In the moment, the witch allowed himself to lose himself in the bliss of the feeling. The sharp ice beneath his feet, the crisp air in his lungs, the feeling of brush on his skin.
He ran under the light of a half-lit moon, moving impossibly quick for any human. Darting through the forest, the magicks in his blood burned to their fullest potential, his mind flooded with the euphoria of the unadulterated power it gave him. A thoughtless storm of fury.
He cleared the forest line, picking up speed as he ran across the flat fields, some farms becoming visible in the distance. His hopes swelled, pushing himself harder. He could make it today. He had enough strength. He could finally outrun that wretched little doll and escape-
He felt himself tackled from the side, perceiving it slower than it actually happened. He could see that vicious grin as the doll slammed itself into him at full speed, wrapping its arms around him and forcing him onto his back. The force of the collision set off a series of wards, protecting the two as they tumbled over the ground until finally skidding to a stop on the frozen grass.
They stared at each other for a moment, a dark cloud passing over head, until the doll smiled once more.
“Caught Miss again!” It exclaimed, licking his face as its tail whipped back and forth in excitement. “Miss ran so fast, but this one is faster! Is Miss proud?”
“That’s one word for it.” He coughed up a few droplets of blood, forcing the doll off him as he sat up.
“What other words does Miss have for it? Fastest doll? Best hunter? Greatest tracker?” It snuggled next to him, continuing to lick his face. “Miss almost beat this one by being sneaky. But this one’s sneaker!”
“Did a servitor doll tell you I left?”
He really should have made those dolls more loyal… then again, given his wolf doll’s tendency to dismember any dolls that didn’t immediately respond to its demands as well, that was probably a lost cause. It wasn’t like dollflesh was particularly cheap, or readily available.
After making sure he hadn’t broken a rib, the two began their walk back, trekking back through the woods at a much more leisurely pace. By the time they’d finished crossing the many brooks and streams of the backwoods, dawn was cresting on the horizon. In another life, he would have been exhausted, staying out all night. Now, he never felt the need to sleep, his burning blood giving him all the rest he needed. Sometimes he still would, just to remember what it was like when he needed to, but that proved to be even less restful.
He walked up through the small courtyard that had been assembled for the modest cabin, a simple affair that looked like it might be lived in by a family of woodsworkers. Garden dolls were already out, tending to the rows of herbs, roots, and delicate flowers being cultivated. Inside, servitor dolls had begun the daily chores, their delicate porcelain frames making the strangest clicking sounds as they went about their duties. Some of them had new, ragged engravings on them from the night before; more dolls that his wolf doll had claimed for her own.
He left his canid companion behind as he went into his private chambers, the largest room of the house. Wide windows showed a view of the forest beyond, an oversized bed covered in furs and forgotten meals. He stared at the copper bathtub at the edge of the room, easily large enough for two, thinking if he wanted that today. He shrugged the thought off, turning instead to a full length mirror, staring at his reflection for a moment as he began to whisper the enchantment.
He stepped through the mirror, appearing on the otherside in a small apartment, not unlike what he once called his home. A small couch pushed to the corner next to a desk, a small computer thrumming quietly in its sleep mode.
He shrugged out of his clothes, dropping them on the floor as he opened a side door to the apartment’s bathroom. He messed with the shower for a few minutes, waiting for the temperature to equalize, before stepping in and putting himself under the water. He stood there, motionless, enjoying a different kind of thoughtlessness. He could still feel his blood, the ever-constant boil under his skin building stronger and stronger as he stood still, but the concentration of it was its own kind of meditation. A focus on a nearby pain.
When the boil became too much to bear, he moved, taking a bottle of scented soap as he began wrapping up his shower. It took him only a few minutes to finish, stepping out and wrapping a towel around himself as he went back to the main room, stopping to look at his reflection.
Once upon a time, he didn’t recognize himself. In some ways, he still didn’t. His first few months, after fully realizing his power, had been spent casting countless glamours on himself to change his body back to its original form. None had stuck, rebuffed by the doll’s venom.
In time, he’d devised potions that could counter some of its effects, injecting strange concoctions into his veins to mold his body to something he was happy with. It was still something far more feminine than he had anticipated, but he grew to a certain comfort with it.
He spent some time drying his hair, until growing frustrated and muttering a spell that removed its retained water onto the floor. Dropping the towel to mop it up, he reached for the dresser, pulling out some simple street clothes and slipping into them. He grabbed a pair of keys and slipped out the door, putting his hair up in a pony tail as he went down the apartment hallway and entered the fresh air of the city.
