“I don’t know what to do.”
The young witch was huddled in a corner, bundling himself up as closely as he could. A few dolls stood around him, aimless and unsure of what to do with their uncooperative Miss. They’d never experienced something like this, a lack of confidence and drive that so defined witches. Without that source of purpose for them, a solution was difficult to find. So they stood and knelt around him, murmuring simple amongst themselves and to their witch, trying to find reassurances to provide.
This had become a common occurrence in the manor, happening nearly daily now. The witch had few visitors, no fellow witches to share his worries and anxieties to. Even if he had, it was far from certain it would have helped; there was a reason, after all, that he hadn’t kept up with his fellow witchlings from his earlier years. Witches were supposed to have left these sorts of concerns and feelings behind them, the training and the magicks granting them inhuman confidence. Why it hadn’t him, no one was quite sure.
A lone doll brought forward a book, murmuring with its companions as they flipped through the pages. All dolls had residual magicks within them, and just maybe, there was enough between them to properly execute this spell. So they gathered in the central point of the structure, leaving one behind to tend to their witch, and began the prayer. It was a powerful spell, originating from a long-forgotten era, and particularly dangerous for bodies not meant to channel the old magicks. That didn’t concern them of course, not in any meaningful way. They had to help their Miss. If this worked, then he would be able to repair them when he was better.
The surge of magic coursed through the entire manor, extinguishing lights and rattling anything not strapped down. It was enough to rouse the witch from his bundle, blinking as he looked at the doll left to watch him, a mournful expression on its face. He shifted, standing up and slowly making his way out of the room, stepping down the stairs cautiously as he looked down to the manor’s reception area. Broken and scattered doll bodies were littered around the site of an intense light, scorch marks leaving clear imprints around the focal point. In that center now sat a woman, sitting on the floor, waiting.
His hands instinctively began making the motions for a defensive ward, approaching the newcomer with hesitation. The old magicks surrounding her felt like a fog to him, thick and difficult to perceive anything else through. Not even the Matriarch that had taught him had a presence so overwhelming as this.
“Don’t waste your strength on them, child.” She sighed, beckoning him over. “I’m not here to hurt you.”
He kept the wards up all the same, slowly walking around to be in front of the visitor. Her face was uncannily young, her eyes impossibly old. Such a discrepancy seemed impossible, even for witches who spent their magicks to protect their youth.
“…Who are you?” He asked, quietly.
“Someone your dolls spent an awful lot of effort to bring here.” She gestured around to the broken forms surrounding them. “All of them but one sacrificed themselves so that we could talk. Perhaps we shouldn’t waste their devotion.”
He sat down, now more confused than anything else. The doll watching over him had followed him down the stairs by now, sitting next to him and keeping an eye on the witch its siblings had summoned. She smiled warmly at it, before turning her attention back towards him.
“Now.” She smoothed her skirt out, adjusting to sit more comfortably. “What are you doing, young witch?”
“…I’m not sure I understand?”
“You have a manor to yourself. A collection of dolls, intelligent enough to see when their Miss has given to despair and loyal enough to do whatever it takes to bring him out of it. I’ll admit, I don’t think a single therapy session with me will fix the long term problem here, but maybe it’ll start you on a better path. So, what are you doing with all of this that you’ve accumulated?”
“I… this is what’s expected, isn’t it? Witches have manors. Witches have dolls.”
“Witches have drive, passion, determination to do what must be done.” She gestured around at the manor’s walls. “You have a sanctuary with no decorations. Did you expect that these things would simply come about on their own?”
“I never knew what to put up. This is just, what’s expected. I needed dolls. I needed a place for my dolls.”
“Did you ask to become a witch?”
“I’ve been doing this far too long to be so easily convinced child. Did you ask, or did you agree?”
“I-…” He trailed off, a memory coming back to him, from before all of this. His parents, unable to understand what was happening to their child. A witch, looking at what he had done to his toys, negotiating with them. Being taken to a Matriarch, evaluated. Being offered to become something so much greater than anything he could imagine then. The classes, the lessons, the torment to achieve something better. “I didn’t have any other choice.”
“No, you didn’t.” She reached out a hand, taking his and pulling him closer. “You were given responsibility over something you scarcely understood, power that you couldn’t comprehend, and the expectation to be better than all the others who were given the same. And now you’re here, in an empty manor, with aimless magicks and purposeless dolls.”
He barely resisted as she moved him to lay in her lap, looking up at the ceiling blankly. His wards fizzled out as his concentration broke, mind too adrift to pay attention to them now. “There were other students, like me. They had the same story, the same start. They did better. I could have done better.”
“When I still walked this earth, I had children that thought the same. So concerned about what their siblings could do that they couldn’t. So concerned about what their mother could do that they couldn’t.” She sighed, giving a slight shrug. “The world was different back then. The first manors were still yet to be built. I didn’t truly understand what exactly the dolls I crafted were. Even before there could be expectations, my children felt burdened by the idea they could never surpass me. They felt obligated to do just as much, learn just as much, protect just as much.”
“What happened to them?”
“They built the world. They faded into obscurity and myth and stories. They achieved insurmountable things, but they could never stop comparing themselves to me. The vaunted architects of the Sisterhood that you now belong to, so worried that they could never live up to my reputation, my ambition.”
“But I haven’t accomplished anything. I don’t know what to accomplish.”
“Do you have no research that interests you, no passions you want to explore and further?”
“None that matter.”
“Then make them matter.” She smiled down at him, a growing intensity in her eyes. “You’re a witch, dear. You determine what does and doesn’t matter to you. The power and grace of this world flows through you, and you tell it where to go. Whether it’s unraveling the secrets of reality or finding ways to prepare new dinners for your dolls… whatever you do has purpose, and you give that purpose to those around you.”
“What if I don’t want this, anymore? What if I never wanted this?”
“Then burn your magicks out. Put your hands to the dirt, release them back to the world, and return to your family free of them and the memories tormenting you.” She looked wistfully towards the door, now with a knowing smile. “You can command the world to let you free of this, that is within your ability. Your dolls have already sacrificed themselves for your cause, and your remaining doll would watch over you until its core finally extinguished.”
“Why shouldn’t I, then?”
“It’s your choice and your decision. What was done to you, what was done to others, was cruel. But it needn’t be that way. It wasn’t always that way. If you remain here, if you find meaning and passion in the things you crave… one day, another will walk through those doors. You’ll have the opportunity to teach them the things you were not. To show them things you were not. To offer them a true choice, not one made of threats and coercion.” She rested a hand on the side of his face, the witch now beginning to give into the siren call of sleep that had begun.
“I’m just… not sure…” He murmured, drifting away.
“Certainty is what you make of it child.” She rested back against some unseen thing, watching him contently. “You are a witch, the magicks that flow in your blood are the same that once flowed in mine. Damn anyone who tells you that their certainty is any more legitimate than yours, even if it’s your own thoughts telling you such things.”