This is a sequel to An End to the Rejection and An Intruder in Our Midst. Be sure to read them first.
You get up from your bed, with Maple still very much reeling from everything you’d just done to it. Normally, you’d send the exhausted doll out for it to bring the next, but you know with the way Maple is built that it’ll be immobile still for several hours — maybe even a day given how long it’s been since you’ve done this to it. After this much time waiting, the orgasm you’d just given it must be overwhelming. You opt instead to pick it up (so easy to lift, it’s so light!) and bring it to the living room yourself. You exit the bedroom, head down the halls, and make your way to the foyer where the rest of your dolls are gathered.
The foyer’s darkness is abated only by a few small lights. A few electric candelabras line the stairs heading down into the room. On end tables next to the couches and armchairs, there are lit lamps. The lamps are lit at their dimmest setting, giving the room a relaxing, nearly sleepy feeling.
Willow is the first doll to notice your presence, turning its head to face you. Its brown hair is — with one exception you’re soon to put it through — always tied neatly into a bun. You usually find such an appearance to be unbecoming, but considering how much time it spends in the kitchen you can’t bear to adjust its behaviour to have it let down its hair more than it does. It’s wearing a white dress — the closest it needs to an apron, given its fastidious approach to its craft — cloth fibers woven into a sturdy shape. Really, one could think of it as an apron extended all the way around to become a full dress. Willow hardly needed to wear anything else. After a moment of staring into its deep brown eyes, the other dolls turn to face you as well.
Your arrival has interrupted their conversation. You make your way to an empty sofa, and carefully set down an unresponsive Maple. With the doll out of the way, your entire bare form is visible to the dolls. You observe each as they admire your appearance.
The view of their adoration is so enjoyable on its own that you decide to toy with your dolls for just a few minutes. You turn to Willow.
“I trust the earlier thefts on Maple’s part weren’t too disruptive?” you ask.
It shakes its head in small, fast motions. Willow is not normally like this, but this is not a normal evening.
“no, Miss, it’s quite alright,” it insists.
“Not a disruption, then? Are you quite sure? I’m beginning to suspect you’re saying these things just to please me.”
More head shaking.
“h—honest, Miss!” it pleads. “this one had enough material left over to squeeze in those snacks.”
“Incidentally, they were quite delicious. Excellent work, as always.”
“thank you, Miss.”
You turn your attention toward Cynthia. “Anything to report?” you ask.
“little of note,” answers Cynthia. “this one did observe the guest as they made her way back into town.”
“Then she made it safely back to her home?”
“not home, this one thinks.”
“That’s quite the assumption, my little detective. Why do you think so?”
“this one remembers that Miss insisted that people don’t live at the Factory—”
Shivers and goosebumps run up your flesh as you retch slightly at the thought. There’s only one reason why Cynthia has reported this. You turn around, and quickly dash back to your bedroom.
You can’t believe you’ve done this to her.
You grab the first articles of clothing you can find. Some panties — you don’t even have the time to look at the colour as you pull them up — reach into the closet; a peach-coloured dress. You toss it on. No time for a brassiere.
You run out, through the halls, past the living room. You shout something to them, hoping that it communicates that you expect to be back before the night is done and that they are not to follow you out into the town.
You’re at the main entrance. You crack open a chest. Sandals. Feet. Drop the chest lid. You turn your head. Black cloak. You hastily throw it in your back. Big hat… still too conspicuous. You opt not to don it.
Darkness. It’s late.
You turn your head in the direction of the town, and sprint to the edge of the hill atop which your manor lies.
In your haste, you have no time to observe the view of the mountain town with a moderate amount of activity visible as the view sort of slightly shimmers in the lights shining away from the town. You especially don’t have the time to admire the view of the sky: not a cloud in sight, stars twinkling, and the moon’s phase in a waning crescent. You would normally take a second to admire the view you’ve chosen for your home, yourself, and your dolls, but tonight is not a normal night.
You’re terrified. You thought you’d purged that emotion from yourself, but the scars of your traumas have burst; your past horrors come to light once more. You know that the creatures of the Factory can’t touch you now. They pose no threat to you or your dolls, but that is not where your concern lies. Those drones pose a threat to Vi, however. She might still be intact, which means time is of the essence.
