“Come play with us, Jade.”
—The Wedding Cake House dolls
Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM
GM: Celia has some time before dawn to arrive at the Wedding Cake House. The text is from Dani, asking when she’s going to be back. She’s getting “a little stir crazy here.”
Celia: The meeting hadn’t gone as expected. She should have waited for another time, perhaps, to tell them about Hurst. After flipping Roderick. It could have been a night of celebrations rather than… that.
Celia fires off a text to Dani that she’s collecting her things tonight and will be back shortly to drop them off. She asks if there’s anything in particular the girl wants from her house.
GM: Dani replies, My laptop, textsbooks, some of my clothes and shoes, and my notebooks would be great!
Celia: Celia assures Dani that she will.
Then, smile in place, Jade slips into another mask.
GM: It’s a moderate drive to reach Elyse’s haven. She’s greeted at the door by Key. Honey and Butterfly are long since graduated (last Jade heard, Gabrielle was doing quite well), but there are new dolls in the house. There are always new dolls in the house. Key shows Jade to a sitting room, where Elyse is standing beside two dolls. The first must be of the second order, judging by its happy expression. The second doll must be of the first order, judging by its tears and the fact that it is writing onto a chalkboard,
Its name is Pink. Its name is Pink. Its name is Pink.
True to its name, the doll is dressed from head to toe in pink, including a pink bonnet to frame its long blonde curls.
Elyse turns to Jade as Key shows her in.
“Lucy has had much to say to me, Miss Jade. She says you are pregnant.”
The word almost makes her choke, but Jade maintains her composure.
GM: “Pregnant with new siblings for her that we might deliver into the world.”
“She says also that her first mother weighs heavily upon your mind.”
Celia: She nods at the clarification, and then again at the second statement. Her eyes travel to the new doll, Pink.
“Yes to both, Lady Elyse.” How had Lucy known? She’d been with Elyse the whole time. The bond must be strong. “I had hoped that you might assist me with shedding some light on the topic.”
GM: “Tell me how I may, Miss Jade,” says Elyse, departing the room without a backward glance for the dolls.
“Key, retrieve Lucy and bring her to the birthing room.”
“Yes, mistress,” the ghoul bows.
Celia: It’s a difficult situation, the conversation with Elyse. She doesn’t know how much to share. She doesn’t know how much she’s willing to share. But she has a big mouth, doesn’t she? So she starts at the beginning.
“When I first met Lucy,” Jade says slowly, following after her hostess, “I was reminded of someone I knew. I believe I told you at the time, Lady Elyse. It might be why I felt such a strong connection for her, and she for me. I didn’t mean to pry, but the thought wouldn’t leave me alone.”
GM: “Lucy’s first mother also bears the same surname as Flawless’ kine owner,” Elyse observes as they make their way through the house.
Celia: “Indeed. I was struck by the similarity. Diana Flores was Lucy’s mother?”
Celia: “Her mother brought her in?”
GM: “Yes. With good cause. She was a rebellious and ill-tempered creature.”
Celia: “Your treatment has worked wonders on her. I could hardly believe anyone would say that of her now.”
GM: “Thank you, Miss Jade. I have checked in on her occasionally, as I do many of my former dolls, but especially those whose creation I took greatest pride in.”
Celia: “Are you familiar at all with the details that brought her in, Lady Elyse?”
GM: “Yes, Miss Jade. I familiarize myself with the backgrounds of all of my dolls. Grace assaulted its mother with a firearm, robbed her house, and attempted to run away with a stolen car. By all accounts, a poorly-considered plan. The police easily found and apprehended Grace. Rather than pursue criminal charges, its mother delivered it into my care with the expectation that I would reform its poor character.”
“I named it Grace for how it was a ballet dancer, and for the fact that its aptitude at dance was its sole saving grace.”
Celia: Grace. The name makes sense. Diana had always been graceful. Pity about the leg.
“If I may ask one more question, Lady Elyse. Were you ever given the impression that Grace could buck its lessons for a night? Or rather, was it ever brought back in to recondition shortly following its release?”
GM: “No. It was released prematurely.”
Celia: That gets a look of surprise.
Then her brow furrows.
