Silty the Sorceress and the Fairy Doll Prison
by Nicholas Duval
Driven from her homeland by her traitorous cousin, Siltinel Mournglaive, or Silty, is a girl without a country. Now stranded in the realm of Queltain, an outcast for her sorcery and a refugee by her nationality, all Silty desires is to reunite with her mother. So she wanders, armed only with her slain father's staff and her great skill with magic, searching for the Witch-Queen's Castle where her mother is in hiding.
Her only companion is Vlitz the fire Vesper, a spirit who once served her father and now bound to Silty by a curse. Together, they travel the lands of high adventure, encountering helpful allies and dangerous enemies, in search of their hidden destination.
These are the Adventures of Silty the Sorceress...
The roads of Queltain hold many amusements and attractions made to draw travelers' curiosity. Having trekked from almost one end of the island country to the other, Silty had beheld many of their colorful, flashy signs dotting the roadside, each enticing potential customers with some new exclusive wonder. For the most part, she ignored them. Such tawdry spectacles would not help her locate the Witch-Queen's Castle, and with it her mother.
But something about this latest attraction, a doll museum in Western Queltain, captured her interest. Perhaps she just needed a break from her travels, or perhaps the signage seemed of a higher quality. Whatever the reason, Silty paid the small entrance fee and now wandered through the maze of displays, enjoying the sight of the treasures within. Every glass case contained an intricately posed porcelain or china doll.
But these were no mere toys for children, more works of art. The amount of detail put into each figure was astonishing. Peering in on them, Silty admired the delicacy of their features, how their painted eyes appeared to hold a tiny glimmer of life, and the vitality of their poses. Combined with their similarly lush settings, whether a verdant flower-filled meadow or a gauzy, ethereal throne room, the displays looked like captured moments of time, forever frozen in perfect stillness.
Brushing away her curtain of shiny black hair, Silty said, "Perhaps I should give these roadside attractions more credit, Vlitz. These dolls are lovely. And getting off the road for a while is rather relaxing."
Her companion scoffed from within the bull's skull atop her staff, his home and prison. "I don't see what the appeal is Silty. Did you not have a doll as a child?" he asked in a voice that crackled like burning paper.
"As a matter of fact, I did not."
"What? What kind of girl doesn't have a doll?"
"Vlitz, my mother was an ascetic monk, my father was a warlord, and the only dolls the witches gave me were the ones they taught me to use spells on. Toys were not a part of my childhood."
The Vesper's fiery form shrank a little, embarrassed. He mumbled, "Thought it was odd is all..."
Silty rolled her eyes at her contractor's meek response as she entered the museum's grand exhibit. Housed in a room all its own, the case containing the display was as large as a fireplace, banister and all. Within lay a decadently royal scene. Lines of guardsmen flanked a mighty doll monarch, their halberds at the ready. In the center, dressed in rich white and burgundy cavalier's clothes, their sovereign held aloft a rapier in victory, as though they had just won some glorious miniature war. The figure's fair features and slight frame made it impossible for Silty to tell if it was male or female, or perhaps neither.
Raising a hand, the young sorceress idly wondered if tapping the glass might cause the dolls to all turn and look at her. Vlitz literally shook the amusing notion from her mind, shivering in his skull and spreading tremors through her staff.
"Problem, Vlitz?" she asked.
"Not quite sure," he said. "Something is sending shudders through my flames. Something in the ether. I'm sensing some kind of presence here."
"Really? How odd..."
Closing her eyes and concentrating on her breathing, Silty reached out with her own senses. She wouldn't register a disturbance in the field of raw arcane energy the same way Vlitz would as a Vesper, but she would still perceive something. A shiver went through her too. There was indeed a presence in the building. It was faint, a dim signal in the ether's vast current, but pervasive. Focusing more intently, sounds came to her ears. A few stray snatches of whisper at first, but then multiplying and intensifying, like she was standing in the middle of a crowded street and not alone in a room. So many whispers came to Silty, all muffled din and overlapping nonsense, that they began to smother her. None of the noise was clear. But a singular message soon formed, coalescing and growing louder. A legion of voices whispered in unison,
"Miss, are you okay?"
