content warnings: dubcon, drugs, smut

Light falls across the couch in thick golden beams, filtering in through dusty windows thrown open to catch the setting sun's warm breeze; there's dust in the air, and smoke, and the thick musky scent of slowly drying sweat. When you first got here the smoke was the woody stink of distant fires, but now it's just good clean weed and and the strangely layered perfume of vaped DMT.

The world doesn't feel real, hasn't for a long time; reality trickles away with each breath you take and each time your friend passes you the blunt. She's the only person you really know here, the only reason you were invited; usually you'd feel awkward, but everyone's so hazy and high and the couch really is so comfortable …

You want to stay here forever. To let the moment stretch like thick honey, like a flood of sap flowing across the world to catch time's steady march in an amber as golden as the falling sun; a single perfect moment you'll stay in forever.

Your eyes flutter closed as you luxuriate in that idea, in the warmth filling your body and the dopey smile spreading across your face; when you open them again she's kissing you, her weight pressing you down into the couch—you feel so small beneath her, so weak, body barely able to move enough to kiss her back.

That's all right, though; her wandering hands make it clear that she doesn't mind your inaction, doesn't mind that your mind is barely there. It's harder to think with every kiss, with every touch, with every drop of golden light that pools inside your mind.

You drink it all up.

Your body feels so hot …

You're practically burning up.

When she pulls away, when her lips leave yours and her weight shifts off you, you whimper like a fire without its hearth, like a burning engine suddenly bereft of its heatsink; you can't understand her words, can't think enough to understand, but that's alright. She's not speaking to you.

“See?” she says, “I told you it was a good idea to invite them. Poor little thing's needed this for a long time.”

You don't feel the eyes on you but you whimper anyway, because how can you not? Maybe whimpering will bring her lips back, maybe it will make her hands wander lower, maybe—

Lips meet yours again, cold and chapped, a warm tongue slipping into you to meet the golden light spilling out; the barest hint of stubble against your too-sensitive skin. It's not her, and nor is it her hand cupping your cheek, angling your face up into the kiss; they're more tentative, more careful, but their attention still helps soothe the heat growing in you even as every moment stokes it higher, their body against yours still reminds you of how weak you are.

They finally pull away with a laugh, fingers tweaking your nipple and sending lightning jolting through your body just a second before they fade out of your awareness. Their voice is excited as they speak, words rippling across your mind like so many silver tongues;

“Wow, yeah! Do you think I can fuck them?”

You whimper at that, and whimper again as she laughs, a bright cheerful noise like a crimson scarf fluttering in the wind. “Ha, you horny fucker! Yeah, go for it, just let me give them another hit first.”

There's cold metal at your lips and just a hint of burnt sweetness trickling into your nose so you inhale, because that's what you're supposed to do, right? And then the world is shivering around you as you cough, and there are hands tugging at your jeans and her lap beneath your head and that golden light falling into you from the setting sun as she rubs your cheek, as she helps guide your body into position, as she holds you steady as you squirm and moan and buck your hips at the warm air and their tongue tasting you and their hands holding your hips—

The world goes away as they pull you back onto them and thrust forward into you.

It doesn't feel like anything, and it feels like far too much: a sudden burst of sensation short-circuiting your mind, overstimulating you, setting your body ablaze, burning up your thoughts and leaving nothing but empty light.

For a long time you are nothing at all.

Not a person.

Not a thing.

Nothing at all.

A speck of dust swirling in the light.

When you come back to yourself they're curled around your back, groaning as your body shakes beneath them, as your hips press back to meet their every thrust; but what specks of attention you have, what fluttering neurons persist through pleasure's golden haze, are far more concerned with the scent filling your nose, that spicy musk dripping with wet heat—

She's slipped her pants off somehow, and your head is in your lap, and the soft skin of her thighs is pressing against your cheeks as she rubs your head and there's just a thin layer of underwear separating you from her, keeping your probing tongue from tasting her, and you can't figure out how to get around it—

“Eager, aren't you? Ha, just took the right encouragement …”

Her fingers move beneath you, body shifting as she pulls the fabric to the side, and then—

She tastes so fucking good, and the feeling of her filling your mouth and her hips bucking beneath you as your tongue works is almost as good as the thrusts filling you, making your body shake and your throat fill with keening whimpers and your mind explode with heat and light and the warm musky scent of sex, of all your smells blending together with the dying sun's light, of the dust dancing in the air with every panting breath that fills your ears and every muffled moan that spills out of you—

The sky is dark before they're done with you, the last beams of sunlight fleeing the approaching night; first they've finally had their fill and collapse onto the ground by the couch, then she shudders and moans and fills your mouth with an explosion of delicious slickness one last time. Her fingers in your hair pull you away, give her space to close her legs and let you rest your head on her soft thighs; you can still smell her, still feel the way your mouth moistens and your thoughts gum up, but it's done. They're done. They've used you up and wrung you out, but your body still shivers with sensation, with all the little shakes of aftershocks and phantom touches.

She's in the middle of relighting the blunt when you finally find it in you to speak.

“… fuck, I needed that.”

Her laugh is smugly satisfied. “Ha! Yeah, I knew you did. You've been wound too tight.”

“Yeah … but, uh. Ask first next time?”

“Will do. Didn't think you'd have said yes, though.”

“… I probably wouldn't, yeah. But still.”

“Mhmm.” She pauses for a moment. “Fuck, I'm hungry. Want to get pizza?”

Her friend's voice comes from where they're lying on the floor, looking as wrung out as you feel, and it blends with yours as you reply in unison. “Yes! Please!”

“Wake up, doll. Something is coming.”

Her words echo in the doll's mind as she wakes, just as they have for years—ever since the doll's new mistress ate her old one and dragged her back into its lair.