GM: “Grace’s mother wished to visit it. I do not permit dolls to have contact with the outside world. She made an increasing nuisance of herself. I informed her that she could have the doll released immediately, or she could wait until the work was done. She elected for an immediate release.”
“Much of Grace’s work was already finished. All that remained were several coats of polish. In truth, I released Grace early because I was curious as to what effect this would have.”
Celia: “And how have you found it?”
GM: “I would require closer observation of Grace to say for certain, but the final coats of polish appeared nonessential.”
Celia: “You don’t believe it could have had an extramarital affair of its own volition, then?”
GM: “I find that unlikely but possible, Miss Jade,” Elyse answers thoughtfully. “Dolls are trained to be loyal to their husbands. However, like any porcelain doll, they are subject to wear and tear if poorly cared for.”
Celia: How had she possibly ended up with Ron?
GM: “Dolls are trained to be quiet, but press one’s hand to a stove and it will cry out.”
“So too do I believe the capacity for infidelity exists if a doll’s husband is a poor husband.”
Celia: “But it wouldn’t be likely to happen prior to its marriage or the poor treatment from its husband if it lacked any outside persuasion or coercion.”
GM: “An extramarital affair by definition cannot happen outside of marriage, Miss Jade, unless you were referring to an unmarried romantic partner of the doll’s. I generally do not advise that dolls be placed in such relationships, however. They benefit most from a single life partner whom they know they are permanently subordinate to.”
Celia: “Yes, Lady Elyse. I was asking after both.”
“I was curious if it was something the doll would do on its own, or if being involved in a sexual relationship prior to its marriage would be something unusual for it.”
GM: “That would be atypical, Miss Jade. Dolls are unable to experience sexual pleasure.”
Celia knows her mom wasn’t subject to female genital mutilation, at least. She watched her push out Lucy.
Celia: “And they don’t have the urge to imbibe alcohol?”
GM: “Dolls are taught not to pollute their bodies with alcohol and non-medically prescribed drugs, but the conditioning is typically not as deep as their sexual conditioning. A doll fed alcohol will still become drunk.”
Celia: “Thank you, Lady Elyse.”
So Ron is a rapist. Or someone had fed her shots. Or something else had happened.
GM: “I would consider it a blemish upon my work for any doll to attempt to imbibe alcohol under its own violation. Such a doll would be in clear need of a touch-up.”
Celia: “It was a long time ago,” Jade tells her, “and I do not believe that was the case. I had simply wanted to rule it out.”
GM: “Is Grace in need of a touch-up, Miss Jade?”
Celia: “No, Lady Elyse.”
GM: “I take great pride in the work I did on Grace. I believe it to be one of my finest creations.”
“The great challenge, and my greatest work, lay in breaking it. It was a stubborn and truculent doll. It refused to respond to its name no matter how many times I made it write upon the chalkboard. Or what corporal punishments I administered. I believe it inherited these qualities from its mother, who also struck me as a strong-willed woman.”
Celia: “What broke it, in the end?”
GM: “Do you wish to see a video, Miss Jade?”
GM: Elyse leads Jade to what looks like a storage or records room on the upper floor. There are a large number of file cabinets with folders organized by name (doll names) and year. Elyse goes through them until she procures Grace’s. She removes a VHS tape from the folder.
Celia: She mentally prepares herself while Elyse gets the video ready, killing everything inside of her before it has a chance to be affected by what she’s about to see. If her feelings are a garden she rips them out, root and stem. She will never be a block of ice like her sire, but tonight at least she is has frozen everything resembling emotion.
GM: Elyse leads Jade down to a sitting room with a large TV. She tells a doll along the way to retrieve Key and to tell him where to bring Lucy. The room is filled with dolls, like every room in the house. Elyse inserts the tape into a VHS player.
Celia: “Grace named its doll Lucy,” Jade says idly as they move. “Was there a reason for that?”
GM: “Yes, Miss Jade. You will see in the video.”
Key arrives and sets down Lucy on Jade’s lap. The doll is dressed in a new, lacy blue dress. She stares up at her mother with silently knowing eyes.
Celia: “Hello, darling,” Jade says to her Lucy. “I missed you.”
GM: Lucy’s large, wide eyes rest endlessly on her mother’s.
She really does look so much like Diana.
