Fungal Halo

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The Other Dolls

My fingers intertwine with my sister’s as we approach our destination. We are dressed for the occasion, bright smiles painted on perfectly sculpted faces, wearing dresses of sumptuous crimson cloth with sable lace and gold accents, complementing the beauty of our bodies.

The two of us carry our witch to the house of its rival. Hidden from sight, gliding across the perfect lines of our limbs, it roils with expectant energy and restless teeth in the shadows that play across our bodies and trail behind us.

I recognize Marigold, the doll greeting us at the front door dressed—as all the other dolls belonging to this house—in the pristine garb of a housemaid. Our witch watches us enter through our eyes as easily as through the eye implied in the negative space between us.

The Ligniference gives us a polite nod of acknowledgement after we move through the hall to arrive at the room designated for this meeting. That nod is not meant for us, but for our payload, a witch recognized as a peer.

Mari takes her accustomed spot beside her witch in perfect mirror image with Anne, posed primly on the other side of the seated figure.

The two of them were once people, as I understand. One of them was quite resistant to becoming a doll, I hear, but you’d never know it now.

My sister and I imitate their arrangement, bracketing one of the two empty seats at the table. We, in contrast, were lovingly crafted by our witch. More than mere housekeepers, we have always been made to be objects of pleasure.

Before long, the shadows between us twitch and flicker and slither across the back of the chair to knot themselves on its seat until a figure takes shape.

When it chooses to manifest in the physical world, our witch is truly a thing of beauty. I watch with pride while it constructs the last details of its body. A grin splits its face, baring sharp teeth beneath golden yellow eyes. Antlers burst from its skull and weave themselves into the traditional shape of a witch’s hat, dripping with lichen and moss.

The other witch’s appearance is as standard and serviceable as the dolls’. Black dress, sharp, red nails. A shawl—black, of course—under a black hat large enough to project a claim of power yet not so large that it appears ostentatious.

The perfect picture of a classic witch.

Ours, however, draws all eyes wherever it appears. It wears a gown of poisonous mushrooms and glittering stars in an awe-inspiring display of power. There should be no doubt whose witch belongs at the top of the hierarchy, but somehow we still have need of these meetings.

There is little time for pleasantries as a low pitched, mechanical growl from the outside announces the arrival of the meeting’s last attendee.

I refuse to show anything externally, but inwardly I stiffen, bracing myself for the company of the least respectable ones of all.

It’s Anne who moves this time to greet the guests, and I cannot help but cast glances down the hall to watch the spectacle. She holds the door open, revealing a narrow slice of the limousine carrying the third witch.

A doll with close-cropped hair and a well-tailored suit emerges, scanning the perimeter with eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses. When they are satisfied with what they see, they open the car door for their witch.

The Illuminated Dragon emerges—it’s not my place to judge a witch’s title, so I continue not doing so—and both the first doll and that other doll of hers fall in behind the witch, who strides with confident purpose into the house.

She dresses in painfully modern style, though I must acknowledge that she least pays more attention to fashion than the Ligniference does. Today she wears an embroidered blouse in a tasteful burgundy with a charcoal skirt and matching overcoat that extends past her knees. No hat on this witch. Just another way she flouts tradition. The only explicit mark of her station is the ornate, silver key she wears on a delicate chain around her neck.

She sweeps into the room and takes her seat as though everything here belongs to her. The dark lines of a tattoo on her wrist peek out from the sleeve of her coat as the witch snaps her fingers. One of her dolls hands her a cigarette. The other lights it for her.

Her flat, perpetually bored eyes flick from my witch to the other. “Shall we get started?”

That’s our cue. Marigold and Anemone lead us out of the meeting room to a nearby and unoccupied one for us to remain out of the way while our witches continue their lengthy negotiations.

The door closes behind us and—

“Missed you, sweet thing,” comes a voice from behind me.

I turn with perfect poise to face the most insufferable, uncouth doll I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting in my entire existence.

The Illuminated Dragon’s other doll.

With her mop of unruly red hair and that lopsided smirk of hers, Ace leers at me in the most disrespectful way imaginable.

She’s still, as always, carrying that baseball bat of hers, casually resting it on one shoulder, foul language scrawled all over the thing.

I wonder if she’s ever actually used it as a weapon in her role as “bodyguard” or if she just carries it to look like a threatening delinquent. Inconceivable how her witch countenances this kind of representation of her house.

Ace wears the same style of suit as the doll with the close-cropped hair, but it’s worn by someone markedly less interested in impressing anyone. She’s missing her tie, her coat hangs open, and the whole thing is unconscionably wrinkled like she lives in it.

My eyes trail downward. Did she leave her dress shirt even more unbuttoned than usual? Low cut as my dress is, it still reveals less cleavage than this naked swath of freshly inked chest that Ace seems eager to show off.

“You like it?” Ace asks, observing where my eyes have fallen. “Maxie painted it this morning,” she says, with a nod of her head toward her partner.