Such a small memory to be burned so deeply, but she's thankful for it.

Today she wakes as she always does, words echoing in her mind and the monster's looming vastness crouched on spindly legs above her stony bed. A drop of venom sizzles on her skin, another hole burned through her ruined dress.

She's thankful for the nest's lack of mirrors.

The monster leads her out of her cell and through the vast and starry space it has never cared to explain to her, along pathways of sparkling stone that tear at her feet and stain her hands with glitter when she falls.

She struggles to keep up with it and hardly tries to.

Today it leads her to the misshapen thing lying whimpering within another of its many cells: a thing like a doll but not, with improper proportions and impure flesh.

It stares up at her with big bloodshot eyes as the monster speaks in a voice like crimson silk—


The doll doesn't like her teeth. She hates how they've grown since the monster took her, misses those little pearl domes.

Sometimes she dreams about how her old mistress used to have her rest her head in her lap as she polished her teeth and sanded away those horrid growths.

Once, after a dream so pleasant and nostalgic that it woke her long before the monster came, she tried to file them down herself.

It didn't work.

The rocks she grabbed and gnawed tore as easily as the misshapen thing's flesh does, and her tears fall as freely.

When she's done, when the thing finally stops trying to plead through the ruined emptiness where its mouth should have been, the monster carefully licks away the blood that stains her lips and face and hands. It doesn't touch her tears.

“W-why?” she sobbingly asks, as her meal's body cools beneath her, as the monster slurps up spilled blood and experimentally slips its limbs through the cuts she opened. “Why did you make me do that?”

For a moment it seems confused. Taken aback. She hardly ever talks. But—

“What is the world for”, the monster asks, “if not for eating?”

“But why me?”

Its many limbs are busy, buried within the corpse: a flurry of motion just below the skin, tearing out scraps of flesh and bone—everything the doll could not bring herself to eat.

“Eating is what dolls are for. Feel how your teeth grow. How your stomach aches with purpose.”

The doll shakes her head, an objection almost like a spasm. “N-no!”

It hums a long note like a cloudy nebula's slow song, digging legs making the corpse twitchily dance along.

When it speaks again its voice comes from the hollowed corpse, and the doll stares at that slowly inflating shell as the monster drags its bulk inside.

“It is. Dolls are tools for eating. There are delicious things I am not permitted to taste, and now I will eat unnoticed.”


The doll scrabbles backwards as the corpse begins to stand, her words forgotten. It moves in odd little jerks, skin bulging and face flickering through twisted expressions; through the slowly knitting gashes in its body she can see the monster's eyes.

Finally it stands upright and stares down at where she has fallen; a too-long tongue darts out between bloodless lips to taste her rising fear. Its voice tastes like rot and mildew and dripping decay.

“There are rules, doll, and you are a tool for breaking them.”

“B-but … you ate my witch yourself! And, and …” She casts her eyes again, whatever spark drove her to speak fast fading as she thinks about what might await her, as she sees the distance mouths of all the other cells that dot the walls of the monster's nest like stars—

It smiles at her with its stolen face.

“Witches are not protected. They don't belong to the Real. They taste bad and they can fight back.” Its teeth seem longer than before. “Tools are not protected, and nothing is protected from them. Most refuse to open holes.”


The doll shivers as it runs a half-deflated finger along her face, and struggles not to retch as it cups her cheek in its and and forces her head to tilt up to meet its gaze.

“You are a useful tool. You will wait, and when this shell breaks you will open a new one for me.”

“I … I don't …”

“This is what you are for, doll. Grow your teeth long and your hunger deep as I hunt the soft flesh that fills the Real, as I kill their memories and eat their bones, and I will bring you such a feast—”

The monster says other things as the doll stares and trembles, horrible things about what it will do and the rules which bind it and what the world is, thoughts that nestle deep into her brain's spiraling web and that she can feel she will never fully shake out of it.

It tells her that the Real isn't, that it's just calcifying scum clinging to the surface of the Void; a web of forgotten spells and threads that it was meant to be forbidden to tug. A falling, breaking thing, unraveled by witchcraft and moths and things like it.

The doll doesn't know enough to object, and with her stomach so full of flesh and blood she couldn't put any force behind her shouts, couldn't interrupt the unceasing flow of words slipping from the corpse's mouth to drip rot across her ears;

and then the monster leaves.

And she's alone,

with no company but the rocks and the darkness and the horrible images that flicker across the surface of her mind.

The monster didn't even bother to lead her back to her cell, and she can't bring herself to try to find the way.

So she just sits and waits, and tries to think of what her old witch might have told her to do.

The doll shivers in your arms, trembling like a candleflame in the wind, like you used to shake and shudder when you knew you had sinned, when you could feel rejection's creeping despair just around the corner.

Her big button eyes stare up at you, pleading, blue thread fraying from the knotted mass at the center of those dark disks; her mouth moves in soundless whispers, the same words over and over again–

Behind her, far outside your arms, tea drips from the teacup's shards.

Finally her litany of apology is broken by a choked “please”, a broken little word full of despair; the tears come faster after it escapes her, the shaking grows worse.

You don't let yourself sigh; just squeeze her tighter for a moment, before padding off to find the chalk.

It's buried in a box beneath your shared bed, locked and sealed and only just starting to accumulate dust; you can hear her sobbing as you pull it out, as you fumble through your purse to find the strangely ornate key.

Today it has an eye; you do your best not to meet it.

Back in the kitchen, you draw an inexpert circle around her, intersecting with a smaller one around the broken teacup; you add layers, little meaningless squiggles and elaborations that somehow feel right.

It's not instinct that guides you, not exactly. Just vibes.

By the time you're done the doll is perfectly still within it, kneeling, staring at the ground. Her tears still stain her mask's soft fabric, but they're starting to dry up, and her thread has tightened enough that her eyes are in no danger.