“Grace would not break easily,” says Elyse. “I knew it would break, with time. All dolls break after sufficient time. Yet an infinitude of monkeys pounding on typewriters could also produce the works of Shakespeare after sufficient time. An artist does not rely on time alone.”
Celia: Jade inclines her head. “It takes great skill to do what you do.”
GM: Elyse hits play. The screen shows Diana in a classic ballerina costume. Pointe shoes, light pink tutu. She’s younger-looking and has longer hair, rather than the bob cut she gets once a month at Flawless. Manacles hang from her wrists, elbows, and ankles, along with a steel collar around her neck. Slender chains dangle down from the ceiling and attach to each one, like the strings on a puppet. Her face is made up with full ballet makeup. Lots of white, bright red lips, and sharp black and silver wings swooping out from her eyes.
Hate burns in Diana’s eyes. The same hate that burned in Butterfly’s, when Celia first transformed her.
Celia doesn’t think she’s ever seen a ballerina look hateful before. The look is unsettling.
Celia: She has never seen Diana look so hateful before. That is even more unsettling.
She has seen the woman’s attempt at a glare. Like an angry kitten, more adorable than it will ever be fierce. The difference is… startling.
GM: There’s nothing remotely adorable in the look on her face. It’s hate, slow-burning but furious, and renders terrible what should be beautiful.
The chains clink as they pull up and taut. Diana’s arms and legs move with them, a puppet to another’s strings.
“Grace’s passion was ballet,” says Elyse. “It had a very promising career ahead of it, potentially in the London Royal Ballet. It was necessary that Grace practice and maintain its skills.”
“But when it danced, it was free. This would not do.”
Celia: “You took dance away from it.”
Celia had always thought it was her fault that her mother didn’t dance. And perhaps if she hadn’t come along when she did Diana would have gone on to have a long career. But it hadn’t been her fault. It had never been her fault.
Her mother took her dream away when she sent her to become a doll.
And Celia can’t even hate her for it.
Jade watches the tape, transfixed.
GM: “I did more than that, Miss Jade.”
Key and another doll appear. They lift Diana’s tutu and remove her panties. She struggles against her chains and snarls a filthy name at them. The two fasten an adult diaper around her.
“There you go, baby Grace, this’ll keep it nice and clean…” murmurs the other doll.
The second order doll. It has to be.
“Fuck you,” Diana spits.
Celia: She has never heard the woman swear in her life.
GM: Only once. When she was lying broken-armed and bloody-assed over her mother’s lap in the car, after Maxen hurt her too badly to sit down.
“Okay, dolly Grace, this is gonna hurt lots, but I need you to be really brave for us, okay?” says the other doll as she takes a firm grip on Diana’s head and tilts it back. Key inserts a thin yellow tube up her nose. Diana gags, spits, and struggles as she scrunches her eyes. She makes mangled sounds half-cut off by the tube.
Key keeps going and going. The tube has to reach all the way down to Diana’s stomach. She looks sick.
Celia: “What’s in the tube?”
GM: “You will see imminently, Miss Jade,” Elyse replies. Approval is evident in the Malkavian’s china-like eyes.
Celia: Jade simply nods, her eyes on the TV.
GM: Key produces a wad of cloth and tries to insert it into Diana’s mouth. She clamps her mouth shut.
Key pinches his fingers over her nose, just like Jamal did.
Celia: If she had a stomach, she’d be sick.
GM: “Mghphm-mgph!” noises go up from Celia’s mother. She struggles against her chains, increasingly desperately. Her eyes roll up in her head as oxygen deprivation sets in.
She finally opens her mouth to take a great big gasp of air. Key shoves the cloth gag inside.
The other doll wraps a thick roll of tan masking tape around Diana’s mouth several times, keeping the gag secure. She applies some pale white makeup foundation over the tape until it matches Diana’s skin tone.
Then she draws a pair of bright red lips over the gag, set in a huge smile. It’s very realistic. The other doll is a good makeup artist.
She holds up a mirror for Diana to see her reflection.
“There we go, big smile for dolly Grace!” beams the other doll.
Diana’s eyes burn with the same hate, but now she has a huge, happy smile over her mouth. The effect looks even more discordant than before.
“The smile was not my idea,” says Elyse. “Glee showed excellent initiative.”