Faced with the decision of whether to take the long way down or the short way down, you do not hesitate to leap off the cliff. You land on a small ledge on the cliffside, and allow your momentum to carry you off and further down. In your descent, you catch the side of the cliff as it begins sloping closer to the ground, finally landing on some dirt filled with pointy rocks. You get up, and continue walking toward the town.
After a few steps, you notice that your steps are uneven. You open your cloak and look down. Your right leg appears fine. Your left leg, however, seems to have an extra joint dividing your shin in two. Without so much as wincing, you emit some magic and pull it into your leg causing the shinbone to snap back into place, allowing you to resume running at full speed.
In the mean time, the fear still wells up inside you. Nothing can touch you now, and yet the terror gives you the sense of an active threat on your life.
You continue sprinting down the hill, and rejoin the road. You surmise that you saved at least 15 minutes of running by taking the quick way down. It could make all the difference. You will not leave it up to chance. You continue running down the road at a full clip. You pass warehouses, gaudy strip malls, run down houses, the occasional group of people enjoying some kind of nightlife.
You catch a glimpse of two or three of those latex-covered creatures as you rush through the town, too. Drones — the product of the Factory. Former people who’ve had their entire identities wiped away, whose entire existence is devoted to the Hive which controls their every actions. They’re like base imitations of your dolls, even if they technically precede them in history. Much less useful and much more ugly. Each one optimized for the exact same use case, instead of the variety of tasks your dolls can engage in. Their existence is so far beneath you and yours that you cannot view them as anything but mere insects. The iridescent colouring, the mindlessness, their pointless little antennae, and of course the name of the company that owns them… it all paints a picture so clear to you.
Why you ever had any interest in them, you refuse to recall.
You eventually find yourself surrounded by old, historical brick buildings. You’re in the middle of town now. It’s the closest anything else here feels to home, handmade edifices preserved and used through history. It’s one of few human behaviours you genuinely appreciate. Not far now — you keep pressing on. Your endurance is steadfast. You continue running, this time past a suburb, with the view giving way to other warehouses. You’re nearly at the Factory.
You slow your pace. Can’t look like you’re in a rush for the girl’s dear life. A few hundred more steps, and your breathing and heart rate have slowed. Nearly at normal. You see the building wall next to you. Just a few more steps, and…
You’ve stopped just outside the Factory. No need to take in its sight this time. In fact, you’ve come to see it for the pesky infesting swarm that it so clearly is. You take a few steps, and face the reception desk inside. Your head turns toward the camera at the door. This time you know exactly what they’ll throw at you. No need for a plan, not that you have the time for such a luxury. A quick moment later, the door opens, and you walk in, making your way to the counter. Thankfully you look nothing as you did last time you were here. That you’re banned won’t stop you from breaking into the place to reclaim what’s yours.
You reach the reception counter. Just like last time, it’s unmanned by one of those ants, which notices you as you approach. It stands up, and nods. Wait— that’s not how drones greet!
“good evening, Miss,” it says with a not-quite-human and not-quite-robotic voice. “these ones have been expecting you.”
Your jaw drops. “What?” you ask it.
“did you forget, Miss? you asked this one to attempt to breach their network.”
Your panic subsides for a moment. You try to giggle, but in your state you can’t quite manage.
“Tabitha…” you tell it, and it excitedly nods. “How many months did it take you to break in?”
“not more than a few days. you’d instructed this one to inform you if it found anything of interest.”
“That you never reported back…”
It nods once. “nothing, Miss. It’s exactly what you said it was.”
“Of course it is. Didn’t I specifically ask you not to follow me, my doll?”
“this one didn’t follow, Miss. it is safely in the server room and its terminal, and the other dolls are watching it.”
The hacked drone emits a few giggling noises. Your precious dolls have outdone themselves this time. You close your eyes, and sigh, but it’s not a calm sigh. The anxiety hasn’t really left your body, only having been temporarily displaced, and it has now rushed back in to colour your consciousness again.
“Where is she?” you ask the hacked drone. “Vi — the visitor I received today.”
“one moment, Miss,” it responds. “this one already started a query. it should be nearly finished.”
“What about security cameras? Do you see anything of note on the feeds?”
“this one will check. one moment— ah! the query is done. this visitor, ‘‘Vi’’, is in conversion theater number three. confirmed by camera footage.”