It had been too long since he felt this. Too much time spent hidden away, working on his magicks. He missed this.
He wandered the streets, taking in the scents of the street vendors, the murmur and chatter of the crowds. Even in simple clothes, people gave him distance; magicks reeked a certain way to humans without them, made them wary. Children would occasionally point, excited to see someone walking around with a tail swishing. It was an abnormal, though far from unique, sight in a metropolis like this. Plenty of magically inclined folks who had modified their body, intentionally or otherwise.
His gaze was pulled to a familiar street vendor selling cuts of ready-to-eat meat, looking their wares over with interest as he was reminded just how much that run took out of him.
“Oh hello miss witch, what can I do for you?” The shopkeep smiled at him, looking him over.
“Just grabbing a quick bite to eat.” He pulled a few coins from his pocket, handing them over and retrieving a vegetable and chicken skewer. “Business well?”
“As well as it could be. Fewer tourists these days.” They smiled back.
“Hang in there, it’ll get better.”
He headed back off down the streets, pulling earbuds out of his pocket and starting a song as he continued through the city. At times, he could believe it was the end of his shift still, walking back home, listening to a friend complain about their dating prospects…
He was lost to it for hours, until the feeling of separation began to hit him. The venom in his blood called for its owner, becoming increasingly restless and fighting with the magicks sharing space with it. Much as he could pretend, he could never stay away for long.
He returned to the manor as the evening began, crossing the threshold of the mirror and breathing a sigh as the venom settled. He had changed out of his street clothes, back to his witchy skirts and robes and the aura of magic. Had to keep up appearances for his dolls, after all. He strode out of his chambers with a certain confidence, beginning to go through the house and check in on each of his dolls. Much as he wished for the destruction of his wolf doll at times, he couldn’t find it in himself to be uncaring about his entourage of dolls.
He sat in a gathering space, hands inside the chest cavity of a servitor doll, wrapping more threads around its core. It was a second-hand doll he’d, acquired, from another witch, but the poor thing’s core was still deteriorating. Improperly hardened, and entirely too abused. He tsked, slipping a threaded hook through a crack and drawing it closed. The thing chirped happily, thanking him profusely as he sealed it back up, letting it get back to its duties.
A shadow shifted behind him, the frame of his wolf doll coming up behind him and holding him.
“Why does Miss care for those dolls so much?” It watched the other dolls congregate around their repaired counterpart, murmuring reassuring things to it. “A strong gust of wind could destroy their cores.”
“Everyone needs projects.” He turned to look at the thing, looking at its dripping fangs. “Someone’s been hunting.”
“Only deer, like Miss asked,” it gave a curtsy. “It saved some for him if Miss wants to share.”
“Maybe.” He turned back to look at the doll gathering.
“Miss visited the city again.” It sniffed him, wincing a bit at the smell of the city. “Will we be hunting there again?”
“I just wanted to remember.” He sighed, laying back on the floor as the dolls dispersed. “Talk to people, and not have them hate me or worship me.”
“Why would Miss do that, if you have this one?”
“Our conversations aren’t always the most… engaging, doll.”
“We should bring that shopkeep back, then.” It perked up. “The one you talk to. They can live here. Then Miss wouldn’t need to leave anymore-“
“No.” His voice carried more authority than usual. “Stay away from them.”
“This one wouldn’t hurt them Miss!” It feigned offense. “They’re important to Miss, and so they’re safe. They should be kept safe, here. Away from the city.”
He shrugged it off, closing his eyes and letting his mind drift off. It would be nice, to live a normal life, where he could ask the cute shopkeep out for a bite to eat. Not worry about the ravenous venom in his veins, the bloodthirsty doll at the head of his manor…
Once, he found this all intimidating, the thought of being a witch, of maintaining control over dolls, practicing and refining his craft. Now, it was a simple obligation, a simple pleasure. The privilege of seeing the simple delights on the face of the dolls he could save…
“And what of this one, Miss?” Even in his daydreams, the wolf doll was near, sitting on an ethereal outcrop and looking down at him. “Does this one bring you joy?”
“One of these days, I’m going shatter your core,” he said with a small smile, staring up at the emptiness.
“That’ll kill Miss, you know.” It snarled at some invisible thing going by. “We’re tied together, after all~. This one’s venom in Miss, Miss’ magicks in this one. Fates forever tied.”
“Yeah.” He kept looking up, a simple look of purpose on his face. “I know.”