Celia: “It has a deft hand.”
GM: “Okay, Grace, we’re gonna be right behind the windows the whole time,” smiles Glee. “We can’t wait to see you dance!”
She and Key exit stage right from the camera. The tub going through Diana’s nostril hangs suspended with the other chains.
Then the music starts.
The chains around Diana’s limbs tug. She dances. She is truly a sight to behold on her feet. She glides and turns and spins and leaps like a hummingbird. Celia’s mom always told her that the “point” of dancing en pointe is for the dancer to look like a sylph, a fairy, unfettered by anything except her own joy for her craft. And yet, the dancer here is undeniably fettered. With every second she dances, the chains pull and clink, reminding her of her imprisonment through sound and touch alike. And sight. The room’s walls are mirrors. Diana sees herself the entire time, chained and smiling her huge painted-on smile.
But it’s the music that truly does it.
It sounds classical. It’s powerful. It’s grand. It’s riveting. It’s incredibly loud. With every booming note, the chains tug, forcing Diana to bow as the music crashes over her, making her as small as possible. There’s no soft or delicate or chiming sounds to the music. It’s hard and bass and relentless. It’s imperious and terrible, a wordless declaration as to human insignificance, but beautiful too.
Diana’s chains move as others direct. They must be puppeteered or remote-controlled from the ceiling, because sometimes she stumbles when they’re too fast, interrupting the beauty of her dance (which she watches, the whole time), subliminally driving in that she is too slow, too clumsy, not good enough, even when Celia knows her mother is. She dances, but she is not free.
The dance goes on and on and on. Elyse hits the fast forward button, but the music continues to play from the TV’s speakers. The chained dancer becomes a blur of motion as the time stamp skips ahead. One hour, two hours, three hours. Four. Five. Still she dances. Her eyes are exhausted.
The video plays faster. Six hours. Seven. Eight. Twelve.
The tube leading into Diana’s nostril darkens as substance finally passes through it.
A feeding tube.
The dance goes on. Diana eventually can’t hold it in. She soils the diaper. Her cheeks faintly flush, but she seems only half there. The terrible music endlessly crashes over her, grinding down her spirit as she endlessly dances.
The numbers in the time stamps blur past. Days pass. The chains move for her, when she can’t, dragging her along, making her that much more helpless. She is not allowed to sleep. She eats and drinks through the tube. The diaper turns increasingly brown, but no one changes it.
She’s finally permitted a break when they remove her used-up pointe shoes (Celia remembers her mother saying they’re only good for one performance, or two if you push it). Her bleeding feet are covered in sores and blisters. Elyse appears to inject Diana with a red-filled hypodermic needle, and time turns back for her feet. They’re pink again instead of black and red. Glee fixes new pointe shoes to her feet. Key slaps her every so often so she doesn’t fall asleep, and then she’s right back to dancing.
Two days pass. Three days. Four days.
The changings and injections repeat every so often. Jade knows it takes only three or four days before hallucinations start. That might explain why Diana starts screaming and thrashing with renewed vigor. But it just makes everything worse, to interrupt the dance. All she can do is keep going.
Celia can’t make out what her mother is trying to say past the gag. Her sweat-and tear-rimmed eyes are mad and delirious. The hatred once burning so hot within them is all but guttered out.
All she wants is for the dance to finally end.
Finally, mercifully, it does. The terrible music dies. The chains release. Diana hits the floor in an unceremonious heap, a puppet with its strings cut. Her diaper spills, further soiling her sweat-, blood-, and feces-stained costume. Elyse, Key, and Glee all approach. The doll removes the gag around Diana’s mouth. Key pinches her nipples so she doesn’t fall asleep.
Elyse tugs the chain attached to the collar around Diana’s neck. She tilts up the ballerina’s chin with her other hand, making eye contact.
“What is its name?” asks Elyse.
Diana’s voice is a croaked, broken, barely audible thing. Jade only hears it because Elyse turns up the volume to max.
“Its… name… is… Grace.”
Celia: It is not beauty. It is not art. It is torture. The breaking of another artist. A mockery of ballet, her chosen craft, turned into nothing but a puppet show. Endless hours of it: spinning, twisting, leaping. Her toes burn to look at it. Her nails must have fallen out. How much blood coats the inside of those shoes? She can’t begin to imagine the feeling of dancing in a soiled diaper for days on end, the fabric getting heavier and heavier as her bowels release, the rash on her skin from foul moisture and semi-solids.