The stranger's voice and their hand on her shoulder broke Silty from her trance. She jumped back in surprise.
"Yes, I'm... fine Sir. Let my mind wander a bit too far is all."
The concerned stranger, a white-haired gentleman with round spectacles, smiled warmly and said, "I'm glad. It wouldn't do well for my business for a customer to fall ill on the premises."
"You're the proprietor then?"
"Yes indeed Miss. I'm the Shaxley in Shaxley's Fairy Doll Museum. Pleasure to make your acquaintance." He bowed to her.
"The same to you, Mr. Shaxley. Silty Mournglaive, at your service." She gave a small curtsy with the hem of her cloak. "Did you craft all these dolls yourself?"
"Oh, I'm afraid not. Such skill is beyond me. I'm but a humble collector."
"Your collection is anything but humble, sir."
"I do take immense pride in it. These displays are all my work. I want each doll to appear as perfect as they would in life. Only then can their true beauty be captured."
"Your efforts have paid off. They're magnificent. Where do you find your subjects?"
Shaxley smirked. "Oh, many places. I suppose the hunt is what I relish most. Adding more alluring specimens to my collection."
He peered in on the doll monarch, matching its gaze. A smile creased his lips but not a moment later, a coughing fit overwhelmed him.
"Mr. Shaxley!" Silty cried.
The museum proprietor threw up a hand to stop her as he fished a handkerchief out of his pocket, continuing to cough. His hacking died shortly after holding it to his mouth. As he did, Silty thought she spotted something fall from his lips. Something that normally didn't come out when someone coughed.
Before she could investigate, Vlitz said, "Silty, can we go? That feeling's getting worse."
With a skeptical glance cast at their host, she said, "Of course Vlitz. We need to be back at the inn before dark anyway. Farewell, Mr. Shaxley."
The older man waved to her as they left. "Farewell Miss Mournglaive. You're welcome back at my museum anytime." Another small wheeze hit him as they departed.
Though uncertain of what she saw, Silty couldn't help but wonder, what might make a man cough up daisies?
Dreams hold a significant value for spellcasters and other practitioners of the arcane arts. For when one dreams, one enters another realm entirely, where the metaphysical and symbolic become literal. Omens and entities come easily to an inquisitive mind in the Dreamlands, but more malicious inhabitants will take advantage of this to crossover into the mortal plane. For that reason, Silty was glad she was not a particularly active dreamer.
Aside from the occasional nightmare about her flight from her homeland of Hauntergast, Silty's sleep was most often peaceful and undisturbed. Settled into bed, her mind became a blank, black ocean of calm. She expected this to be the case when she and Vlitz turned in for the evening at the roadside inn. Her fiery companion shrank down to a candle's flicker in the skull atop her staff as he slept, his light warm but dim. Silty herself pulled her blanket tight and snuggled into her pillow, happy to sleep in an actual bed for once. Mr. Shaxley's dolls were the furthest thing from her thoughts.
But usually sleeping without dreams is not the same as always sleeping without them, and in magic when someone wants to send you a desperate message, they'll find a way to do it.
So as Silty drifted off into a restful slumber, her norm of unbroken unconsciousness did not meet her. Instead, she passed into a dream state completely unawares. Unconscious, the young sorceress found herself in her room at the inn, only outside the window was a churning galaxy and a huge golden butterfly with kaleidoscopic wings hovered before her. Like all dreams, this seemed totally normal to her.
"Hello Miss Butterfly," she said, "I have forgotten some business of ours?"
The enormous insect perched itself on the foot of her bed and glared at her, its round compound eyes morphing into green cat's eyes.
Daughter of dead kings, raised by witches, why did you ignore our pleas?
The butterfly didn't so much speak as think aloud, there being no difference in the Dream Lands.
"I'm sorry, I don't quite understand," Silty said. "What pleas?"
Her interrogator transformed, its legs and thorax becoming human limbs and torso, its body language haughty and annoyed.
You came to our prison. Our silent shouts reached your ears. Yet you did nothing! The once butterfly thought-said, crossing its arms. Must I engender your Patron and force your aid?
"Wait, prison? I haven't been to any prison!"
