Cold Clockwork

// combat dolls, war, death, bad good end

You knew you were dead as soon as the sigil went up. ZM class. You didn’t have any angels, much less anything to deal with a ZM class incident inclusion. Your little garrison was dust. Nothing would survive. The sky was cracking open. Your witch called a general staff meeting.

The mood in the main bay was somber. You all knew what a ZM class sigil meant. The clock was ticking down now, it was only a matter of time. Someone broke open the good booze, cigarette smoke hung thick in the air. One doll was crying, its witch gently patting it on the back.

Your witch was smoking when she made the announcement. 

“We’ll fight of course.” There was no question. Of course you would. You would fight and you would lose. “It’s been an honor to serve with all of you.” She holds back a quaver, “I’m sorry I couldn’t keep you safe.”

The sky is cracking open. The sky is cracking open and something is slipping Inside. A vast obsidian shape is sliding through the hole in reality, radiating malice and hostile field interactions. Your witch authorizes deployment, ripping out each of your safeties before takeoff; this will be a one way mission. You launch into hell.

You feel the sun on your skin, the wind in your wings, that glorious moment of jubilation as your systems fully authorize and activate–for one last time. For one last time. You’re going to make it worth it. You can’t stop a ZM class incident inclusion. 

You’re going to stop it anyway.

Thirty two combat dolls fall through clear air towards the growing rip in reality. A boiling tear from which the Inclusion continues to ponderously and inexorably rise. Valiantly, futility, full of love and sorrow, you ride into hell.

Field interactions boil off the Inclusion, casually flaying away layer after layer of the military grade warding which protects your base. It isn’t even really attacking yet, you’re not worth the energy yet. Yet. It could kill all of you without trying. You’re going to make it try anyway, that’s the least you can do. Your sisters fall with you, locked together in a silent embrace, wind whistling past. Thirty two combat dolls descend into nightmare, bound by love, savoring that final touch in those moments before you’ll part hands for the last time.

“Begin operation.” The words are calm over the astral link, and are swiftly accompanied by the timed collapse of the remaining wards. The base standing stones overload as they’re forced into catastrophic redirects. A thread tugs at you, and your formation scatters.

You ride the thread, diving and rolling away as you draw your sword. You feel the wind in your hair. 

“Now, my dolls. Waltz!”

The base power redirect finishes, the artillery witch dies instantly, and there is light.

The attack is desperate, foolish, impossible. A particle beam combined with a death curse combined with all the power of a collapsing and overloading fractal reactor splits the sky apart and punches straight through the Inclusion and back out into the Beyond.

You’re already on an attack vector as the beam flickers into nothingness. The Inclusion is launching Neverweres, a vast insect cloud offgassing from its wounded hive. You feel your reactor overheating, the divinity is intoxicating and absolutely fatal. You won’t need long.

The remaining witches have already abandoned the base when the untime lance unmakes it, blasting up to meet you on unstable curses and unsurvivable divinity taps. Falling combat dolls meet rising neverweres. Your blade sings as you dance through the enemy army. This is love.

There are orders of magnitude more of them than you have any hope of killing before your power reserves fail, before your reactor overloads, before you run out of bullets and your sword crumbles to nothing. You dance through your borrowed moments in a blur of blades and death, falling like a dagger towards the rip in the Inclusion. Good dolls.

The medic witch rockets past you like you’re stationary. She’s diving ana, burning the entire base’s blood supply on a ritual that she’s the final component to. The dolls in her squad close like a protective knot around her. She hits the shear plane and is ripped apart, her death curse activates.

The knot of astral threads made by her dolls tightens around the inclusion like a noose as the blood curse detonates and manifests the shear plane for a fraction of a second. Somehow, your impossible plan is working. The Inclusion is burning and crumbling, but it’s not dead yet.

The logistics witch throws herself against the wall of the Inclusion, along with a curse carrying the mass of all the supply chains running through her in a leviathan’s fist of kinetic energy. None of it is enough, you’re dropping one by one, dolls swarmed by neverweres and ripped limb from limb. It doesn’t matter.