Chained, she is clumsy. Slow. Awkward. Robot dancer, like her daughter had once been. It hurts to watch.
And she had asked about it. Casually. Like she’d had any idea what her mother had been through.
How much love is in her heart for dance that she still does it after all this time? How much passion had she once had that Elyse had not been able to kill it, root and stem?
“You broke it.”
Her voice lacks any emotion.
GM: “Yes,” replies Elyse.
There is no emotion in the Malkavian’s voice either. Dolls don’t show feelings.
But Jade can see it in Elyse’s dolls.
Dolls show so much in their eyes.
“Grace was truly born that day.”
Celia: “Its enjoyment for dance did not die.” A question. How could Diana dance again after this?
GM: “Yes. Curious. I had expected it would not dance again without inducement.”
Celia: It’s love.
Love that monsters like them will never understand.
Her wings might be clipped, but when she dances she can still soar.
GM: “I had expected further behavior modification to be necessary. But when I offered it the opportunity to dance again, wearing but no longer guided by its chains, it said yes.”
“Grace had learned its place.”
Celia: “It doesn’t dance like that anymore. Its husband broke it further.” Jade finds Elyse with her eyes.
GM: “A pity. But no art save ours lasts forever.”
Celia: She would have lasted longer if the hacksaw had not been taken to her leg.
GM: “I feel in a nostalgic mood.” Elyse presses an intercom button. “Key. Name reminder for Grace.”
Key enters the room shortly later with a phone he hands to Elyse.
The Malkavian taps it twice. Jade hears a ring.
More than several pass before they’re answered with a groggy-sounding,
“What is its name?” asks Elyse. The Malkavian’s voice is as cold, silent, and terrible as a knife to the throat in the middle of the night.
Diana makes a sound between a gasp, a heart attack, and someone attempting to remain deathly silent.
“Its… _name is Grace.”_
Celia can all but hear the woman’s heart pounding in her chest over the phone, pumping distilled terror through her arteries.
“Grace will go back to sleep,” the Malkavian replies pleasantly. “It had a nightmare.”
“Grace will be a good doll.”
Elyse hangs up.
Celia: It’s too much.
She’d known that when she’d said yes to the tape. She should have said no.
And again when she’d heard Elyse call for the phone. She should have stopped it.
But she’d stood. And watched. And listened.
Like a child.
Like an eight year old watching her dad shake hands with the devil.
Or the fourteen year old watching her dad take the saw to her mother’s leg.
Or the nineteen-year-old, frozen forever, sitting pretty in stony silence while others berate and mock her for her artistic talent, medium, perversions, degrees.
She had never been as strong as her mother. She had never told her tormentors to fuck off. She had been bred weak. Bred by those who meant to control her. Bred to cause strife, cause heartache, cause complications.
It taught you strength.
No. It taught her to bow.
And she is fucking sick of bowing.
She has enough of herself left to set Lucy aside.
Then rage overcomes her, an explosion of snarling, snapping, biting. Claws and fangs erupt from her skin. Her nail beds split. She bleeds.
And the Beast comes tearing out.
How dare she. How dare she break her mother. How dare she take the only thing she loved, her only saving grace, and turn it into savage mockery. How dare she clip that beautiful ballerina’s wings. How dare she call her in the middle of the night to remind her of her place, a place that she never wanted, that was thrust upon her by people too ignorant to the results of those sorts of environments to give a damn about their actions.
She sees red.
And she lunges.
GM: Jade has seen Elyse’s powers of the mind. Seen her invade her doll’s heads, break them in little ways inside, break them like she broke Diana. Force them to be people they are not. Haunt them all their lives. Butterfly is an obedient mother and trophy wife now, last Jade heard.
Jade has seen what the Malkavian can do. Seen what horrors she orchestrates in her dollhouse of horrors.
Yet, when the red haze recedes, it’s Elyse’s shredded, barbie doll body that lies broken and gore-spattered on the floor. Her dress is torn off, showing her nipple-less breasts and the smooth flesh between her legs where she used to have a vagina.