Your heart sinks. Is it too late? “What are they doing to her?!” you scream to your doll through the drone.
“…it looks like they’re getting ready to begin.”
It’s not too late. “We can’t let that happen,” you affirm to your doll. “Escort me there immediately. Find a way to delay or put a stop to it.”
“…uhm… okay, Miss, this one will… ah, one moment. follow the drone, Miss!”
As soon as you hear your doll say that, the hacked drone gets up, turns on its boot’s heel, and begins walking further into the Factory. You follow behind it.
“don’t alert them to the situation,” you hear the drone say as you both take a turn into another hallway. Two drones are at the other end of the hall, walking toward you in lockstep. If your doll’s warning is anything to go by, they are not aware of what is happening. Still, to be so close to them — and to approach them — does unnerve you.
If there’s one thing you know about hiveminders, it’s that any wrong move will permanently and irrevocably put you on their enemy list. They’re too small-minded for any kind of reconciliation other than total assimilation. Getting closer, their pace is unwavering. Very little room for error. Whatever they perceive of you and the hacked drone, they do not consider it anything unusual. You need to act like it. A few more steps… They’re so close. With those nearly opaque face plates, you can never tell where they’re looking. What information do their eyes gleam? What lies will they believe about you, about the doll, about what you’re here for?
The other drones, and the moment itself, pass you by without answer.
Of course, these drones would choose to believe a fiction. Their Hive is so paranoid that they would almost always rather see threats that aren’t there — and evidently miss those that are. At the end of the hall, now. Another turn.
“the theater is a few doors down, Miss,” you hear the hacked drone say. The sudden intrusion on your thoughts startles you, and you nearly leap in response. Your nerves are absolutely wracked.
“Good,” you whisper, unable to find any other words to express yourself.
A few more seconds of walking, and you arrive to a plain unmarked double door.
“this is it, Miss,” says Tabitha through the drone.
Time’s wasting. Rather than respond, you push the doors aside, swinging them wide open.
Another small hall, and another set of double doors on the other side. You keep pushing forward, past a small line bisecting the middle point of the room, reach the doors separating you from the conversion suite, and finally break through.
As you enter the room, you hear a scream. You turn to face the source of the sound — it’s Vi. She’s safe, alive, to your immense relief not covered in that terrible latex. In fact, she’s not covered at all. You surmise that she was mere moments away from being introduced to the open pod at the center of the chamber… a scant few moments later and she might’ve been in their clutches — forever.
With the rage bubbling within you, you hardly notice the beeping of the two drones also present in this room. Their alarm pulls you away from your goal, your treasure, but only for a moment. They don’t matter any more. Only her. You step toward her. She’s staring at you, unblinking.
Without a word, you take the cloak off your back, transferring it onto hers, wrapping around her torso in an offer for her to cover up. Again without a word, her hands accept the cloak, and her lip curls just a bit.
After a lengthy moment of admiration, you notice a small force tugging at your arms. You turn your head to look behind you. The two insects appear to be engaging in a pitifully pathetic attempt to drag you away. You easily tear your arms from their grasp, bringing them back to your body. You turn around, notice one of the creatures approaching you, and swat at the air in front of it. The shockwave caused by your motion causes it to stumble and fly backward, landing on the floor several feet away. Its partner scuttles toward it, helping it back on its feet. You hear a few more beeps, and both drones quickly escape the conversion theater.
You turn back to face Vi, and meet her gaze again. Still, no words. You’ll need to be the one to break this silence.
“Before I get to business, I must say something that no doll should ever need to hear from a witch,” you tell her.
Vi does a double take. “I… I’m not a doll,” she responds.
“Just earlier today, you begged to be made into one. Would you have done such a thing if you were not already in your heart, a doll?”
She averts her gaze. No response.
“Regardless, what I wanted to say is that I’m here to beg your forgiveness.”
Vi’s eyes go wide, and her jaw goes agape slightly. “Forgiveness?” she asks. “What do I need to forgive?”
“You bared your entire self to me, an action that I must imagine would’ve been terrifyingly difficult for you, and I brushed you aside like it was nothing. I was too preoccupied with what was ideal for myself that I didn’t see the opportunity laid before me. The moment I was informed that you were here, my only thoughts were of regret that I might never have that opportunity again.” You breathe in sharply. “To allow you to proceed with this would be such a waste.”
