1: Light The Candle
Doll stumbles as she rushes home, one fine little foot caught in the cracked sidewalk, stone-teeth gnawing at protective leather. Her bag's too heavy today, rattling and clanking against her bruised hip; each step brings a fresh gasp of pain to her tightly sealed lips. Oh, if only she didn't have to hurry, if only she could take her time—!
But the sun's grasping rim is already teasing against the horizon, so far off across the sea that Doll's eyes can barely see the superheated steam which always veils those nightly indulgences; the sea is reaching up towards it and every clock in the city is about to chime out out the 19th hour's song and there's no time held in wait for her belated need.
But still, but still, Doll walks as fast as her pained body can manage, rushing back up the long hill, up and up and up until it feels like there's no end to her climb, until she forgets what it's like to walk on level ground (distance elapsed: 40 meters on a 7° slope). All the pain is worth it; her suffering always is.
She's dripping with sweat by the time she finally stumbles in through her home's door (a further 30 meters uphill, during which the slope declines to 4°), not even present enough to lock the door behind her. Doll just collapses onto the floor, overloaded bag slumping down from her weary back, head spinning far too fast—
The solid click-click-click of the door locking itself behind her doesn't rouse her to life, nor the sad little sigh as hands far less present than her own lift the bag off her and ferry it to a nearby table, nor even the busy noises of its contents being sorted—all those vials and bottles clinking against each other, the vibrant echo of ceramic against bone and the careful crinkle of dried flowers wrapped in layer upon layer of yellowed gauze. Doll's done her best to find everything on the list, tried her best to do her part to help prepare—!
And a few whispered words of praise and recognition do more to bring her back than anything else she can imagine, though of course she still eagerly fills herself with cold water when those kind half-there hands offer her a glass. There's no time to truly relax, still no time to waste and no time waiting in the wings; through the house's largest window and far beyond a slope where landslides have devastated any attempt to ruin her witch's view the sun is half beneath the waves, its light muffled in steam and its grasping loops desperately reaching down towards something that Doll's never seen, something hidden beneath the ocean deeper than anything but the sun could ever hope to penetrate.
Doll distracts herself by imagining that shining treasure, just as she does at each and every sunset—
But only for a moment.
Her witch's hands ruffle her hair, drawing her back to it; and there's the candle waiting before her and a lighter already slipped into her hands. It's the first night of many, the start, the threshold—
Doll loves the little noise the wick makes as it springs to life.