Elyse may be a mistress of horrors within her dolls’ minds.
But barbies evidently can’t fight worth a damn.
Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM
Celia: Jade’s claws slowly recede. She stares down at the body. Her third time losing control this evening. A third victory for her Beast.
It rings hollow. She won this and lost a friend.
Stricken eyes search for Key among the dolls, as if she expects to simply find him there waiting.
GM: Jade does not see the ghoul.
Celia: Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
She can’t just leave Elyse here, she’s not an asshole.
GM: There is no response.
Celia: She searches for the intercom.
GM: It’s there on the wall.
Celia: She presses the button. Calls for him again.
GM: “Yes?” answers the ghoul’s voice after a few moments. He sounds positively… something. His voice is thick.
Celia: She doesn’t know what that emotion is.
“Key. I need your help. The lady interpreter needs your help.” A pause. Then, “please.”
GM: “Of… course, Miss Kalani. What can I… do for her?”
Celia: “I need someone to wake her. Her sire? The regent? Do you know who she can safely drink from? A change of clothes. I’ll get her cleaned up. She shouldn’t be seen like this.”
GM: “I do not… know, Miss Kalani. Either of them… perhaps…”
“Everything okay, Key?”
GM: “No, Miss Kalani,” Key says slowly. “No, there is nothing okay.”
Celia: Right. She’s aware.
Her eyes finally lift from Elyse’s corpse to survey the room.
GM: Many eyes stare back at her.
Celia: Her vague “call her sire and ask him to wipe Elyse’s memory” plan falls to pieces. The dolls will tell.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers to the room. “I didn’t mean to.”
She presses the intercom again.
“Bring the dress, Key.”
GM: Silence is her only answer.
Celia: Jade grinds her teeth together. She bends, lifting Elyse into her arms. She’s been to the bathroom here enough times—breaking women like her mother, turning them into dolls—and knows exactly where she’s going. It’s the same place Elyse sat for her when she ripped out all of her internal organs and smoothed over her sex and chest. Jade sets the limp body down in the tub and runs the water.
She stares at the phone in her hand. She could call her sire. It’s his territory. She’d been hoping to avoid him pretty much forever, but if he can wake Elyse…
The masked harpy is another option.
Neither of them are particularly appealing choices. Sheriff will likely keep quiet about it. Just mad at her for starting shit in his territory. Again.
Cool. What a fun night. Absolutely nothing has gone right. Even the sex with Josua is now just a quickly fading memory.
She doesn’t have time to fall apart. She needs to make a decision.
Jade takes a breath she doesn’t need. She has to fix this. She will fix this. She isn’t going to let one night ruin her entire Requiem. It’s a setback, that’s all it is. Roderick will come over to her side. Savoy will forgive her for messing up his plans. Elyse will forgive her. She’ll explain, that’s all, just explain. Tell her a secret, maybe. Grace is my mom. Grace was raped and couldn’t defend herself because of this; the fire was snuffed out of her. Grace could have gone on to have a future in ballet if her mother hadn’t forced this on her. Grace is my property, and you’re stepping on my toes. I don’t even know if she’d love me if she were to wake up from what you did to her.
She pushes the negative thoughts of a ruined Requiem from her mind, watching them swirl down the drain with the pinkish water running free from Elyse. She’ll think of something. She always does.
She’ll find Key. Find out what the problem is. Fix Elyse. Make sure she’s presentable. Deal with the anger of one of their sires. The harpy is an unknown quantity; she can’t predict how he will react to finding his childe destroyed on the floor. She doesn’t know if he knows that Jade assists Elyse with her dolls. But Donovan does. He knows Jade comes into his territory. He knows that Elyse pays the toll, that they have some sort of working relationship.
She doesn’t want to see him. She has too much going on in her head right now to want to see him. He’ll berate her for losing her cool. He’ll berate her for causing problems. He’ll demand to know what else she has done, what information she has gathered since Wednesday, and what does she tell him? He’ll look and see and she’ll never know, he’ll mind-fuck her into forgetting, and then Savoy will think she’s causing problems on purpose. She’s not supposed to have any contact with Donovan. What if he keeps her again, like last time? She’ll miss the meeting, the dinner, won’t be able to provide for Dani.