Silty was now dressed and sitting across from her insect interlocutor at the inn's breakfast table, though she had no memory of changing clothes or coming down here. Her conversation partner had morphed once more, becoming something close to fully human, though with pointed ears, oversized eyes, and features androgynous to a fault. No clothes had materialized around their form.
Do not play dumb, Sorceress of Hauntergast. You peeked in at us behind the glass. You spoke with our jailer. We witnessed all this.
Unsure of her breakfast companion, Silty attempted to make sense of the butterfly's words as she munched on toast that didn't exist. Not an easy task with her reason still buried beneath the cobweb of dream logic. She scrambled for any understanding, like a man trying to grab papers in a windstorm.
The scene shifted again, this time outside. The butterfly changed shape a final time, now fully humanoid, and dressed in white and burgundy cavalier's clothes with a rapier at their side. Their appearance shook Silty's memory into place.
"You're the doll monarch! The one from the museum!"
The be-winged sovereign threw their hands to the sky and thought-said, Milk and honeydew! She understands!
They grabbed Silty by the shoulders.
Our words reached you, Sorceress of Hauntergast. Now free us! My curses can only do so much.
"Curses? What kind of-"
As if to answer her question, huge daisies sprouted in the fields around the inn.
"Shaxley?" Silty said, to herself more than her host.
Reality fell apart in jigsaw pieces and the revealed monarch floated away on their butterfly wings into a curtain of falling stars.
Free us Sorceress! We've shouted our pleas to so many, but only you have heard them. Please free us!
"Wait, I still don't understand..."
Silty's own plea tripped on her lips as her visitor faded out of existence.
"... What you mean by free you."
With her interlocutor's exit, a kind of sludgy gravity took hold of the young sorceress. She fell, the way one falls underwater, out of the Dream Lands and back to consciousness. In the last of her drowsiness, she thought she felt herself hit the pillow.
Blinking awake, Silty found herself back in her room at the inn. The sun was only beginning to peek over the horizon. Vlitz was still sound asleep
She put a hand to her chest, as though checking her own solidity, and thought, it was a dream.
Now many people, even many spellcasters, would be quick to dismiss such a fanciful dream. The after-effect of something they ate, or a result of too much sugar. But dreams were rare for Silty and her witch teachers had taught her to never ignore them when they came. Their very rarity meant they held important meaning. And though her exit left the details fuzzy, the meaning of this one remained clear.
Vlitz let out a yawn and stretched his flaming form.
"Morning Silty. Sleep well?"
"I slept... interesting."
"... Alright. Are we getting back on the road again today?"
"No Vlitz. We're going back to the doll museum. There's something we need to investigate."
"So in your dream, a butterfly told you the dolls were all prisoners."
"Well, not in so many words Vlitz. And it wasn't a butterfly. It was the doll monarch. I only interpreted them as a butterfly."
"But they still want us to free the dolls?"
Silty groaned. "I don't quite understand it either. All I know is something weird is going on at Shaxley's museum. You said yourself you got a funny feeling in there. All we're doing is getting to the bottom of things."
"Whatever you say."
Staff in hand, Silty stepped over the threshold of the museum's entrance. A shiver ran down her spine. With Mr. Shaxley nowhere in sight, she held up her talisman.
"You're more attuned to the ether than I am, Vlitz. Feel anything?"
The Fire Vesper gave an annoyed sigh. As her contractor, he had no choice but to go along with this mad scheme. "No Silty, I don't feel any- wait a minute."
Jutting out of the skull he called home, the tips of Vlitz's flames all flickered in the same direction. "I am picking up something," he said, mildly surprised. "Almost like... screaming. Head to your left."
Letting him direct their path, Silty wound through the maze of glass boxes and polished displays.
Vlitz pointed down at an unassuming case, no different from the surrounding dozens. Inside stood a jaunty woodsman, casually resting on his ax handle and wiping his brow.
"What do you sense?"
"This doll... He's yelling at us to let him out. He can tell we're here. Gods Silty, I think that dream butterfly might have been on to something!"
"Open the case, Vlitz. Maybe we can get a better idea of what's going on here."
Reaching out a tendril, the fire Vesper traced a circle on the glass case's face. The heat of his flames began melting a hole along his path.