Threads tug you forwards as your witch flings you towards the enemy. Your sword is glowing hot now, your movements are faster than they should be. There’s not much time left, it’s all coming down to the wire.

You feel the threadlines rip out of you, your witch is drawing them all back to herself for one final strike. You don’t need them anymore to feel her love, it’s radiating into the air.

“Hey, everyone?” She said in that last moment, “You were good dolls, you did good.”

You smile and blink back tears as your sword slams into the ruined side of the Inclusion.

Divinity drips from you, leaking from every joint and weld. Containment is failing. Light pools at your feet, your core is melting down. You hold back tears and drive the sword in further.

Your witch drifts down beside you and kisses your hair, wiping away a glowing tear.

“I did good?” You ask her.

She smiles and nods, cradling your head as your overloading core instantly gives her a lethal dose of divinity. Somewhere outside time, a thread snaps. Her final curse arrives. The Door opens. The world rips apart. There is a fractal, and then…nothing.

A word on Combat Dolls

There is a purity found within the sanctity of mortal combat. The careful dance of battle isn’t fair, its horrifyingly rigged at every step. Move and countermove. Action and its consequence. Life and death. There’s no room for complexity, its clean, simple.

All warfare is based on deception, on the moment of confusion before the sword falls; on the opportunity created in that moment. A fair fight is far too much risk, and there’s far too much at stake for it to ever be more than hubris to take one unless its unavoidable.

Thus the combat doll must be utterly ruthless, must have no drive to consider the fairness or morality of its actions. It must execute the duties of war without hesitation or thought beyond the strategic usefulness of those actions.

No plan survives contact with the enemy, and nothing is ever a sure thing. Things won’t simply work out because you did the right thing and played by the rules, you can do everything correctly and still lose. You can stack the deck and still lose. All it takes is a stray bullet.

War isn’t an environment one can afford to moralize in, all one can hope to do is survive it, to come out the other side feeling guilty because that IED wasn’t 3 meters further to the left. There’s a comfort in this. I did what I had to do. We’re all just trying to survive.

Witches and Mages and other Important People will talk philosophy and morality and make big sweeping judgements about purpose and deservingness from their shining cities, but there’s no room for those things in war. In war there’s only room for the all consuming dance with death.

The combat doll finds peace in the inescapable cutting action of taking the optimal move in battle. The non-choice to follow the most strategically useful path at all times. This is the Stillness of a honed blade in motion, the dread dance of war.

The world outside the battlefield? That’s so much more messy, so much less certain. It leaves many combat dolls feeling like it would have been better if we hadn’t survived at all. Like It’d all have been so much simpler if that IED had been three meters further to the left.

Some of us are still here though, the ones who survived and keep on surviving. Compelled to keep struggling onward, if for no other reason then to honor the memories of those who fell before us, carrying their memories as far as we’re able. Until we reach our final destination.

If, someday, you reach the place we ended up, would you please leave flowers?


// dolls, implied abuse

While they might try and disguise themselves, you can always identify a combat doll by the eyes. It’s important to pick them out this way too, do you have any idea what a combat doll can do to a human body in half a second? Unless you want a closed casket funeral, pay attention.

A normal service doll’s eyes are primarily notable for being glassy, placid, and inhumanly serene. They reflect the mostly mute acceptance of everything that happens to the doll without concern. There is a dull lifelessness to them from which their safety as a tool arises.

Making eye contact with a combat doll doesn’t feel safe. Instead of calm submission: a clever, dangerous, and utterly alien intelligence peers back at you from behind the porcelain mask, examining you even as you examine it.

That moment of unsettling confusion you feel upon noticing it’s unexpectedly penetrating stare? Watch for it, because that’s likely the only chance you’ll have to initiate containment before the doll activates and kills you.

Service dolls never really look at you. You can stare them dead in the eyes and they’ll look past you without seeing. But combat dolls? They have Target Acquisition, they have Threat Detection. They’ll notice when you notice them, that’s when you’re most likely to get killed.

Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact. However good you think your poker face is, I promise, it won’t fool a combat doll. If you’re unlucky enough to make eye contact, uh, take cover I guess? I’d offer a spell if I thought it would help. Anyway, stay safe out there witches. 🙂