She looks more like herself.

And of course that's good. That's the point. But–

You're careful not to smudge the chalk as you step inside the circle, as you sit down by her and wrap yourself around her again. She snuggles into your touch, into your body, the rhythms of your heart and your breaths.

For a while everything is quiet.

“I'm really sorry,” she says, her voice soft and faintly muffled.

“What? No, it's fine, it's just a teacup. We can get more.”

“Not that.”

You squeeze her close, do your best to show that it doesn't matter to you, that everything is good–

“I know you don't like the chalk,” she continues. She's always careful not to call it what it is, this play-magic, these gestures at the patterns she was made to walk and has not yet left behind. “I'm sorry for asking you to.”

“I mean, yeah, I don't, but ... if it's what you need, if it's that or you falling to pieces, I don't mind. You matter more than a bit of discomfort.”

She shivers for a moment, hands balling in your shirt; you squeeze her again, feel her warmth, her wet tears on your shirt.

”... I should be stronger.”

“It's a process, right? A bit better every day, on average. It takes time.”

“I guess, yeah ...”

“And, like, the box was almost dusty this time! And you didn't drop into third-person even once. So you are getting better.”

“Oh. I didn't even notice ...” She pauses, curls herself a bit more tightly in your arms; you squeeze her again, quietly waiting for her to continue, for whatever she needs to say.

”... I really do love you.”

“I love you too <3”

This story also has a sequel

content warning: noncon licking, blood, self-hatred, realizations.

Hero pinned to the floor, glaring up at the beast who's finally gotten the better of him. Trying not to notice the thin lines of blood welling out of where its claws grip his neck, trying not to think about how easily it could end all his struggles—

(if he thinks those thoughts his luck will break, or so he's always been told. there are so many things he doesn't think about.)

Broken tiles warm his back, the sun's heat slowly leeching into the night; the beast laughs, its breath hot and strangely floral on his face.

He starts to speak and it squeezes tighter, a warning and a threat; he spits a curse at it anyway, something noble and heroic and utterly cliched. They both forget it a moment after. A hero says heroic things by reflex, no more significant than the piss tricking down his leg.

(he does his best not to notice. not to think about how his body has betrayed his fear, or the way the beast's snout twitches at the smell. he tells himself that he succeeds.)

(he's wrong.)

The beast's tongue is rough against his face, and far too long: a sinuous strand of muscle exploring the sweat dripping from his brow and the chapped expanse of his lips and the tears of humiliation dripping from his eyes.

He tries to struggle, to push it off him; he fails.

The beast seems almost thoughtful as it pulls back, as it licks its lips. Certainly there's something different in its many eyes, in the watchful tentacles draped like tangled scarves around its slender neck.

Its grin has far too many teeth, and its voice is full of song.

“Little hero, caught and trapped! Not how you thought this would go, not how you expected it to, is it?” He doesn't answer and it twitches its claw, that threatening sharpness forcing his head to shake. “Not at all. Meddlesome things like you never expect to be caught.”

At this, he can't help but spit out another cliche. It's something about how good will always triumph over evil in the end, about how the arc of history bends towards the light.

It laughs at him again, its entire body shaking, and for a moment he thinks he can break free—

But his struggle is cut short by another squeeze of his throat, by its long tongue carefully licking the blood from the cuts which ring his neck.

(he doesn't think about the shiver that echoes through his traitorous body. it's not real as long as he doesn't think about it.)

“Is that really what you think, little hero? Do you really truly believe that?” Of course he does. “You're pathetic. There's no light in you, not the faintest speck. I've tasted and taken more chosen ones than you'd ever believe and you have none of their spice.”

As it speaks its mane of tentacles are busy cutting away his armor, worming their way inside; thick corrosive slime drips from their tips where they cannot find the right strap to cut, melting away god-forged metal and sturdy leather and thick-spun wool cloth.

His armor runs across his skin in thin rivulets, pools beneath him in a sparkling mass of false protection. He braces himself for pain, for the slime to eat away at his skin, but the thick streaks and globs running off his body feel like nothing more than a slimy caress.

(all he thinks about how it feels is that it's disgusting, that it's wrong, that it's a violation in a way that none of the beast's many crimes can match. he doesn't think about how his skin tingles beneath the slime. he doesn't think about the way his body reacts.)

It runs a claw along his wrist, opening a fresh gash alongside all those healed scars. He spits another curse at it as its head dips down, as its tongue curls around to catch every drop of blood—

“All I can taste in you is hatred, little hero.”

It's lying and he knows that it's lying and he screams his certainty at it. He was chosen! Picked by the gods, by the light, by the divine spark trailing down to meet his too-boyish frame and fill him with the strength to fight!

Its laugh sounds almost sad.

“I wouldn't lie to you, little hero. If you were full of the light I'd crack you open and slurp it out and fill you with myself. I'd send you back to your friends and your cities and your temples to taint their pools and poison their incense and gobble up all their power.”

It's so matter-of-fact. He can't help but remember all those childhood stories of broken champions, all those rumors that sprung up every time a hero was out in the ruins for too long—

(but he can't believe it. without the light, without being chosen, he would be nothing.)

But …

He's so good at not thinking things, and not thinking is such a fragile wall to build: he does not understand how to meet doubt with certainty, only how to shove that doubt so deep that he never knows it's there.

But if it is right, he thinks, what then?

Above him, still pinning him with its claws around his throat and its knees against his arms and its thick tentacles wrapped around his legs, the beast watches emotions flit across his face. It always loves this part, loves watching and feeling his body shift beneath it and all those little twitches that it's sure he doesn't even notice.