"Miss Mournglaive, is that you?"
Silty gasped, turning her head to see Shaxley coming down the line of displays toward them. She motioned for Vlitz to work faster.
"So kind of you to visit my collection again so soon. Though there aren't any new exhibits for you to..." he paused when he spotted Vlitz. "What are you doing!?"
Raising a hand, Silty sent arcane emerald sparks crackling along her fingers. She had no intention of casting a spell on the man, but hoped the gesture would cow him for now.
"Mr. Shaxley! This will sound ridiculous, but I've reason to believe something is amiss with your dolls. A strange disturbance in the ether pervades this building."
The older man's expression changed, the way a criminal's would when presented with damning evidence. "How am I supposed to accept anything you say? I'm no spellcaster, I can't prove your assertion. I want you out now! Get away from my collec-" A sudden cough cut off his threat. He reeled back, trying to contain it, but a harder one came and a flurry of daisies burst from his mouth. The two locked gazes, neither blinking. More flowers fell to the floor.
Snatching one up, Silty looked at the daisy, then back to Shaxley.
"They did curse you," she said, "What have you done Mr. Shaxley? What are these dolls?"
"Silty, The case is open!" said Vlitz.
Shaxley cried, "Don't touch that!"
Ignoring him, the young sorceress yanked the toy woodsman out through the melted hole. The jaunty little chap flopped in her grip as she held him over her head. Freed from its prison, the doll's pleas became audible.
Free me! He's the one who trapped me. Free me!
Shaxley regained his footing. His eyes turned into those of a cornered animal, desperation clear on his face. Before he could make a move, Silty threw the doll on the hard wood floor.
The tiny woodsman shattered on impact. Small porcelain shards slid and skipped across the ground. His colorful storybook outfit lay in tatters. But his voice didn't make a sound. For a moment, Silty worried she'd killed the poor thing.
"What have you done?" Shaxley bellowed.
"I'm sorry. I thought..."
Vlitz shouted, "Silty, look!"
At her feet, dots of light floated up from the pieces of the broken doll. The soft amber points swirled together and collected into a glowing humanoid form. Its features soon became clear and revealed the face of the woodsman, truly alive. Gossamer insect wings protruded from his back.
Neither Silty nor Shaxley moved. The former woodsman hovered up to Silty's face and thought-said to her, Thank you, Sorceress of Hauntergast.
"You're a Vesper, a fairy!" she said dumbstruck.
He bowed in the air. Indeed, I am one of your mischievous neighbors. You've done me a great service freeing me from this monster's prison. But my fellows are still trapped!
"These dolls are all fairies?" Silty turned her gaze back to Shaxley, her full ire blazing within it. The doll collector's head sank, shame-filled. "How dare you? What gives you the right to capture Fairy Vespers, the very spirits of magic themselves? You, who are no kind of spellcaster at all!"
Shaxley adjusted his spectacles and took something from his pocket, a single white glove. Pulling it on his right hand, he said, "You're correct Ms. Mournglaive. I'm no spellcaster. Only a man who appreciates beauty, and these fairies' was being wasted out in the wilderness. But just because I'm not a spellcaster, doesn't mean I'm not familiar with any."
He lunged forward, gloved hand extended. Silty sprang back to avoid his touch and knocked his arm away with her staff. He yelped in pain from the blow. She recognized the petrifying glyph stitched on his glove's palm. Whatever that arcane sigil touched turned to stone. That explained how he captured these fairies.
Wasting no time, Silty dashed down the alley of glass cases to put distance between herself and the mad collector.
"Do you have a plan?" Vlitz asked her.
"Something resembling one."
She hid behind an open doorway and glanced back. The fairy she freed had zoomed off, but Shaxley was still stalking the aisles, hunting her.
"It's quite a shame Ms. Mournglaive. I liked you, but you're a bit too big to fit in my museum. I suppose I'll find you a place out in the garden instead. Can't have you telling the Magician's Guild about my little indiscretion."
"Shaxley, when I'm done, an unlicensed use of magic is going to be the least of your problems!" She shouted back before darting into the next room. The jailer of fairies raced after her.
