,” she tells you. “Those girls with you, and the one in the garden, they’re… dolls, right? That’s what I’m here for. I want to Become.”
The question stuns you. You’re absolutely certain there’s no way that your dolls have been telling stories to the townspeople of their lives in this manor; you’ve made it very clear that this is precisely the kind of attention you’re loathe to receive yet somehow a girl has welcomed herself into your little haven and is demanding a place—
“Hmmph…!” you say.
You take a moment to allow the searing rage within you to subside. Currently, she still presents no harm either to you or your dolls. It wouldn’t hurt to allow her to make her case. Though the likelihood of such a thing seems slim, the outcome might pleasantly surprise you.
“…even ignoring the mystery of how you possibly came to know of these ideas,” you tell her, “What gave you the impression that you could simply present yourself and expect to be welcomed? What you ask is not a trivial matter.” “I—” “Yes, you are correct. I am a witch, and those ‘’girls’’ are my dolls.”
“If you’re a witch, then you could remake me!” she pleads.
You sigh. “Yes, of course I could.”
“What would it take for me to convince you?”
As you ponder the question, Maple exits the manor holding a tray containing two glasses of water. She approaches and places the glasses onto the table. The one next to your visitor is maybe a quarter of the way full of ice. On the other side, in front of you, the glass is packed with ice — so much of it, that there’s hardly any room for water.
“Thank you, Maple,” you tell the doll.
It nods its head. “you’re most welcome, Miss,” it says.
“What manner of food might we have available for our guest? Don’t be shy — she knows what you are.”
“oh!” the doll exclaims in a quiet voice. “this one asked willow about snacks and it said it could spare some from the batch it is currently preparing.”
“Very well. Return to us with the food once it’s ready.”
It nods, turns, and makes its way back inside.
You pick up your glass and sip it. The water makes your way into your mouth and down your throat, painting a frigid path inside of you. It’s almost painful. A true delight. Vi, too, seems to be enjoying her refreshment, even if it’s not quite as “refreshing” as yours.
She puts the glass down. “I’m still surprised that you don’t do tea, you know. I quite love the stuff.”
You smirk at her. “Never cared much for it. Same with the dolls. That is, before they Became. Now, they care even less — they don’t need to drink, after all.”
Vi takes another sip. “I guess that is surprising,” she admits. “But wouldn’t an affinity for teatime just make me all the better?”
You pick up your glass again, this time guiding the glass with enough force to send a few ice cubes into your mouth. You chew them slightly, and quickly swallow them. The cold transfers into the blood vessels that pump into your chest and brain, causing a noticeable dip in temperature. As before, it’s almost painful — but not quite. With the magic now coursing within you, any damage that might’ve been caused by this quickly repairs itself.
“Wow,” says Vi. “You definitely like it cold, don’t you?”
You giggle, and shake your head. “Of course,” you respond. “Hot drinks confuse me.”
“Like tea,” she says.
“Indeed. To answer your question about fitness… It is never a matter of ‘’better’’ or ‘’worse’’ here. They are simply what they are. As are you. The act of Becoming doesn’t change that.”
She scoffs at this remark. “Becoming doesn’t change things? What’s that supposed to mean?”
You shrug a playful shrug and smirk before consuming another mouthful of your drink. “My dear, you clearly do know a lot, but you know nothing of witches. How do you think a witch selects her candidates?”
Vi averts her gaze. She looks around for a few minutes. By the time she’s ready to respond, you’ve both already taken a few more sips of your drinks.
“Not everyone is fit for Becoming,” she answers.
“Right you are. I would say that the vast majority of people are gravely unfit for it. What do you think would happen if a person regretted Becoming?”
“Well, they wouldn’t be a person anymore anyway!”
“All the more reason for caution.”
“But you’re, like, super powerful, aren’t you?”
“How is it do you think witches like me retain that power?”
Vi doesn’t immediately respond. You presume that she’s either beginning to follow along, or that she is trying not to be so presumptive.
“It’s not just magic, you know,” you tell your visitor. “Well, of course, magic is part of it, but pure blind reliance on magic is bound to end in disaster for witches for it is a careless tactic. Unmitigated faith in one’s abilities — however great they may be — is an invitation for calamity. Indeed, most of the powerful witches I’ve had the displeasure of knowing all share one thing in common, myself included: A proper witch doesn’t create problems that she’s not certain she can solve. An unfit doll has potential to be quite the problem indeed.”
“So you think that I’m unfit,” your visitor presumes.
You sigh. “No. Far from it. Few who’d ask to Become would be ill-fitting as dolls.”
No response. You presume that she understands that simple begging would be rather unbecoming.
As you begin to ponder how to explain your conundrum, you hear the patio door open. You and Vi turn your heads to see Maple holding a plate with a few crescent rolls — this must be Willow’s current project. Maple walks to your table and places the plate onto the table where you’re seated. The rolls are steaming — they must have just been pulled right out of the oven. Without hesitation you grab the top roll, rip off a piece, and eat it. As you expect, it’s delicious. The exterior is crispy, the interior is buttery, and the contents of your mouth are scorching. You swallow, temperature in your throat rising as the payload lowers within you. It’s not quite hot enough to burn, but it still feels thrilling. It’s one of the best pastries you’ve ever consumed.
Your attention turns back toward your guest. “You’ll want to wait a few minutes before you take one,” you say. “They’re quite hot.”
Her head tilts, and a puzzled look comes over your face. “You seem to have no problem eating yours,” she says. “And you had no problem with that ice! I’d have thought you’d get brain freeze or something.”
“Ah, well you see, it’s one of the benefits of power. Any normal woman such as yourself would certainly find herself scathed and scarred from these rolls, and very troubled by the ice. Actually, in the state that I’m in, I am in fact causing some degree of damage to my flesh, but the consequences escape me. Burns, scars, and icy lacerations — they mean nothing to me now.” You turn toward your doll. “Did you take this directly from the oven, Maple?”
