Time passed, and soon even the relentless monotony of the clock seemed to be but a faded shard lost in the mosaic of silent despair. What had he done?! To the best of his knowledge that poor girl, Chai, was no more. Only a lumped bundle of woven cotton remained where she had once stood, and from it no sign, no indication of life remaining could be detected. All that remained in that lonely home that summer’s night was a small lonely toy, letting his soundless sobbing pine for an echo if only to affirm its own meager existence in this tragedy.
He stared into the soaked feathers of what was supposed to be his hands. Just what sort of toy was he supposed to be? He was more chimera then doll; a monster made of mashed appendages bought from other more worthy creatures. From what robbed soul did he acquire these he wondered? The more he thought on the matter the more his mind was filled with the nuances of all the insane puzzles that had reared their ugly faces that night. He remembered his past, or what he thought it was, but how did he come to be like this? What had happened to the girl he loved? Where was he now? Who delivered him to this door? Chai mentioned they were crying, why? What is this shadow of him-self and why did it do this? Was it really operating upon his subconscious whim? What of this key? It had restored his memory and given him motion, then in the claws of the shadow it seemed to do something horrible to Chai; what sort of magical machination was it exactly?
He glanced toward the floor where it now lay, catching the silver moonlight on its polished surface. It was a cold light, Armand hated it. Almost it seemed to him that the key knew what it had done and now regarded the act with cold contempt and indifference. A heat began to fill Armand as he contemplated the mocking glare of the metal. His grief was quickly changing to anger, driving him down from his perch and to the floor rage drawing him to rid this prison of its antagonist!
Wait, what was that he felt just now as he landed upon the lumped clothing of Chai’s former self? It felt hard and hollow, something concealed beneath the fabric. Could it be? Forgetting his rage he doubled back to the wrinkled pile, pushing aside the folds in an urgent frenzy. Finally he came to it; a peach tinted lump of glossed and hardened porcelain roughly his size, and looking exactly like Chai; that is to say, Chai as a naked doll.
Wait naked?! Armand’s face turned as red as his hair as he quickly turned his gaze away. Carefully navigating his eyes in vain modesty he returned some of the clothes again over Chai’s more inappropriate regions, than satisfied that his honor as a gentleman was restored sat beside her in contemplation.
She didn’t seem to be moving or breathing, but now her fate at the hands of the malicious shadow was obvious. She, like him, was now no more than a doll. He wondered to himself if the motionless form of the girl felt as he had but moments ago, before the key restored to him memory and mobility.
Then a thought struck Armand. Perhaps the key could bring to her what it had brought to him. Again he bound towards the gleaming steel that just moments ago was the target of his ire. It felt as cold as its shimmering glare played it to be as he drew it into his grip. Returning to the girl’s side he carefully turned her onto her back, making sure to keep the particulars covered. Finding the approximate point on the back he recalled from his own experience he pressed the key firmly against the surface. Interestingly enough it sank into the back as if it had always belonged there. He hesitated a moment, mentally crossing his fingers that this would work. Then again he had nothing to lose, how could he possibly make the situation any worse for her?
Although he was certain no machinery existed in the hollow doll body, he could mark the faint sound of gears and springs torqueing as he slowly turned the key. First a finger twitched, and then suddenly it seemed an eruption sprung from the piled clothing, a geyser of energy compressed by the mysterious magic that had been worked on its victim.
“I swear Master I didn’t know nitro glycerin did that it wasn’t my fault! What, wait, where am I?”
Chai glanced around nervously, her eyes finally falling on Armand, who was vainly attempting to cover his face with a button that had snapped from her coat.
“Silly doll, what are you doing that for?” It took a moment but finally the unusual circumstances she was presently in finally dawned. First struck the realization of why he was covering his face, and with a shriek she rushed back into the protection of the overgrown outfit, frantically trying to shovel the fabric over her naked form. Then came the other realization; born from the eventual recognition of just who’s outfit she was trying to burrow into and that she was now suddenly the same height as what she only moments ago was coddling in her palm.
“This is your doing isn’t it!?” She proclaimed nearly exposing her breasts again as she violently struck out with an accusing finger at Armand. “Change me back right now!”
Armand began to pace back and forth in a nervous riot, frustrated and scared tears rolling down his cheek, and eventually the finger began to dip and the scowl from the angry clothing dweller melted as the last realization set in; that the poor mute red head was as much in the dark as she was.
A long sigh escaped her lips. “I…I’m sorry. I guess we’re just both scared.” He began to calm down, and again sat beside her looking forlorn. “It’s not your fault; it was whatever that thing was…and that key. Stupid hunk of scrap!” She quickly regretted the kick she met the scrap with, it being significantly heavier in her present form then she expected, and she bounced about nursing her toe as again the red face hid behind the button from the naked bouncing body.