Thought the chorus of voices that make its mind are full of satisfaction, full of the reflected light of its new toy's mind struggling to make sense of its thoughts, one doubt echoes up—

What has happened in the light, the beast thinks, if this is the only hero they can make?

Its mane of tentacles twitches, eyes dilating and squishy lenses shifting modes, scenting the air and tasting the ambient magic; for a moment it considers whether this could be an ambush, a trap, a trick that the light never seemed able to pull—

But there's nothing.

Just an abandoned courtyard, just the falling spires that dot the ruins, just the moon squinting down at it from far above.

Beneath it the hero struggles, thrashes, screams incoherently; their mind burns with doubt and betrayal and the weight of all the thoughts forcing their way through that tiny crack, the voice in the back of their head screaming, the twisted ball of hatred that gobbled up the light their gods poured into them and cloaked itself in the illusion of its corpse—

Beneath it the former hero is sobbing.

The beast relaxes its hold on them, shifts its weight ever so slightly; not enough to let them free. Just enough to enable a last heroic struggle if this is a ruse, if their hatred turns upon it. It gives them a chance to die.

They don't even notice.

Its claws fade away as it slips its hand beneath their neck, tentacles shifting from restraints to supports, and when the once-hero finally blinks the tears from their eyes they find themself nestled against the beast's soft chest, its skin wet with their tears and snot; they hear its heartbeat, and a gentle humming rumbling through it as it sings something very like a lullaby.

For a moment they think they should be embarrassed, should be struggling, should be trying to get away. They think that they don't deserve this affection from an enemy that they would have killed without a second thought, that they wish it had showed them the same mercy of a quick death.

But it is so very relaxing …

And it's so much easier just to listen to the beast's gentle voice, to let its words worm their way into its head. Words can't hurt them, after all, not when they don't even understand them.

It's so much easier just to let themself fade.

They can decide what to do tomorrow.

The two of them are hanging out in an alley amidst tangled vines and crumbling walls and ancient trash almost become soil; the tiny doll leaning against a shotgun twice her size, soaking up the heat that always seems to radiate from its long and unadorned barrel, and the full-sized doll clutching its all-too-ornamental knife in hands that might almost seem human if not for their porcelain perfection, if not for those brilliant fingernails being so obviously painted just beneath the surface.

It's not supposed to have weapons, you see, and a doll's body can be a weapon in so many ways that must be stripped away as its mind is carefully filed down, as every thought of even the most passive resistance is shorn away.

The dollmaker's art is not a kind thing.

And yet, and yet—it clutches its knife, the knife it should be no more able to hold than a turtle can decide to fly, and it haltingly asks its friend if, “um, could this one inquire about how you can, um,” it gestures at the gun, “use that?”

She doesn't glance up at her gun, just lazily stretches back to run a hand up its barrel, past the chamber and trigger and up onto the its stock's sunny blood-rich wood. Her hand lingers there, as it always does, feeling her weapon's heartbeat; she wonders, as she always does, whether it's just a reflection of her own or if hers is merely a reflection of it.

“Hmm,” she says after a time, “I'm not sure if I can answer that. Not in any way you'd want me to, anyway. I just do, same as I'd pour tea or take a step or punch a wall.”

“But, um. You weren't made to use it, were you?”

“Ha! No, I'm no combat doll.”

“So …”

The little doll shrugs. “How'd you get that knife?”

“This one just, uh,” its fingers clench and unclench around the hilt, struggling against the urge to send it clattering away down the alley, “I just took it.”

“Exactly! And that's halfway to using it. Just, like,” she inexpertly mimes a stabbing motion, “use it. Practice.”

“… um. You're right, this one doesn't like that answer.” It blushes, looks down at its feet. “It's sorry, it shouldn't have said that.”

“Nah, it's fine. The day's too nice to care about stuff like that.”

They pause for a time, enjoying the slowly lengthening shadows cluttering the alley, enjoying the warm breeze and all the scents it brings; the larger doll carefully cuts a flower from a vine and nibbles on its petals, and the smaller one takes a long sip from a flask of an astringent liquid which she always insists is tea and which always sends strange new colors fluttering across her rosy cheeks and carved skin.

“… hey,” the small one says, “want to go have some fun? Maybe get some practice in?”

“This one would like that,” the large one replies.

“Great! Give me a hand with my gun, it's a bit …”

It takes them a while to get out of the alley, the little doll too small to easily surmount obstacles and the big one scared of hurting any of the plants, but they manage it before the shadows grow much longer.

Not long after that screams and gunshots begin to echo through the street, mixed with stuttered apologies and the tiny doll's horrible laughter; such mischief those two get up to! Such horrible pranks! Nothing that a proper doll would ever want to do—

Or at least not that a proper doll would ever indulge in—

Or at least not without permission.

content warning: smut, blood

“Please, mistress,” she begs in a tiny trembling voice entirely unlike her usual confidence, “please give me a taste, a drop! I'm so hungry …”

She's so cute kneeling: perfectly still save for her pleading eyes and panting mouth, her fangs sliding in and out. Vampires get so cute and needy when they're not able to feed, and you've trained her so very well—she'd stay like this for weeks if you demanded it of her, and the frenzy at the end would be more than worth it …

“Really, pet? You hardly look it!”

“N-no, I am … it hurts …”

A drop of viscous venom—a potent opioid and entactogen, a drug you're well familiar with—hangs at the tip of one of her fangs; a delicious piece of evidence. She whimpers as you reach forward to wipe it off, the razor sharpness of her fang dragging against your skin.

You don't let her draw blood, of course. That would be too kind.

She squirms and pants as you lick the venom off your fingertip, as you close your eyes for a moment to enjoy the warm contentment settling over your body, to think about how good it would feel to let her feed—

She can't take her eyes off your neck, vast dilated pupils fixed on the hot blood pulsing just beneath your skin, venom dripping freely down her fully extended fangs. Little drops fall each time she pants, falling down to smear her thighs in sparkling poison.

