The internal trilling of Papilion’s chronometer let her know it was time to start her day. Time to discharge her duty. Time to leave the comfort and security of her display, regardless of however much she didn’t want to. 「Already?」 she sighed to herself in thought.
「It's… it’s fine to wait a bit, right…? A few more minutes to this one’s self won’t be the end of the world. Surely Miss will be fine that lon—」
“Papilion! Papilion!” Her waffling and fretting was curtly interrupted by a gurgling, hacking cry from the manor’s master bedroom.
「No such luck,」 she thought, resigning herself to her duty.
Winding her cogs and wheels one by one to get them back in gear after being Still for so long, Papilion got to work on getting herself ready for the day. 「Mainspring, check. Central sprockets, check. Periphe—」
“Papilion! Papilion did you hear me?!” The call came again, louder, shriller, less patient, even tugging on the very connection between Witch and doll. Papilion’s fingers flexed and tensed unnaturally at the interruption, her gears hitching, locking up, and slipping out of sync.
“Relax. Release. Rewind. Let it go,” she recited, trying to unjam both her clockwork and her irritation. It took several more such incantations before her emotions and her internals settled enough into place for her to update, 「Peripheral cabling, check.」
Her status checks complete, Papilion reached for the glass door of her display. “Just focus on getting through the day,” she said before opening the enclosure’s door, opening herself back up to the wave of rot and sickness that washed over her, an assault on her thaumatics.
Taking even that first step outside, she yearned to return to the display that protected her from the decayed magicks, but she had a Miss to serve and a Purpose to uphold. “This one can do this…” Papilion said in an attempt to gather her waning reserves.
Papilion made her way through the withered, weary halls of her Witch’s manor. Once abuzz with the constant, energized chittering of sibling dolls, familiars, and her Witch’s covenmates, the manor now lay silent and still. It was a relic of a bygone era; a mausoleum in waiting.
Her Witch cried out once again, tugging more forcefully on the connection that bound them, “Papilion, where are y—”
“Right here, Miss. This one is right here,” Papilion replied as she stepped through the doorway to the master bedroom, the source of the decay.
There lay her Witch, rooted to the same spot she’d been stuck to since the fungus that sprouted from her very pores had grown strong enough to form a mycelium. The great rot. It ate at her Witch’s magicks, using them as sustenance for its own spread and propagation.
Once an imposing figure of illimitable power and empathy, the woman that lay there now was a pale imitation of the Witch from ages and ages ago. Whether those ages had been actual or just relative, Papilion couldn’t tell any more, but she knew it would be ages yet before the end.
“Oh Papilion, you came. I called and called for you,” her Witch lamented.
“Yes Miss. This one is still here. This one is not going anywhere—”
—not like the others.
—not so lucky.
Papilion chose to leave all the ways she’d thought to end that sentence unsaid.
“This one has quite a bit to do today, Miss. What is it that you need?” Papilion asked, eager to finish her duties and escape the overwhelming aroma of rotting magicks that permeated the room and household.
“Just stay. Talk. You’re the only one who sees me any more.”
Papilion did her best to contain her grimace. It was a perfectly reasonable request, but to spend so long among the epicenter of the mold and rot, it was a cost she was not sure she could bare. Regardless, her Miss needed her. Papilion would not, could not fail her Witch. Not yet
And so they talked. And talked. And talked. Of the same dozen topics they’d been over for centuries. The chores. The new mushroom cap that was blooming in her bedroom. The chores. The pain. The chores. The feeling of impotence. The chores. The loneliness. The chores.
Over and over they went, all the while in the back of Papilion’s cognition, she yearned for the sanctity of her display. There was no decay there, eating at the magicks she needed to get through the day. It was quiet there. It was easier there. It was Still there.
Eventually it came time where if Papilion didn’t make her exit, she wouldn’t get the day’s tasks done. “Miss, if you’ll please excuse this one, she really must get started on the things we discussed,” Papilion said, turning towards the door.
The Witch grabbed for her doll’s hand, desperate for the care and love of a moment’s tender intimacy. It burned. It hurt. It seared at Papilion’s very core. The rot that flowed through the Witch’s veins craved the one magick she still possessed; that which bound her to her doll.
Alarm klaxons blared in Papilion’s cognition, urging her to disengage from her Witch’s grip and run, run back to her display. She’d be safe there. That treasured connection could survive there. But her Witch needed her. Papilion swallowed every instinct she had and held on.
“Do you still love me, doll?” her Witch asked, hope hanging on her every word.
“Yes. This one loves you still, Miss,” Papilion replied, trying against the pain of her Witch’s touch to draw on those memories of eld, to reinforce both her words and their festering connection.
For all the rot had taken though, it hadn’t taken her Witch’s ability to read her doll. “You don’t sound like it any more…”
“This one is just worn down, Miss.” Something she could say without a shred of doubt or distraction. No chance for her Witch to read too deep into her.
“Lycae said the same thing once…” A runaway sister. A twist of the knife. A truth Papilion could not deny. But there was one difference Papilion could reassure her Witch of.
“This one is not Lycae.” After all, Lycae got away.
“No. No you’re not,” her Witch answered, finally releasing the death grip she’d had on her doll’s hand. Relief washed over Papilion, though she did her best to hide it. Thankfully, her Witch seemed not to notice or, at the very least, she let it go without comment.
Papilion gave a gentle tug on the connection that tied her to her Witch, trying to assess the damage. It still held. So long as it held on, she could too. “If you need anything, Miss, this one shan’t be far.”
“Thank you, Papilion. I love you.”
It hurt to reply. It hurt because it was true, but it was not as true as it once was. It hurt because she didn’t know how much longer it would even be as true as it was in this moment. But Papilion replied all the same, “This one loves you too, Miss.”
Her duties concluded, Papilion returned to her display. Finally back where it was safe. Finally back in the one place she could find Stillness. Finally back where she could remind herself of the love she held for the Witch that was, the strength that she needed to hold on.
Just a few hours’ Stillness and she’d be able do it all again. And again. And again. As long as need be. Frayed as they were, her connection to her Witch and her dedication to her Purpose would hold with just a few hours of uninterrup—"Papilion! Come here! I need you!“