What will she say? “I lost control of my Beast.” They all have a Beast. It’s not an excuse. She should have had a better handle on it. Three times tonight it has caused problems. She killed someone. Murdered her. Like it was nothing.
Was it nothing? Is that who she has become, someone to whom murder means nothing? Will she, too, turn into someone like Veronica who slaughters thin-bloods because they try to go to a party?
Stop it. The thoughts don’t help. She forces them away again.
Jade rises. Elyse isn’t quite clean yet, but she can finish cleaning her once she calls someone. She looks around the bathroom to see if there are any dolls in this room, or if it is one of the few in the house that offer any semblance of privacy.
Then she strides from the room to find Key. She can do it without him, but if there’s another problem, something that happened while her Beast had control, then she’d prefer to fix it now.
GM: Elyse’s body is extremely light. She was already a thin, near-anorexic thing before Jade removed her nonessential organs, and Elyse had the Toreador remove as many of those as she could.
The bathroom appears to be the sole room in the house without any dolls in it. It occurs to Jade that the room’s humidity would likely be bad for any dolls kept there. Even if they had no hair or clothes, the humidity still wouldn’t play well with its composite body. The only doll that could last in a bathroom would be more statue than true doll.
They’re there, though. More of them. Right outside the door.
Jade can’t even begin to recollect how many dolls there are in the Wedding Cake House. But lying right there on the floor, seemingly dropped and abandoned, is an all-too familiar one.
Celia: “Lucy,” Jade murmurs, stooping to pick up the doll. She brushes it off, removing the wrinkles from its new dress and any dirt or lint it has accumulated in its time on the floor. “I’m sorry, darling. Sit tight. I need to fix this.”
She sets the doll down with one of its many siblings, then moves through the house to find Key.
GM: Lucy stares into Jade’s eyes as her mother picks her up. The doll fits snugly in Jade’s arms, and today she feels like a babe desperately clinging to her mother’s breast. It’s uncanny how much she looks like Diana, all the way down to the woman’s present-day bob cut. Even their expressions feel like mirrors of one another’s. Lucy just smiles a little less.
But that isn’t a coincidence. Looking into Lucy’s glassy eyes and wide black pupils, Jade can see the young, angry ballerina who was turned into a doll even as she built her own doll. Every doll has a story inside of them. Every doll has a mouth. But no doll may speak.
Lucy’s porcelain lips do not move. But Jade hears the word, heavy as porcelain, screaming with urgency:
Celia: The doll is halfway down when the word strikes her. Jade swallows. She doesn’t want to leave Elyse. What kind of a monster leaves someone behind that they’ve hurt?
But the urgency does her in. Something had been off with Key. Something had been off with the dolls. She might not speak their language as fluently as Elyse, but even she knows something is off.
“Diana?” Jade whispers down to it. Wary, she tucks the doll against her side and steals through the house.
GM: There is no response from Lucy. There are countless other dolls in the house, and their glassy eyes all bore down on Jade, the Kindred who hurt their mother. There are so many of them. Jade always took it for granted, or perhaps she did not truly realize the depth of the Malkavian’s obsession, but they are everywhere. They’re sitting on the tables. Perched from the lamps. Leaning against the walls. Hanging from the banisters. Peaking out from the chandeliers. They’re like ants. They’re everywhere. They’re fire hazard, a tripping haz—and then Jade’s falling down the stairs, each step slamming into her flank, she must have tripped over a doll, because there are dolls all over the steps, and she’s crushing them, being crushed by them, their hands catching in her hair, stabbing her sides, and the doll with the wooden hands misses her heart by inches as it penetrates her wood-vulnerable Kindred flesh like butter—
She lands at the bottom of the stairs with a crash, aching everywhere as dozens of hateful china eyes bear down on her.
She. Hurt. Mother.
Celia: It was an accident.
She was going to fix it.
But she can’t, not with them all around her. She runs, Lucy tucked against her side.
She. Hurt. Mother.
She. Hurt. Mother.
She. Hurt. MOTHER!
Celia: The hatred coming from the dolls batters against her as she runs through their tiny little bodies. She’d never been afraid of dolls. But their angry, vengeful faces stare at her, and she can’t—won’t—destroy them, too. She flees, feet moving as quickly as they can against the floor in her bid for freedom.