It's all through her body, of course, seeping from her crotch and her pores, an aerosol haze brewing in her lungs. Vampires are nothing if not tools to create desire, though nowhere is it as potent as in her fangs.

She smells so fucking good …

You can't help but want to smell more, to be closer to her, so you beckon her forward, let her press against your leg, let her run her fangs along the thin scales that are all that keeps her from your veins. Her smell, her hunger, rises up to envelope you …

It always feels so good to be near her when she's like this, so good to feel her against you. It's not just the drugs; it's the chill of her skin against the heat rising through you, the way she presses herself against you, the way her eyes stare up into yours.

If you were any weaker, any less experienced, you'd already be lost.

You can feel her breath on your crotch as she begs, proximity to your blood stretching her almost to the breaking point, a nonsense stream of “please, mistress”es and “I need it”s and little mewling moans—

She knows exactly how to push your buttons.

And really, it would feel so nice to just grab her face and shove her into your crotch, to let her sink her fangs in and ride her venom to new heights of pleasure …

So you do.

Whatever restraint you once had dissolves on her tongue, melting into nothing against how fucking eager she is, against how much you need this, against the venom in her saliva and coating her tongue and slipping into your body through pinprick bites—

When you finally collapse back, when you finally let her up for air she doesn't need, her face is coated in a glossy shimmer streaked with blood; her eyes are wild, pupils blown out, burning with need.

“Mistress, please …”

Her words are half begging and half a threat.

Have you pushed her too far, this monster of yours? Has your control finally started to break?

She starts moving the instant you begin to say “yes”, and her fangs are buried deep in your thigh by the end of the word. The rest of the sentence is unnecessary, impossible—

Her fangs are dripping with so much venom, desperation driving her body into overproduction, and she pumps it all into you. You'd be light-headed just from the blood she's teasing out of your veins, just from the delirious pleasure of her lips, but this is so much more.

It's like the universe is hugging you, like she's all around you, every moan of satisfaction that slips from her eager mouth echoing up through you in a wave of impossible pleasure. Everything feels so fucking good, so right and safe and proper, so wonderful …

You're not sure which of you moans as she sucks the last bits of blood from your undying body, as she slides up to wrap herself around you; she's so warm against your chilly flesh, your blood pulsing through her as she cradles you in her arms. Being near her feels so good …

The last thing you can remember before you slip away into blessed sleep, into the closest thing to death you'll ever be allowed, is her smiling down at you and brushing a stray strand of hair out of your face.

The last thing you remember is how much you love her.

Each day you walk past the dollmaker's store, past those wide glass windows full of carefully constructed cages. They almost look like they're not cages at all, just dollhouses, but you know better: you've spent enough time watching to notice the bars.

The dolls gambol and dance, climb their furniture and nestle in little display cases almost like they weren't alive at all; sometimes you even pass by as they're having a tea party, a matched set drinking in unison.

Every few weeks one or two of the cages sit empty.

You've never met the dollmaker, only once seen its huge hands and vast mask moving inside the store. You couldn't help but quiver in fear as it peered into you, as the dolls tried to hide from its attention—

And then it looked away, plucked a doll from a cage, and was gone.

… when you pass by with friends you always talk about how you'd like to have a doll of your very own, a cute little thing to organize your desk and prepare your meals, but you know you'll never be brave enough to go inside.

You know a doll wouldn't fit into your life.

You still dream.

Today, though! There's a fresh batch of dolls in one of the cages (the big one, the one that catches the light just so and has a whole section set aside to show off the wide variety of dollteas that the store sells), and there's this one doll—

Usually they're not very curious about people walking by, not after the first few days. They get used to it.

This one, though!

She's practically pressing herself against the window, head tilted, peering out—trying to see everything that happens, every passing pedestrian.

She stares at you, and you stare at her, and she excitedly returns the small wave you give her, a wide smile breaking out across her delicately painted face; she's such a cheerful little thing! And so pretty, with a big splash of red spiraling up her chest …

You spend quite a while playing with her, as much as you can through the glass; perhaps longer than you should. But you catch your trolley without any trouble, so that's fine, and she's still there when you plod back home in the evening, still excited and watchful.

The next day she seems rather glum, a tiny bit more tired, but she perks up when she sees you. She's such a playful thing …

You miss your trolley.

And so it goes for a week.

You even start getting up a bit earlier to spend more time with the doll.

… and you do your best not to think about how she'll soon be gone.

Each day you wonder whether her cage will be empty; each day you're filled with relief when she's still there. She picks up on your worry; even without hearing your voice your body language is so clear.

The doll does her best to cheer you up, draws flowers and hearts on glass fogged by little puffs of her breath, even pantomimes dances with you across the floor of her cage. It's not enough; it's worse than if she didn't notice at all.

Then, finally, she's gone.

That last day begins like any other, flowing through the motions of your morning routine, slipping out into the chilly dawn and pausing just in front of where the doll should be waiting for you …

And the cage is empty.

And your world comes crashing down about you.

You stand there sniffling to yourself for longer than you'd like to admit, nearly as long as long as you'd usually spend with her. You weren't ready for how empty you'd feel, how lonely …

Something touches your shoulder and you scream, completely startled, caught off guard—

And when you see what it is it just makes you want to scream more, to freeze, to sink into the glass and stop existing: it's the dollmaker's wooden hand, a finger as thick as your neck resting gently on your shoulder.

It beckons you inside, and you can't help but follow.

Inside, past the caged dolls which fill the windows, the store is bright and clean and open. A wide space large enough for the dollmaker's head (a wooden thing with a mouth large enough to swallow you whole) and hands to move freely; if it has a body you can't see it.