Vi’s head tilts. “What is the difference between this and what you would do?”
You scoff. “This place. This ‘‘Factory’’ is where good things go to die. It would erase everything unique about you, hollow you out into a empty husk, and use whatever was left for its own purposes. There would not meaningfully be a “you” left. But if I were to remake you — to make you mine — you would become more “you” than you’ve ever been. Gone would be all the obligations that force you to be like them. Gone would be the pretense of fitting in. Gone would be the pressures of conforming to what you aren’t.”
Her head drops. “Oh…” she mutters. “That is a big difference.”
“Indeed,” you answer. “In your pain, it must no doubt have been hard to see the difference. I’m the one who nearly inflicted this fate upon you.” You step closer to her, standing over her. “For that, I must beg your forgiveness.”
She nods profusely. “Y—yes, absolutely!” she yells. “I forgive you. Thank you.”
“No, thank you,” you insist to her. “Now, with that out of the way, let’s—”
You’re interrupted by the sound of a siren. Some kind of emergency alarm. A large SLAM is heard from outside the conversion theater. You move to investigate, pushing one of the doors open to find a large metal slab in the middle of the mini-hall separating the room from the rest of the facility.
“What is it?” yells Vi.
“They’ve sealed us in here!” you respond.
“I doubt those cockroaches are too keen to have someone like me take their property away.”
“W—what?! But I’m not—”
“You made it here, did you not? So you already signed yourself away.”
Vi takes a few steps backwards, trembling, and begins shaking her head. “N—no, no no!” she yells. “I made a mistake, didn’t I?!”
You shake your head. “That’s neither here nor there!” You approach her again. “I know how to make it so they could never take you away from yourself.”
She looks up at you. Her eyes and lips are trembling. “B—Becoming?” she mouths, barely audible over the sound of the sound of the emergency siren.
You nod. “I could do it right here,” you offer. “Right now.”
“I thought the process needed time!”
“Normally, it does, but we don’t have many options.”
Vi averts her gaze for a moment, seemingly contemplating her options, then looks back at you. “Do it,” she says.
Just as she accepts your offer, a grin breaks free from your visage, your right arm cups her head, and your magic begins seeping out of your body and into hers, which all too happily accepts the gift you offer. Her body goes limp. You quickly push against her, your body catching hers, and pin her to the wall, preventing her from falling to the ground.
Though she’s not awake to take part, you see a slight smile on her face. It’s your favourite part of the ritual, a sign that this girl will make a wonderful doll. You curse that you didn’t see this sooner, and curse the world that you can’t savour this moment as much as you usually do. The show simply must go on.
This doll-in-waiting needs materials in order to Become, and this room is all to happy to provide them. You extend your left arm behind you, as if to reach into the room, and dark streaks of your underlying form break free from the flesh of your extremities to make contact with that which you would bring closer.
One reaches a cabinet of steel and glass, its force unwelding, detaching, and reshaping the metal plates.
Another reaches for a computer in the room, no doubt a control terminal for the older pieces of equipment. In the right claws, these parts could see real productive use.
The rest goes to your main target: the conversion pod. These devices are equipped with all kinds of tools. Scalpels, saws, torches, laser emitters… They are also loaded with sensors of all kinds. Visual, temperature, even some which you can’t quite place but which you know are about to become very useful.
You feel cables and tubes feeding this awful device through the floor, and reach deeply to pry out as much material as possible, dismantling it for your own purpose.
The force you’ve unleashed begins to pull the bound materials closer to you, flying past your hand and toward the girl, each piece breaching the surface of her body like falling pebbles overcoming the surface tension of a body of water.
While the physical materials collect inside of her, with your other hand on her head you pry open the girl’s welcoming mind and take a look inside.
You see pain, rejection of who she is by those around her.
You see strong willpower, someone almost always willing to fight for their place in the world.
You see vulnerability, and the feeling of betrayal when you, too, rejected her. No more. You’ll be putting an end to that.
From the regrets of your mistake comes a will to give everything you have to ensure this process goes as well as possible.