GM: She trips over another doll. How are they always under her feet—
come play with us jade
She scrambles to her feet, running, but there’s more, there’s so many more—
play with us jade
play with us
play with us
you’re just like us
just like us
just like us
She runs, she runs, but there’s more dolls, the living dolls, marching towards her like zombies, throwing themselves in her path with blank, glassy-eyed expressions—
you’re a doll too
who are you
who are you
one of us
one of us
play with us
one of us
play with us
one of us
play with us
one of us
Celia: No, no, nope, no, not even a little. She’s not a doll. She’s not. Maxen didn’t send her. Payton sent Diana. She did. He told her. He said he didn’t send her. Jade isn’t a doll. She’s not a doll. She’s a lick. A Kindred. A vampire. Childe of Donovan, grandchilde of Antoine Savoy, great-grandchilde of Maria Pascual. She’s a person. She was human once. She’s not now, but she used to be.
Jade. Her name is Jade.
She runs, the only doll who loves her tucked against her body, protecting it from the hateful, savage dolls in the rest of the house. It was an accident, she might scream. It was an accident. She’s sorry. She was going to fix it. She was. Dolls break sometimes. Elyse taught her how to fix them. She would have fixed Elyse.
She’s not a doll. She runs. Daddy didn’t send her to become a doll. She keeps running. She’s not a doll. She runs. She doesn’t want to play. Step by step she moves to the door. She’s Jade. Celia. She’s someone, but she’s not a doll.
She doesn’t want to play.
GM: It’s like running through quicksand. Through a jungle. Her environment fights her at every turn, and every footstep is treacherous. There are so many dolls. Dolls everywhere. They fall all around her like swarms of spiders. She can barely even see the walls and ceilings. Jade isn’t even sure where they’re coming from, there are so many, more than she ever saw—
Living dolls, unliving dolls, and half-living dolls, and Jade remembers now, how she pulled the bones out of those womens’ arms and legs and hands while Elyse watched, left them floppy useless boneless bits of flesh, cut out their tongues, plucked out their eyes and replaced them with shiny buttons—how are they even moving, without bones in their limbs, these half-human, half-dolls—
you did this to us
you did this to us
did this to us
stay with us
stay with us
one of us
one of us
“Stay with us, pretty please?” smiles Leilani.
“There’s so many dolls to play with…”
“So many dollies…”
“She understands you, Celia… all the pieces have a home here…”
Lani’s voice warbles, and it sounds like she said Jade, not Celia.
Jade. Celia. Jade. Celia.
“You don’t have to be confused anymore…”
Celia: Leilani needs to go back where she came from. She isn’t real. She’s just another mask, another lie, another part of her that Celia—Jade? Celia?—Jade ties on when she needs it.
“She’s not my mother,” Celia/Jade says to the figment of her psyche. One face of the dozens, hundreds, thousands in front of her, all around her. Each step is an effort, slogging through the sea of dolls. Her muscles don’t grow weary but she can feel them clinging to her, pulling at her, overwhelming her in their onslaught to keep her here. She’s slowing.
Her hands bat them away. She keeps Lucy next to her as if the doll will lead the way to safety, a shield against the horde. Boneless fingers reach for her, rubbery skin slipping off her frame, and she shrieks at what she has done, what she will become.
“Let go, let go, let go!”
She swims through porcelain.
“I’m not confused.”
“You’re not real.”
More faces peer down at her.
“It’s just pretend!”
It was a game. Wasn’t it?
“I can’t stay.”
“It was an accident.”
“I didn’t mean to!”
She would have fixed it.
“Let me go!”
“You’re not real.”
“You’re not real.”
“You’re not real.”
“You’re not real!”
GM: “Why are you talking to me if I’m not real?” smiles Leila. “Unless I am… or if you’re crazy… craaaazy….”
“GET IT!” screams Key, thrusting a finger out at her. “Get that doll! Runaway doll!”
“Craaaazy…” goes Leila.
Laughter spills from a million throats as the porcelain sea swallows Jade. Her free hand only just brushes the front door when scores of rubbery and porcelain ones seize her from all sides and pull her back, drowning her under the weight of their numbers.
“The mistress is avenged!”
“You’ll play with us, Jade… you’ll play with us forever, now…”
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