The young sorceress led Shaxley on a merry chase through his own museum, dodging the swipes of his enchanted glove whenever he got close. Along the way, she smashed every display she passed. Shattered glass littered the floor in her wake and the shouts of petrified fairies filled the air with every crash. Eventually, Silty came to a stop in the room with the massive exhibit of the doll monarch, the imprisoned butterfly from her dreams. With only one way in or out, her pursuer soon followed after her, cornering her.
"I only wanted to share their beauty. Is that so wrong? Why do these fairies hoard it for spellcasters and hide it from us common folk?" Shaxley said, flexing the fingers of his gloved hand. The sigil on his palm glowed. "Looks like you won't make good on your threat."
Silty, back to the huge glass case, clutched her staff with both hands and said, "Oh I don't know about that."
Thrusting her talisman forward, she channeled all her focus into her words. Ethereal green fire blossomed at the edge of her eyes. Magic put timbre and echo into her voice as she cast her spell.
"Stone and soil, denizens of the deep places, let your drums pound! Heed your cousins’ call for aid and by your power, shake the ground! Malia Falta!"
She slammed the heel of her staff on the floor and a quake rocked the museum. Any glass not yet broken shattered and all the dolls, all the petrified fairies, tumbled from their careful poses. Their delicate bodies snapped apart, smashed to pieces. The enormous display behind her exploded, only a hasty magic shield protecting her from the shards. The doll monarch and their guards toppled over, their china forms ruined.
After the tremors faded, Shaxley stood shakily. He attempted to snap out a retort, but another bout of coughing overtook him. Daisies dropped from his mouth with every hack. The fit only grew stronger and more flowers swelled up through his windpipe. Silty stepped toward him.
"I lied about turning you into the Magician's Guild. That's not how this works. Your crimes were against these Fairy Vespers, not your fellow man. Therefore, they will exact justice upon you. And they are cruel to humans who cross them."
The mad collector's pupils shrank to pinpoints as her meaning became clear. The room soon filled with hundreds of tiny globes of light, all swirling around them like a hurricane. Glowing figures of small humanoids began to form, a fairy mob, all gazing upon him with anger, scorn, and hatred. Their soft, elegant features twisted into snarls as they bared small needle fangs and hissed.
Last to reform was the fairy monarch themselves. The androgynous figure hovered right in front of Shaxley's face as he tried to contain the daisies filling his throat. The sovereign did not snarl, merely glared with pure malice, their butterfly wings pulsing blood-red.
You appreciate beauty, do you captor? They thought-said to Shaxley, So do we. You wish to share beauty with the world? That can be arranged.
Shaxley's coughing grew worse, enough that he could no longer contain it. Flowers spilled out from between his lips. Hunching over from suffocation, the fairies' jailer gave a muffled gasp as he watched his legs fuse together, transforming into thick tree roots. Terror filled his eyes as he flailed against his skin turning to bark, trying to fight against his punishment as it traveled up his torso. Leaves sprouted from his up thrown arms and a scream got trapped in his throat as wood sealed it up. The last of his human features vanished as the tree took on the girth of many years. All that remained of the former museum proprietor was his enchanted glove, dangling off one of his branches. The monarch nodded in satisfaction. To them, justice had been done.
"A bit harsh, don't you think?" Silty whispered to Vlitz.
"You left his fate to the fairies. The justice of humans and the justice of Vespers do not often overlap. Magical beings are more... capricious in their punishments."
The androgynous sovereign flew over to mistress and contractor, their butterfly wings now returned to a kaleidoscopic rainbow.
I thank you for coming to our aid, Sorceress of Hauntergast. My people are now in your debt. A rare occurrence, even for a spellcaster. If you are ever in need, do not hesitate to call us.
Silty curtsied with the edges of her cloak and said, "Think nothing of it, your majesty."
May the gods bless your journey, They thought-said to her and bowed.
As the freed fairies went about destroying the museum down to its foundations, Silty spared one last glance at the tree that was once Shaxley and carefully plucked the glove of its branch.
"We best turn this into the Magician's Guild before someone else gets a hold of it," she said.
"Good idea," Vlitz concurred. "Back to the road then?"
"Yes Vlitz. Though I don't think we'll be stopping at any more attractions."