It took a few moments to overcome the comical pratfall that landed the bounding girl on top of the hopelessly embarrassed boy in an agonizingly clichéd scene, but finally she was again submerged in the protection of the massive fabric cocoon and he was nervously twirling his fingers while trying to conceal the awkward blush still painting his face. This awkward silence lingered for a while, both unable to put to words their unsettled feelings and confusion wrought by their unnatural predicament.
Then came the eerie creak of an unoiled hinge as the door to the house swung open, antagonizing the ears and mind in its meticulous pace and sending the smothered Chai deeper into the recesses of her malleable fortress. Over the towering wooden bluffs of the furniture Armand could mark the grayed but trim beard of a seasoned gentleman, not yet to the twilight of his years, but it was clear in the wizened and thoughtful ridges carving his brow that he had born much toil and experience in the affairs of the world. Now his sharp gaze patrolled the landscape of the seemingly empty house.
Almost immediately his gaze was drawn to the brilliant ruby of Armand’s crown, as well as the chilled gleam of the metal key. A sigh seemed to pass through his lips and he calmly found a seat upon a nearby chair. He just sat there and seemed to eye Armand for a long while before finally speaking.
“I hardly think that outfit fits you any more pupil.”
Like a nervous turtle the green lumps of Chai’s hair peaked out from her sanctuary, staring at the man with the submissive gleam of a misbehaving puppy.
Again the man sighed. “Now Chai, why the long face? You don’t really think I’d discipline you for your circumstance; obviously if there was any wrong committed, you’ve already been dealt as severe a punishment as any I could manage. But you my dear, how could you have known?”
Her courage seemed to be slowly returning to her. “Known what Master?”
“Known just what was delivered in that package, am I not right?” He gestured to the torn remains of what was likely the package Armand had arrived in. “The same can be said of what was contained within it. So then, what’s this little song bird’s name hmm?”
Armand recoiled, unsure how to reply. “Armand, Master…his name is Armand. There was a note in the package.”
“Armand eh? Welcome to my home. You may call me Master Grey.” He offered the doll a gracious bow, which Armand shyly returned. “It would seem you have already met my young student, Chai, and have had the misfortune of accidentally sharing your strange condition with her. Such is the life of this trade though. Bizarre mishaps tend to be drawn to us magicians like a magnet.” He rose from his seat and began to busy himself with a kettle.
“Mind you when I say magician, I don’t mean the bloody hocus pocus showmen who play tricks on uneducated eyes; though they have their purpose. Nor do I mean the mythical sort, akin to Merlin of Arthurian lore. No, what we do is more, shall we say mechanical in nature. The right elements at work with tools and devices can render the most mundane of objects into things of power and wonder, and it is our role to study them, learn from them, and keep them from abuse. You my friend are a fantastic example. By the way, I take you for a, let’s see, Ceylon with a bit of milk?”
Armand blinked at first a bit confused, then realized that Master Grey had been preparing them some small cups and already had the water to a boil with some leaves ready to steep. He shrugged; he had never really been much of a tea drinker.
“Ah let me guess, a bit of wine would better suite your palette, eh? Armand is a French name after all.” He chuckled a bit. “Apologies dear boy…silly biases and such; but tea is what I have available at the moment. I hope you don’t mind. Right now I’d imagine anything warm and soothing would be a boon to all our nerves.”
Chai seemed to be growing impatient with the mild pleasantries her teacher was indulging, her mind more concerned with what presently ailed her. “Master, what exactly is going to happen to us?”
“Unfortunately Chai I have no idea at this moment. We will simply have to be patient and see what information we can find on the matter.” He frowned catching the pained expression sinking on her face, and kneeling down stroked her cheek gently with a finger. “My poor pupil, don’t give up hope. Remember you’re as close as a daughter to me; I won’t abandon you to a fate like this so long as I have the ability to breath and act. For now take heart in what you do have. We still have each other, we have this handsome new friend, and perhaps with that we have an opportunity to do him some good as well. We also have good hot tea, and the tea set for your own doll collection! I guess that was a good birthday gift after all!”
Chai giggled a bit and Armand felt a smile sneak onto his lips. . Perhaps things weren’t so dire after all. The older man’s very presence seemed almost a tonic to ease the pains of their status, and his good humor seemed as potent in warming the atmosphere as the steam billowing from the minute cups and boiling saucer they’d dipped their beverage from; it seemed impractical to pour it straight from the kettle on account of their size. Even when he fumbled the drink in his awkward feathers, Armand felt himself trembling in laughter rather than brooding on what their existence meant. Was that antagonizing clock even still there? He no longer could tell.
Nor did he seem to notice the ever watchful shadow looming in the branches just outside the window, silhouetted against the rising sun. Master Grey’s eye caught its ebon glare, and with a spark seemed to make it quiver on the branch. No sign of the battle of psyches was noticed by the younger pair, the malice did not seem to pass deeper into the house beyond where the Master enjoyed his tea. If the shadow hoped to strike again, it would have to wait. The Master was in his home, and trespassers were not allowed.