The Most Dangerous Doll
Deep within the bowels of the Academy, the wizened, old teacher asked her class of would-be hunters a seemingly simple question. "What is the most dangerous doll you can encounter when hunting a witch?"
Hands immediately shot up. After one among them was chosen, the student recited as if from text, "Combat dolls are the most dangerous semi-autonomous being a typical witch might have in their employ."
"A fine choice," the teacher replied. "Thaumogenic weapons, possible centuries of practice, and a Purpose dedicated entirely to defending and protecting their witches, a combat doll is certainly a dangerous adversary. But no. They are not the most dangerous. Anyone else?"
What hands went up next wavered in uncertainty. When called on, the student cautiously proffered, "A clockwork doll, Madame?"
"Interesting. Interesting. Clockwork is certainly something to keep an eye out for. With a level of precision the human body can never reach, they could shoot you down before you've even made eye contact with your target, but no. You're all missing something fundamental."
One hand was left, eagerly waving. The teacher cracked a small smirk, seeing that it was one of her star pupils. Without even waiting to be called on, they answered, "A doll witch!"
"Ah. Simple, yet compelling. What's more dangerous than one witch, after all, but two witches?
"Alas, no. That too is incorrect."
Awkward silence descended over the class. Students looked to one another confused. Some whispered quietly to their classmates. When it became clear that no further answers would be tempted, the teacher continued.
"Perhaps the best way to teach this lesson would be with a story; the story of a foolish, overconfident huntress too full of herself to see the danger right in front of her.
"She was gifted, there's no doubt. Of the Academy's dozens of graduates over the last century, she in particular stood out as a name that would go down in legend. On her First hunt, she even managed to take out an entire coven of witchlings."
There were a few audible gasps. The danger posed by even a single witchling was enough for the first hunt to have a double digit mortality rate. The idea of taking on an entire coven as your first outing was bold beyond reason.
"Hunt after hunt, her name grew in renown. The Witch of Yesterday. The Witch of the Unbound. The Gramercy Coven. Some of the most notorious beings of her age fell before her. That's when she made her first fatal error. Lesson number one, class – Never buy into your own legend."
Pausing to let the point sink in, she continued, "It was supposed to be a simple job. Some stitch witch too small to have even earned a title. The kind of thing that shouldn't have posed a huntress of her talent even the slightest of troubles. And to be fair, the witch didn't.
"No, she fell with nary a single curse having landed. One well placed piercer bolt and it was all over. Her shields were broken. Her Magicks were bleeding out. Her plush doll wept at her side."
"But the first rule of hunti–," one of her students blurted before he too was cut off
"You are right. That's why this is an example of what not to do. So lesson two – Always take the doll out first. No matter how small. No matter how insignificant. No matter how silly its appearance. The. Doll. Dies. First.
"But this foolish huntress dismissed the tiny being. What could a plush doll ever hope to do against a huntress of her ability, she thought. With skin of felt and eyes of button, she figured it had probably been Made with some nonsense Purpose like being a cuddle object.
"No, if the witch's abilities couldn't entertain her, then she would drink in the doll's Purposeful tears instead. Rules existed to protect those who couldn't survive their first hunt and she was no such weakling, she thought, so rules be damned.
"She watched as the doll mourned its witch. She laughed as the doll picked up one of its witch's needles. She smiled as it elongated to being nearly a rapier in the doll's hands. She cackled as the doll lunged. She cried as the doll's blade took one of her eyes.
"The doll fought with the ferocity of the very Furies themselves. It had no technique or finesse, simply the blind rage of revenge and the force of burning Purpose. It was all the huntress could do to block the diminutive doll's blows, much less counter them.
"She was pushed to the very limits of her training and talents just to survive, yet the doll pierced her defenses over and over. Shoulder. Liver. Lung. The huntress managed to keep the blows that landed only to those that would kill a normal person.
"Understand me class, by all rights that foolish huntress should have died that day. Never take what I'm about to say next as insight into what to do in this situation, because you should never find yourself in this situation.
"Nevertheless, the huntress had one last shred of shrewdness. Aiming a shot past the doll, the hunteess sought to distract her by desecrating the witch's cold corpse. Immediately, the doll broke pursuit to take the hit meant for its witch, letting the huntress escape.
"Better that the fool had died, but… perhaps it's karmic that her legend died to give birth to the doll's. She still hunts her prey to this day with not just the same fury, but all the finesse she once lacked, sating her appetites on whatever hunters end up in her way."
Whispers erupted from the class as the instructor continued, "Yes. I can see you all know her name, as well you should. Sadly, no hunter since that fool has returned after meeting Button, the Widowed Beast."
Cautiously, the instructor's star pupil raised their hand once more. "So... if you'll pardon me, Professor, what is the most dangerous type of doll? The one you leave alive...?"
"And so we come to lesson three – The most dangerous doll is not the ones Made with the greatest talent or the best materials or the grandest powers. The most dangerous doll is the one you leave without a Purpose. Class dismissed."
The teacher then turned to leave and rest, old scars aching once more.