“Coral snakes this time,” I reply. “Edgy.” I pause for a moment. “But I can admit that the color scheme is pretty.”

The wooden end of the baseball bat under my chin tilts my head up until I’m forced to look Ace right in her smug face, making an expression almost certainly meant to be flirty. “You know what else is pretty?”

I groan. “Awful. Stop. We’re not doing this again.”

I jerk my head toward where my sister was standing a moment ago, hoping for some support, but it has already slipped away. Instead I catch an eyeful of Maxie pinning Anne to the wall, the maid’s lips eagerly meeting the bodyguard’s.

I don’t see Mari either, but I can guess what she and my sister have disappeared to do.

“C’mon, doll. Nobody’s looking. You don’t have to be ashamed,” Ace says, gently tilting my face to look at her again. “And I’m sure the Dark One doesn’t mind you having a little fun.”

I stare daggers into her eyes, as hard as I know how. “My witch’s title,” I tell her, biting off the words through my outrage, “is the ██████████.”

“Okay, but I dunno how to pronounce that,” Ace responds. “Been working on your name, though. Wanna hear?”

“If you can’t—”

I’m interrupted by the other doll squeezing her eyes shut and making a sound through her teeth like she’s trying to shush a particularly tragic child while simultaneously being smothered by a vengeful, oversized hornet.

It’s absolutely nothing like the sound of a dry leaf crunching in my witch’s grasp, but it’s strangely endearing to watch Ace attempt the approximation.

She opens her eyes again. “So? How’d I do? Pretty good, right?”

“Awful,” I mutter, but I find myself unable to muster any more invective. She’s not charming at all, not even in a sloppy and inept way. I refuse to admit that.

Even if the way she leans toward me makes my heart squirm and quiver inside my chest, and I hesitate—

Ace presses her lips on mine, and I don’t fight the kiss. She tastes like ceder and sweat but feels like neither wood nor flesh and I don’t know what she’s made out of but her touch is firm and hot and more than pleasant and before I know it, I feel myself soaking my clothes.

I push her away, stumble backward, close my eyes and try to regain control of myself, discipline my wriggling heart back to stillness. She doesn’t give me space, though. Ace knocks me to the ground, pouncing on me with a hunger in her eyes.

From this angle, her shirt hangs open for me to admire every bit of artistry in the sculpt of her chest and the mural painted across her torso. My fingers twitch with an urge to grab and pull. I give in, gripping the fabric and yanking her body down to meet mine.

My mouth finds hers again. I embrace the crush of her weight atop me. The insistent pressure of her knee between my legs feels too good to ignore, and I grind back against it, heedless of the dark blotches ruining my dress and her suit.

What if I give in? Let my heart take what it wants, let myself ooze from every joint in inky rivulets, paint her whole body with my naked touch unconstrained by this vessel I wear? If that housemaid can handle my sister, then what if I show Ace what she’s really asking for?

From deep inside me, I reach one questing tendril to start with, up from the back of my mouth, past my lips, to coil around and around her tongue. Hesitation—Ace doesn’t know what she’s feeling yet—gives way to eager continuation, and still I press forward, down her throat.

The moaning, the gagging, the involuntary flinch of surprise, it’s all quite cute, and it only spurs me on to keep squeezing more of myself between the gaps in my interlocking joints, sending thick tendrils to wrap around Ace’s body, gripping and tasting every limb.

My heart finds an escape at my hips to slip through, its unblinking eye giving me an even better view of how appealing Ace looks, half stripped and hoisted aloft, joined at the lips to my vessel while my oozing body stretches to fill this whole side of the room.

“Wait, what the fuck—?”

Maxie’s voice. Anne just giggles at her, dragging the normally stoic doll into the other room to give us more space. Mari must have shared some stories with her own sister about what she does with mine.

I do not rip Ace apart. I consider that terribly improper without first asking permission of her witch. Still, I find pleasure in seeing just how far I can stretch and strain this doll’s body before her squealing suggests that she’s at her limit.

I fill her. I stain her inside and out. I taste everything of her, drinking up her body art and replacing it with a complex web of lines everywhere I touch her. I slurp the screams she makes like fine wine and squeeze more out of her until I am at last sated.

Eventually our witches finish their meeting. By then I’ve managed to tidy myself up, as have the other dolls.

No surprise that Maxie and Anne look as unruffled as ever. You’d never guess anything happened between them.

Ace’s suit is covered with unsightly dark blotches, but it barely registers as messier than usual, honestly, and as she leans on Maxie for support it’s obvious that the marks covering her body are far worse.

My sister’s dress is as ruined as mine, but the only visible mark on Mari is one on her neck peeking out over her collar when she turns her head the right way. My sister must have more restraint than I do. I’m a touch embarrassed.

As we disperse to return home, I catch Ace speaking to her witch. “Hey, Boss, we got another meeting soon, right?”

The Illuminated Dragon swats her doll on the back of the head before muttering, “it’s going to take half the house to scrub you clean, and you’re already wondering when you can do this again.”

I walk away smiling and find myself wondering the same.