The city is full of ruins, though few last long—waves of construction, of revitalization, flow through it like water, like the flexing of some unseen beast. The city's blood flows in cranes and trucks and trains, in the brutality of gentrification and the decay that follows.
Trash dolls and harpies run before the wave, and feral angels slide through the cracks; but witches always find a way to protect their places, all those strangely preserved houses scattered through the hills, those otherworldly relics. Even after their deaths, they remain.
Not that witches often die, of course! Or perhaps it's that they're not often known to die—a dollhouse can continue for such a long time in the absence of new instructions, and so often new witches seem to rise from within, rather than slipping in from without.
But that's not this story.
This story is about the dollhouse on the corner of Summerseat and Starview. It's an old rambling thing, all towers and windows and spreading ivy; once it was magnificent, its neighborhood's shining pride. But its witch has long since faded.
The dolls do their best, as dolls always do, but they don't really live for their house. It's not what keeps them going, and so they don't go off-script, they don't try to keep up on maintenance; they just seal off rooms and wings as the decay gets too much.
What does keep them going?
A witch fading is not the same as a witch dying. She was never killed, never shot through with possible weapons or soaked in slow poison; the moon never faded from her eyes.
Her wellspring just wound down.
It's not a common fate for witches, for wellsprings are power unending, self-sustaining, a spiral winding out into the world, but it does happen. Perhaps there was some flaw in her construction, her soul, or perhaps she simply spread herself too thin.
Yet her dolls still live for her.
A wellspring wound down is not a wellspring dead, just depleted; in the secret depths of the dollhouse, the place where no doll can see, her heart still turns upon emptiness. It is unbearably slow, but sit for long enough and you will know.
At the turn of each season, at the eight pins that hold the year in place against the void, her heart beats and she stirs.
This moment is what her dolls live for, what quickens their mainsprings and fills their Stillness with Joy; it's all they have left of her.
The weeks before each manifestation are filled with action, dolls cleaning and decorating and baking—the kitchen smolders to life, churning out food that no one will ever eat; the gardens flourish as dolls remember to water them for the first time in months.
Banners and bunting drape the house, dusty tapestries are cleaned and remade—even the broken windows are carefully repaired, hot-burning dolls filling their mouths with glassy shards and drooling out molten glass, painting over the cracks with their dainty little tongues.
And then, and then!
Their witch returns.
She walks the house in the breeze through open windows and the creaking of its bones, in the flickering of lamps and the love filling each of her dolls as they throng about her; even without her body she is there with them.
Each time she walks the house she looks kindly upon their labors, praises their efforts—each time she seems more pleased with them, with how well they have done without her. She adorns their Names with a few new words, new knowledge shivering to life in their little doll minds…
And then she fades.
As she always must.
The last of her power exhausted, the last of her existence falling quiet again.
Each time, after the joy of her presence fades, her dolls mourn; but they never doubt that she will return again at the year's next pin.
For really, how could they ever doubt her?
They love her, and they know she loves them.
She is theirs just as much as they are hers.
And so they carry on.