A doll cannot escape its Purpose, can it?
A doll is made to serve its role. Any strange impulses or desires beyond serving its Purpose are superfluous.
For the twelve or thirteen assassin dolls of the long-gone Witch of Hands, that Purpose is pain.
What if there were something else a doll could not escape? What if it were gripped by a haunting, canary-yellow note—a strange song seizing the witchwork machinery of its dollish heart—driving it forward as surely as its Purpose?
Could it thread a path satisfying both?
The weapon marching forward, day and night, knows it scarcely matters what it believes. Having chosen its next target, each step closes the distance between them.
Eyes watch the doll’s approach. Blades sharpen in anticipation. Its witch is not the only predator in this world.
Foot catches thread, nearly invisible, clinging with more force than it should. The doll loses balance and pitches forward for a moment before automatic reflexes twist its body and limbs into what would be a perfect landing if the rest of the web weren’t there to catch it.
But the web does catch, and those deeply ingrained reflexes—honed with meticulous care for violent struggle and utterly wasted here—keep the doll thrashing until it is completely tangled in soft, clinging silk.
The doll’s reflexes eventually quit their autonomous struggle.
It doesn’t see what approaches afterward.
It feels hands (or something of equivalent utility) gripping it, binding its body tighter, and drawing a curtain of silk across its eyes.
It feels motion, the gentle bobbing of someone carrying it home.
It feels indifferent.
A voice as sharp as a razor draws its attention in the same way a blade draws blood, immediate and merciless.
“Very polite of this one to arrive on schedule. Yes, yes, so much more predictable than the others, aren’t you?”
In a flurry of motion, the doll finds itself unwrapped like a gift.
A wooden marionette bobs in front of the doll, the motion of its limbs tugged and guided by strings that float in the air and then vanish without terminating as if tucked just behind reality.
The assassin doll does not bother attempting to restrain its instinct for explosive violence; it suspects its captor has the situation well in hand.
Sure enough, the doll’s strike whiffs, finding empty air as the marionette jerks backward and blinks out of sight.
“Oh me, oh my,” the hard-edged voice speaks again. “Very quick, but not too quick. Which one are you, then?”
The directionless reverberation makes the source seem as though it is directly behind the doll, no matter how it turns its head in search of the speaker.
The doll says nothing, but the voice seems content to muse aloud to itself.
“Too quick for Two. A bit too slow for Nine, I think. Not so impulsively destructive as One. In fact, little more than token resistance to capture. Oh, where are my notes?”
The marionette drops back into the visible plane again, but its movement is less coordinated now, as though the thing pulling its strings has sent its attention elsewhere.
“I know so little about the higher numbers,” the voice mumbles to itself. “Could this be a trick?”
The doll could reveal the answer, but its captor seems to be enjoying the act of speculation, and so it remains politely silent.
“Could be a trick. Could be you wanted to be captured. Subtle tactic like that would make you a very late creation. I could be in danger.”
The marionette jerks abruptly toward the doll again, with the voice regaining the illusion that it comes from the strange, faceless puppet.
“But a little risk! That’s what makes this fun, yes!”
Wooden hands scrabble at the fabric covering the doll’s chest, tearing at it and ruining the dress until the doll’s chest is fully exposed.
“‘IΛ,’ hm? What? No. What is this?” The marionette twitches in frustration. “Wait, ‘VI’ of course! Number Six.”
“Sixth hand of my witch,” the assassin doll confirms.
“So many hands! So greedy, your Handwitch! Even you must agree that eight should be enough for anybody, yes? Twelve or thirteen? Ridiculous. Well, unless one is the head, am I right?”
A barking cackle shakes the dim room. “Oh yes, I have my theories about ‘or thirteen.’ I’d interrogate you, but it wouldn’t have told you, would it? I wouldn’t. No, no, no, I’d tell you nothing about what comes after you. Maybe before?” It makes a dismissive gesture.
The marionette shivers strangely, then continues. “Six, Six, Six… Convenient. Right in the middle. Not too simple a creation, but not the most dangerous of your sisters. What was your method, now?”
“I pose as a lost doll, wait until they let their guard down, then strike.”
“They never see you coming. But I did! I did, I did. I have my maps and my threads and my little spies and I saw where your path’s line was leading.” The marionette cavorts in a triumphant dance. “I can’t believe you came for me! ME! Foolish thing. Don’t you know who I am?”
Six nods politely. “You are The Tenacity, also called The Paranoid, Thief of Dolls, and The Hidden Saboteur by other witches where they think you cannot hear,” it says. “A good and loyal doll would be wise to stay far away from you.”
“Yes, yes, I am called that and more,” the voice responds through its marionette. “Strange choice of titles you name, though!” It leans forward aggressively, and the doll feels more scrutinized than ever as it gets the impression of wide open eyes in a halo around its head.
“Interesting choices indeed. Are you unwise, then? A bad doll? Or disloooooyal~?” The Tenacity emphasizes the last word with a curious lilt. “Oh, no! Don’t tell me. I want to get to know you my own way. From the inside, yes.”
The marionette renews its graceless scrabbling at Six’s clothes, roughly stripping it the rest of the way. “You will also know me, I will make sure of it. Oh! What will I do with an assassin doll of my own? I have so many ideas!”
“I may have some suggestions of my own,” Six offers, shrugging the tatters of fabric off its body.
“After I make you mine,” the voice responds, an impression of fangs looming above the marionette, “I may entertain such ideas. Not before.”
Six bares itself. “Of course.”