There are tables of half-made dolls, and parts, and tools, and a window full of starry darkness, and an incongruously placed card reader just atop an ancient cash register—

And, in a display case with a little carrying handle, there's the still and unmoving doll.

The dollmaker's voice isn't deep or rumbly like you thought it would be; it's a chorus of squeaks, a high-pitched song echoing strangely out of its hardly-moving wooden lips.

“This is the one you want, yes?”

“I, uh. What?”

The dollmaker sighs. “We have seen you playing with it for weeks now, through the glass. Yes?”

“… I mean, yeah, I have, but …”

“So it is the one you want.”

“… I don't … my housemates wouldn't want a doll around, and I don't even really have space …”

It waves a hand airily. “It will find a space, and fit into your life. That is what dolls are for. Yes?”

“But …”

“If you do not want it,” says the dollmaker, fixing you with a stomach-churning glare, “you will break its heart. It will be of no use to anyone. A waste.”

“… oh.”

“So you will take it home and it will find a place in your life and a way to serve you. Yes?”

“… yes, okay.”

Afterwards, carrying the heavy display case & with your bag full of loose-leaf tea, you'll tell yourself that you only said yes to get away from it. It's a useful lie: it's a lie you'll echo when you have to explain yourself to your housemates, have to justify having this new companion around.

But both you and your doll will always know that it's a lie.

All you needed was a little push.

Note: this is a sequel to Chalk. It might make a bit more sense if you've read that :)

The teacup trembles for a moment as it tips, your hand shaking beneath the intensity of her gaze, the milky liquid inside pausing at the rim—and then it starts to pour, it spills, a cascade of still-warm tea racing down to stain her patched fabric skin.

She whimpers at the warmth, at the wet, at the rivulets running down her chest and soaking her belly in pale white, phantom geography blossoming from her curves; she squirms as it finds its way between her thighs, into carefully crafted folds and that sensitive place beneath—

But then the tea begins to make its way off her body, down onto the antique tablecloth you found together just a week before, a lucky bit of salvage that's almost the same pattern as her fabric skin, that at first you thought you'd keep handy for when she next needs repairs.

She sees your eyes watching it spill, watching it stain, watching it be ruined, and she goes as still as you've ever seen her. A shivering, cringing stillness, eagerly anticipating and fearing how you'll react—

And that's really too much.

”... red,” you say, “I'm sorry, I just can't, I just can't ...”

She blinks at you, something behind here bright button eyes shifting, coming back into alignment, bringing her back into herself—

It only takes her a moment when once you'd have held her for minutes, have had to pull that horribly dusty box out from the darkness beneath your bed, and even with tears filling your eyes you can't help but smile at that, at how far she's come, and that makes you cry more.

She wraps herself around you, warm and soft and damp from spilt tea, and you curl into her touch, nestling against her.

“Hey,” she says after a time, her soft nailless hand gently patting your head, “do you want to talk about it?”

You don't really, just want to get away, but ... well, you've been trying to get better too. “No, but ... just, I couldn't ... do you really want this? To feel like that again?”

She squeezes you tighter. “Of course I do, love. I suggested it, didn't I? I asked you to.”

“Yeah, but ...”

“You're worried about going too far?”

“Yeah. … playing with your triggers like this is a lot.”

“I know. I'm sorry for asking you to.”

You shake your head violently, faintly damp hair whipping. “No! No, don't apologize. I want to, it just … seeing you like that again, making you be like that …”

“It's a lot, right?” You nod and she grins. “But that's why I want it! It's, just … fuck, feeling like that again, but because I want to? Because I've asked for it?”

She can't help but squirm against you as she thinks about it, her thighs squeezing around you, arms tightening—but just for a moment, just before she goes still again.

“Oh, fuck, I'm sorry. This, uh. Right after you safeworded isn't really the time, is it …”

“I mean, probably? But, uh,” you pause for a second to think and dry your eyes on her neck, “it's, uh. It's nice to be reminded of how you feel about it. It's reassuring?”

“Good,” she says as she kisses your forehead. “… I'm so lucky to have you.”

You can't find the words to reply, just an incoherent noise and a squeeze so tight that you almost worry that her stitching will burst; she giggles.

“I think we're probably done for the night, though?”

You nod. “Could, uh. Could we watch something cute and cuddle?”

“Of course!”

Your last request takes a long time to come, time during which you don't let her up, don't let her move at all. It's hard to think about what you're about to ask, about that box of chalk and magic and memories, but … hard doesn't mean impossible.

“… and, uh. Next time, would you mind if I put the box somewhere nearby? Just, uh. For my own peace of mind? In case it's too much for you.”

She laughs, startled, a bit breathless from how tightly you're holding her. “Of course, if that would help! Goddess, I'm surprised to hear that you'd want it nearby, with how much you've always disliked it.”

“I don't think I disliked it, really? Just … what it symbolized. What she did to you. But … it doesn't really feel like that anymore.”

She waits for a moment, then asks “what does it feel like now, then? To you?”

“… I can't quite say, really. But, like. It's part of you. It's a way to make you feel better. And I don't … I can't hate anything that helps you.”

You feel your ribs creak as she squeezes you close, all those corded muscles inside her plush fabric showing their strength.

“Goddess, I love you so fucking much.”

“I love you too! But, uh. Let me get up?”

“Oh! Of course. I'll clean up here while you decide what to watch?”


By the time she's done cleaning you've built a nest for yourself in your bed, and are lost in Solar Crescendo's latest adventures, all your hurt and worries forgotten beneath a cascade of bright animation and cute voices.