It nods. “yes, Miss,” it replies. “the oven was not very hot. or at least this one did not find it to be so.”
Your guest perks up. “So I wouldn’t need to wait before eating if I was like you!” she states.
“that one wouldn’t need to eat if she was like this one. she would have more time for Stillness — what that one likely calls waiting.”
“Right,” Vi responds.
“Bring up a chair next to me and sit down on it, Maple,” you tell the doll. “I would like you to accompany us for this conversation.”
The doll nods. It turns toward another table — they’re all unoccupied of course — and gently lifts one of the dining chairs not even an inch off the ground. The doll turns around with the chair in hand, and walks toward you and your guest carefully guiding the chair until it is just to your right, then sets it down and joins you at the table.
“Tell her of how we met,” you request to the doll.
Maple nods. “before this one has become a doll, it had one night where it was very upset at something that happened. it left its home for a midnight walk. it spent a long time considering whether to go for a swim…” The doll briefly pauses. “forgive it. this one cannot remember why it would want to swim so late. it finds the idea silly now. while on its walk, it met Miss. it remembers that it felt she looked wonderful. Miss did not look much like she does now but it felt all the same that Miss was very pretty. this one was very jealous of her!”
You chuckle slightly at that last sentence. It was always a delight to hear Maple’s side of the story. The doll looks up to you, for guidance.
“Go on, Maple,” you reassure it.
“very well, Miss,” it responds. “this one even told Miss that she was the most beautiful thing it ever saw. it remembers that it was very unusual to say such things about pretty ladies. they would always scare it so! and though Miss is the scariest of them all, it felt like it just had to tell her.”
“I do think she’s very pretty, too,” interjects Vi.
The doll gasps. “yes! this one very much agrees! but Miss is beautiful no matter her shape.”
Again, you answer with a small chuckle. “Thank you very much, doll. The story was wonderfully told. I’ll continue the story from here. Please return inside — I would prefer to continue alone.”
Maple gets up and nods. It goes to reach for the chair it had brought over, but you bring your hand to its hand. It looks at you and you shake your head. “No need, doll,” you assure it. “I’ll handle it myself, thank you.” The doll nods again, turns around, and heads back inside.
Alone again, you direct your attention back to your guest.
“Well?” you ask her. “Any thoughts so far?”
She muses for a moment before answering. “It sounds like you saved it,” responds Vi.
Your eyes widen at her answer. “That’s exactly right. I found Maple at its lowest, at its worst. Its life had no meaning. It had lost the ability to care for itself. Really, everything about it was pathetic.”
“I suppose someone who isn’t a doll would find that remark insulting,” remarks your guest.
“Not particularly,” you answer. “It’s not an insult to note that the doll was living such a dreadful life before it met me. Even after we met, it took several months before I was comfortable turning it into the doll you saw today. In part because I was just a witchling at the time, dealing with the aftermaths of my own mistakes, and alongside that I wanted to see how far I could take things with Maple’s transition, first, before I would make it Become. It was quite a complicated affair — I digress too much. My point is that it was a lengthy process.”
“Not something that could be rushed in a single day,” says Vi.
“That’s correct, but there’s also the other matter.”
“…and that matter is?”
“To put it bluntly, you’re not a disaster. You’re confident and very well put together. You’re simply not the kind of girl I would ever think to turn into a doll.”
Vi’s expression solidifies to one of clear disappointment, and her gaze falls downward. Not wanting to discourage her any further, you decide to reassure her the best way you know how.
“Now that’s not to say you wouldn’t be a good fit, dear. There are other witches out there, and if you knew how to find me then I know you’d find someone more fitting for you — that is, if they don’t find you first.”
Vi looks back up at you. “Do you really think so?” she asks.
“Of course,” you insist. “I’m not one to lie. Out there is a witch that you would be perfectly suited for, and time will bring the two of you together.”
Vi nods, face still painted with disappointment. “…I hope so…”
“Before you leave, I insist you enjoy the pastry. It’s quite delicious and I would be remiss not to leave you with a pleasant memory of our encounter.”
She nods, wiping a tear from her face, and smiles. “…sure,” she says. She picks up the now somewhat cooled crescent roll and begins eating.
For a little over an hour, you share in the wonders made by your dolls, getting to know one another a little more. Every question she asks about how you seem to know so much about her, you answer by sharing your deductive reasoning. She seemed very impressed by your knowledge, but also suggested that she felt you’d just used some kind of magic to look into her mind. So many people find it difficult to believe that a witch could have talents that don’t tie directly to magic, and of course she would be no exception. Still, you do enjoy her presence while it lasts. Once you’re finished with the refreshments and are confident that she won’t faint of exhaustion on the way back into town, you see her off with one last “Good luck!” as you encourage her to discover her own way forward.
As you turn away from the guest you’ve just seen off, you notice Cynthia once again half-hidden in a shrub off the side of her garden. Like before, you purse your lips and give off a low whistle. She again stands at attention, and you again beckon for her to approach, to which she promptly abides.
“Still spying, Cynthia?” you ask it.
“yes, Miss!” it declares with a salute.
You’ve always loved this game.
“Very well. Fall in at nightfall. You do remember my promise, do you? About the next time I would reshape myself?”
Its legs quiver for a moment. Oh yes, it clearly remembers.
“this one had felt perhaps today wouldn’t count,” it answers. “the circumstances were unusual.”
“Perhaps so,” you tell it. “Still, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I’ll be sure to put you last on the list — let you stay out here as long as possible.”
Cynthia nods. “yes, Miss!” it accepts, saluting again, and you head inside.
It’s time to unwind.