As more and more material is collected inside her, you add your own energy into the mix. Your project heats up more and more, until she begins to glow red hot. You notice the increasing energy slightly warping the painted concrete walls around her. Still, you continue pouring more and more in. The heat is so great that she’s glowing white now. She’s nearly finished.
You let go of her and step back knowing that the materials inside her will simply fall into place exactly as they should. Your part of the work complete, you exhale, your head tilts back— what’s this? Knees crumbling… Oh. You definitely went a bit too—
You hear a faint siren from far away. Is something wrong? It’s getting louder. The world takes on a dark red glow. The source of the siren is getting closer—
You jolt awake. You’re sitting on the floor, back propped against a concrete wall. Your chest feels so heavy — or maybe that’s just how heavy it should feel, given your assets. You look down. There’s a black blanket covering your torso and legs. You recognize this blanket. It’s not a blanket at all, it’s your travel cloak. Dark. Foreboding. You’re rarely approached wearing this. One of the few objects that brings a comfort you can’t simply bring to yourself using willpower alone.
You know this room, too. It’s a concrete operating theater deep within the bowels of some anthill. For some reason, the entire room has been painted red, with the brightest spot being a light on the adjacent wall near a ceiling. You look up. The ceiling lights are dark. Ah. The facility must be on backup power. The room’s not painted. Of course. Those drones wouldn’t need such a thing.
Wait, why are you here? They made it clear that you weren’t welcome. Could they have— You raise your hands to your face. Human flesh, both ways. You look down. White dress. Still human. How abnormal.
You hear a dull thud, and from the direction of the sound you see a door pushed open by the shockwave. As the door goes to return to its neutral position, a hand catches it from outside, and the hand’s owner follows it into the room.
The exterior of this creature is made of a shiny and polished silvery metal. The metal on its head has shallow lines carved into it as if to mimic hair shaped into a pixie cut. On the creature’s limbs, the metal is engraved with ornate vine patterns. One of its hands has a bright light emitted from the tip of a finger. A flame, it looks like. Quite hot, too. Hot enough to melt metal.
This shell, as a whole, is shaped into a very distinctly feminine shape. Your gaze rises to meet the creature’s eyes, which now glow a faint blue behind glass that keeps this energy contained.
Of course, this energy is familiar to you, but you’ve never quite seen it presented like this. The distinction, then, is fitting. Ivy is quite unlike any other doll you’ve made.
You hear a voice coming from what appears to be a speaker where the doll’s mouth would be were it still a person. Faint. Quiet. Nearly but not entirely drowned out by the droning siren signalling the drones' panic. “Miss, can you hear me?” it asks. You nod. Of course you can hear it! “I’ve opened the way forward. Advise immediate escape to avoid provoking enemy cockroaches any further.”
You’re not normally one to take orders from a doll, but this is hardly an ordinary doll. “Understood,” you answer. “Let me get up…”
You lift yourself off the floor, but instead of finding yourself standing up, you’re now sideways on the floor. Oh dear. Your balance isn’t normally this bad.
“Miss, it would appear you’re too tired to get up,” the doll observes. “Please allow me to assist.”
Ivy leans forward, arms reaching out. One arm picks up your legs, the other reaching behind your back, and the doll lifts you off the floor. It nudges your head onto its shoulder, and your hands rest around your pelvis. Hardly an appropriate way for a doll to handle its witch. Hardly appropriate for a doll to handle a witch at all. Then again, with how much of your power you’ve spend today, one might say it would be hardly appropriate to call you a witch, and they would get away with it for a few weeks before you’ve rested enough to impose your revenge for such an insult.
As the doll pushes past a set of doors, you turn to look at the steel slab and find that is has one more hole than it did before, for a total of one hole. You presume that this must be the what the earlier thud was about. As you approach it, Ivy pulls you closer into its torso and carefully weaves through the path it perforated, but not without your right foot touching the still very hot metal.
“Ow…” you mutter, unable to muster the energy to protest any louder.
The doll’s head swivels to ascertain its mistake, and it turns back to look at you. “Apologies, Miss,” it says. “Should I stop and let you rest?”
You vaguely shake your head. “No… it’s a burn. I can fix those. Ivy, Keep…” You gasp. “…going.”
“Of course, Miss,” the doll answers, instinctively accepting its name as you instinctively knew what it should be.