The crack in her chest gets larger every day, skin peeling back like mud drying beneath the hot summer sun; she's splintering, breaking, the damage opening up parts of her you never knew she had—

She doesn't like when you look inside, when you dangle a webcam down through her cracks, but you can't help it. Her body is like a cathedral, a sacred grove, a many-chambered fantasy full of strange creatures and beautiful ornaments—

And the rot.

Always the rot.

It's in the walls of her chest, in the arching vines of her bones and the gentle spires which mark her spine; it's in all the things that aren't quite organs, that slowly meander through her body, that pulse in time with her breath and sing in harmony with every word she speaks.

She tells you that she's not dying, that the fetid decay choking out her thoughts and splattering about her with every agonized cough is just another form, another her; that new life, a new symphony of being, will be born from all those sticky greens and blues and blacks dripping from the sacred smoothness of her bones.

“It is not death,” she says. “I'll always be here with you, and someday you'll learn to see that.”

You can feel the truth in her words, the weight of belief and magic that makes them more true than mere reality could ever hope to be, but …

She doesn't understand.

You're not sure if you do either.

On those long sticky nights when you lie with her, when your bodies entwine as if you have never known a life without her in your arms, it's not her which fills your thoughts, not her scent that pools in your nose and whispers lust into your mind.

It's the rot.

It's the decay ruining her body.

It's that horrible smell that makes you gag and shudder and groan, that speaks to the life and love in you in a way that she never could; it's the knowledge that she's failing, the taboo you know you'll break as soon as she's gone, the stink that lingers in your nose and your thoughts just like a long-forgotten lover—

It's that sick little kernel of desire burning in your chest and your mind and between your thighs:

That longing to share her fate with the world.

116.678 wakes in the back of a van, hivedreams slowly receding as its lonelyself comes back to the surface. It hurts as it always does, but its two service dolls are fussing around it, and there's the familiar fullness of fresh tanks slotting into its back, so it's okay.

It's fine.

It hurts, but there's the warm reassurance of hivethoughts lapping at its most distant thoughts, the reassuring hum and flicker all through the wires that grow like lichen across the van's surface, the feeling of its dolls easing it back into the world.

And there's the purpose filling the depths of 116.678's mind, the reassurance of being its aloneself for a Reason. Nothing like it was before—

One of its dolls helps it to its feet as the other opens the door, and it slips out onto the street.

For a moment 116.678 is unsteady, almost falling; for a moment its dolls reach out from the van to brace it, their long power cables stretching out behind them—

And then it remembers. The knowledge flows back into its mind just like it never left, as perhaps it never did.

It twirls, spinning on the balls of its feet, feeling the weight of the full tanks on its back, feeling the way they change its movements; it's all so familiar! This is what it's For.

But it still takes a moment to let its dolls kiss its visor for good luck, to thank them. It's the little things that make the bigger ones flow smoothly, and it can't imagine waking up without them.

(Once, long ago, the hive let its drones wake up within itself, surrounded by their fellows. Once it didn't realize how distressing that would be.)

116.678 takes a moment to orient itself as its dolls slide the door closed, as the sound of a teakettle whistling filters out through a half-opened window; it looks up into the darkened sky, at the bright lights of beachfront clubs, at the bodies piled in a bar's doors—


That's why it's here.

It takes a moment to check its filters (not that it doubts its dolls! but it has to), to stretch, and then it steps over them into smoky darkness.

It's quiet inside the bar, music cut along with the lights. Exit signs shed trace light, but 116.678 is glad that it doesn't need to rely on them to see. There are more bodies, not all insensate: whatever's in the smoke has gifted its victims with lusty nightmares, priapistic delirium, a chorus of painful groans and whimpering moans. 116.678 does its best to ignore them: it's never been good with understanding stuff like that. It can't wait to be back in the hivedream, where everything makes sense, where it can feel the minds around it as easily as its own …

It checks behind the bar, finds fallen mannequins and a foam-mouthed witch: a bad reaction, it supposes. It takes a moment to hope that she'll recover before continuing on.

The booths and barstools and pooltables are much of the same, fallen bodies and lost minds. It's a disaster, truly, but far from the worst that 116.678 has seen; if it walks its purpose as well as its hive knows it will then this will all fade with little lasting harm and a minimum of necromancy. Hell, the building is still standing! That puts it far above the last time 116.678 had to wake into the world.

But there's nothing out here to interest it.

Nothing for it to make safe.

So 116.678 continues on, picking its way through sticky stains and fallen beerbottles and shattered glass, through all the detritus of a place which is suddenly Not Safe For Habitation, across bodies both spasming insensate and tragically still—

Until it finally hears a noise from the restroom, from that flippantly-labeled door buried in a back corner right by an overladen bus cart and a too-full trash can; a slight hiccuping sob echoing off ceramic bowls and tiled floors, a noise so faint that it would never have heard it if the music was still going, if people were talking, if the bar was buzzing with life—

But it does hear.

The restroom door creaks as 116.678 pushes it open; a cloud of organic toxins rolls out (its filters throw up a helpful tooltip to explain exactly what they are, but don't offer any hint about what effect direct exposure would have on 116.678's modified anatomy) and the sob silences itself, held back behind palms pressed to lips and eyes spread wide with fear—

Phlegmy mirrors hang above decaying sinks, grudgingly reflecting a row of stalls (and nothing that's not equally there outside the reflection—116.678 takes its time making sure of that). All but one are open, and behind that one thin door it can sense the faint warmth of the thing it's here to make safe.

116.678 knocks on the stall door, two quick taps echoing through the silence, reverberating off tiles and glass and porcelain for just long enough to elicit a startled gasp from inside.

It waits, but no other reply comes.

With a sigh 116.678 lowers itself to the ground across from the stall, leans its protruding tanks against the pipes curling beneath the nearest sink, stretches its legs out; a posture that couldn't be further from a threat, an angle that lets it see just far enough through the crack beneath the stall door to know that the creature inside has pulled their legs up against their chest, that they're perched in a trembling bundle atop the toilet's lidded seat. That they know it's there.