Ivy marches forward, pushing through the next door. The long hallway of the Factory is also drenched in red light.
“When did this place lose power?” you ask.
“A few minutes after I awoke,” the doll answers. “Shortly after I received guidance on how to get you out.”
Ivy begins walking in a different direction than the one you’d entered from, further into the Factory.
“Guidance?” you ask.
“Yes, Miss. I awoke connected to the network, and sister Tabitha promptly found me. It ran a diagnostic and suggested torching my way out, then supplied an abandoned escape route. As I began carving that hole, the facility lost power.”
A smile creeps over your lips. “Network, you say…? Already my split second decisions are paying off.”
“Did you not have a plan, Miss?”
You try to laugh, but in your state it comes out more like a cough. “I didn’t need a plan today, Ivy. With as much power as I have, the world always shows a path of least resistance when I need it to. I simply sensed the world around me and found some tools I felt would be useful. Besides, you didn’t exactly give me enough time to do anything else.”
“Sorry about that again, Miss. I’m relieved you’re confident about this.”
“If I had doubts… you wouldn’t be leading me out of this cesspit. Speaking of which… I haven’t seen a single—”
“It would appear that the enemy cockroaches are terrified of me, Miss. I don’t think any one of them would want to face a kick like the one that bore the hole in the sheet that trapped us, or even the force that sent the one cockroach flying before I Became. Thank for for giving me the physical strength to do that, Miss.”
“I simply gave you the materials, Ivy. Your soul decided what to do with them.”
“I don’t remember deciding—”
“You didn’t need to consider the decision. Your being takes on a specific shape. Like with your sisters, I remember explaining this to you when we met…”
“Your dolls— my sisters— and me. You really did just give us a way to be our full selves.”
“Indeed. And it seems you kept your full self well hidden from me.”
“I’m sorry, Miss.”
“Don’t be. You’re beautiful.”
Ivy’s eyes rapidly blink for a split second. Its equivalent to fluttering eyelids, you assume. “Thank you, Miss,” it says.
You’ve reached a pair of push doors. You know these doors well. Having recuperated some of your energy, you reach out to the door bar, and push it open. Ivy walks both of you into the next room, a dingy concrete backroom with another double door with “EXIT” painted on it.
“I never imagined the Factory would have a room like this,” remarks Ivy. “What is it for?”
“You don’t want to know,” you answer. “We’re almost outside. Just through those doors.”
Ivy carries you to the other side of the room, and to another set of doors you give one a forceful push, making it give way to your will. You and the doll make it through, to find that the red light has given way to light of all colours.
The greenery around you is green, the building’s exterior a drab white, the dress you wear much more clearly a peachy colour rather than the white it appeared to be under the red emergency lights, and your new doll too gains colour under the natural light. What was under red light a silvery white exterior now sports something more of a brassy look. One without your sophistication would call it “steampunk” ignoring that the doll is very clearly not powered by such a primitive technology. Finally, the sky above you is a pretty pastel pink— it’s the early hours of a cloudless morning.
“It is quite pretty, Miss,” says Ivy.
“Indeed,” you answer. “Would you set me down? I would like to try walking again.”
“Yes, Miss,” says Ivy, as she carefully lowers your legs to the ground and lifts your torso into the air. You put a hand to the building’s exterior wall, and give yourself a moment to stabilize. “If you require assistance, it wouldn’t bother me to carry you back,” remarks Ivy.
“Enjoying your newfound strength? How does it feel?”
“…it feels right.”
“Good. No, I can carry on just fine like this,” you tell Ivy. You look it up and down, and notice that it is technically unclothed. You reach for your cloak, and again dress the doll with it as before. “I want to keep that view to myself for now.”
“Oh,” says the doll. “Thank you, Miss.”
“It’s my pleasure, doll. I would give you more to wear, but I don’t have anything else on me. Let’s head to your new home so I can give you a proper welcoming.”
“I can think of nothing I want to do more.”
You give a deep laugh. You know the doll doesn’t know what it interrupted last night, you know your other dolls are going to want their intimacy, and you know most of all that everyone is going to enjoy getting to know Ivy in a way never known before.
“I can think of a few things you’ll want to do,” you tell Ivy. “But those can wait for our return. Come along, now.”