(116.678 also sees that the floor is filthy. Its shiny skin will need to be cleaned afterwards, to wash off any lingering poisons, but sitting down has definitely given its dolls quite a bit of additional work. It's sure that they'll be happy about that: they do so love to be of use.)

It waits …

… and waits …

… but not for very long.

It's barely been a minute when the door opens just a crack, just enough for a big green eye framed by mottled orange scales to peek through, to stare at 116.678. It waves, a tiny hand motion that sends the door slamming back shut as the thing inside panics, but it's a start.

“Hey,” 116.678 says. “Is your stomach okay?”

It can practically taste the confusion emanating from behind the door. “Yes?” the thing inside finally answers, “why wouldn't it be?”

“You've been in a filthy restroom stall for hours. This unit thought it would be polite to ask.”

They laugh, startled, caught off guard—it's clearly not what they were expecting. “What, no! That's not why I'm in here.”

116.678 grins to itself, insomuch as a drone can grin. “Oh! Is it because of the aerosolized neurotoxins soaking the bar?”

“… yes. What? Yes. Why are you even asking.”

“This unit supposed that making you laugh would be an easier start to the conversation we're about to have.”

“… oh.”

“Please do say if it wasn't. This unit always wants to improve.”

They sigh and crack the door open again, peering at 116.678 from their perch. “No, that … it got me out of my head for a moment. So that was nice.”

“This unit is glad. But … we should move things along. Rescue teams won't be able to come in until, well,” it waves its hand vaguely, “even with some weatherworkers around to help dissipate it.”

“Oh. I was wondering why no one had …”

116.678 shrugs. “Taking things slow is standard for stuff like this. Maybe someday it won't be.”

“But, still … they've been inhaling that stuff for, god, no, that can't be good. What if some of them are dead? What if I've killed them?!”

“That's what necromancers are for, right?”

“… but, that's still … resurrections change people.”

“Sometimes! This unit wouldn't know; its hive has better options. But it must ask, if you didn't want this to happen then why did you …?”

The creature in the stall doesn't bother to close the door as it sobs into its knees. It's answer is full of despair. “I didn't mean to! I just, there were so many people, and one of them tried talking to me, and, and …”

“You panicked?”

“… yeah.” They curl more tightly in on themself; the stall door swings open just enough to let 116.678 see their red-tipped tail wrapped around the toilet's pipe, keeping them steady as they shake. “And I'm not that good at stopping it yet. It just sort of … keeps on going.”

“And then you ran and hid in here, and it seeped out into the rest of the bar?”

“Yeah, I think, I … stuff always gets hazy around when I …”

116.678 nods, leans forward just a notch. “And you haven't been able to stop it yet?”

“… no.”

“Okay. So … oh! This unit has forgotten to introduce itself; it is 116.678, one of its hive's conversion drones. May it ask your name?”

“Oh, yeah. I'm ██████ … does it really matter?”

“This unit finds that it usually does. But that brings us to the point, ██████: you're not able to control your toxins enough to actually be in public, to be around people. Right?”

██████'s nodding is barely visible with how tightly curled their body is; 116.678's filters pop up a warning about increasing toxin levels.

“So,” it continues, “you could just not. But that would feel awful, right? Being cramped up at home all the time, not even able to go out on walks …”

“That's what I do,” ██████ softly says. “I just thought … I just thought it would be fine. Just the once. Just once in a while.”

“Oh, this unit is so sorry …”

“Yeah, well, what would you know? You've got your hive right there, right? You're never lonely. Never trapped.”

116.678 shakes its head gently, carefully considers what to say. “I do now. This unit did not always. It … there's a reason that it was woken when its hive received the request for assistance.”

██████ uncurls just enough to look at it, to try to stare past its thick latex skin, past the glossy black visor with its friendly blue accents, down into 116.678's heart—they fail, of course. It doesn't have a heart to see, not any more. But it appreciates that they're trying.

“If this unit wasn't properly contained,” 116.678 continues, “it would be just as bad as what's happened here because of you.”

“… oh.”

“So … that's why this unit is here. Its hive appreciates things like it, and things like you: things that aren't safe in their own skin.” It pauses, lets the implication simmer in ██████'s mind for a moment. “So it's here to offer you an invitation to join it, at least for long enough to get you safely back to your home and clean up this mess. Or longer, if you decide you want that.”

From there it's all just negotiation, hashing out the details of an agreement—how long ██████ will be in the hivedream before they're woken, before they get to decide whether to stay; what they're okay with happening and what they're not, which parts of them will remain untouched by the hive's honeyed thoughts.

It doesn't take as long as you might think. 116.678 is good at its job, and ██████ is desperate, hurt, eager to escape from the reality of what they've done.

Then there's the flowing latex, the tanks on 116.678's back disgorging their contents into its stingers and pumps, all those carefully engineered systems that make a field conversion possible, that tuck ██████'s mind away as they fade into the hive, as that buzzing web of thoughts and feelings and sensations opens up to them—

When 116.678 and the new drone finally pick their way out of the bar's front door there already a team of paramedics and necromancers and service dolls sorting the bodies and carrying them out of the bar, all wearing pristine hazmat suits; there's the two dolls waiting by the open van, their bellies full of tea and faces warm with the joy of another successful mission. They all carefully steady the new drone as it gets inside, as its mind settles deeper into the hive and the hive slips into its body—

And then the doors close and 116.678 finally, happily, slips back into its hive's long dreams, back into the dissolving thoughts of all the beings that have come together to become it, back into all their dreams of what the world could become—

And back into the long slow plans of how to make the hive's dreams real.