content warnings: cruelty, pet death, bad end

Precious little witch-to-be, caught in a trap—

Cold iron teeth cling to her ankle, slowly warming in her blood's heat; she doesn't have the strength to move, can't drag herself across the smiling tiles. The door's right there: those few feet might as well be miles.

She can't think how this happened.

Just moments ago she was out on the street, wandering through autumn's dripping red and yellow, just enjoying the season. Cold, crisp air filling her lungs and the warmth of her oversized caterpillar of a familiar around her neck.

An idle day spent in idle play, and then—

There's not even anyone here. It's just a trap, just pain and fear; she can't help but whimper as her struggles grind the teeth against her bones and rip her tendons a bit more, but that's okay. Maybe she has enough time.

Her familiar squeezes tighter around her neck, sharing its warmth with her; its fur is fuzzy and stiff, its many eyes full of worry. It can't talk, won't be able to for years and years, but she feels its concern anyway.

“I'll be fine,” she murmurs. It does worry so …

Blood's still dripping from her ankle, slowly heating the iron: such a simple magic, something her instructor learned from studying mothbeasts, but no less potent. Just a bit longer and the iron trap holding her down will be part of her: just a bit longer and she'll be free.

She strains against it, stretches her Self out beyond her skin; she can feel her blood slowly congealing, the warm life seeping out of her—

Suddenly she Feels the blood-warmed iron teeth drawn tight around her ankle. Flesh dripping into her mouth, teeth overflowing her jaw—

It hurts to wrench her mouth open. Her teeth tear her leg even more than they already had; she won't be able to walk on it for months, might need to replace it entirely. But in that fleeting moment she yanks her leg away, and when the trap snaps shut again she's free.

Well, free enough to crawl.

If she can just get outside, out into the swirling leaves and golden sunlight, she'll be fine. She knows she will. She can practically hear her friends' voices, the self-assured chatter of witchlings who've only ever felt their power wax—

She crawls, and her familiar crawls with her.

It's better at it than she is.

It glances back as it reaches the door, tiny antenna twitching with determination, unsure whether it should go for help or stay with her; its last moment of indecision seared into her eyes.

Poor little witch-to-be's out of time, you see, not watching her surroundings; the first she's aware of the hunter is their heel coming down. She can't look away, doesn't even have the time to scream as they press down—

Warm rainbow goop splatters her face, stains the floor with weeping fractals; the hunter doesn't laugh, but their boot lets out a long guffaw as it starts to lick itself clean. Her familiar's broken body squirms and dribbles, dying neurons firing in twitching confusion—

And then it's still.

She doesn't even move as the hunter pins her to the ground, though she shudders at feeling its boot on her back; the whiplash of the shattered bond with her familiar leaves her dazed and woozy, struggling to think through gaping emptiness.

They're rough with her, as hunters are: they bind her arms and drag her to her feet, don't bother to bandage her leg as they hustle her out the back to a waiting van. Perhaps they go back inside to reset the trap, perhaps they just start to drive—she can't tell. There's an iron cage in the back, a witchwork lifesink spewing out from the splayed ribs of a half-broken doll; even if she had more blood to spill that trick wouldn't work again. The lifesink would slurp up whatever magic she could bring to bear.

It tries to drink her life up as the van jostles and bumps, as sudden turns fling her against the bars of the cage; each touch gnaws at her, fills her with an aching sucking pain so unlike the Voids she knows.

It's the emptiness of a bone sucked dry, the ache of marrow unwillingly torn from its proper place; it's a feeling that even her dissociation can't deny. It's the creeping rot of feeling her familiar die just feet away from her, of not being able to do a thing to help it—

Each time the van's poor suspension throws her against the cage's bars she sees its eyes pleading for her to save it, its stubby little antenna waving in panic and fear and pain.

When the van finally stops she's curled up in the center of the cage, desperate to stay away from its bars. She doesn't struggle as the hunter pulls her out, nor as they clamp a collar around her neck; she hardly looks up at the building before her, sun-seared brick slowly withering beneath the relentless assault of clinging ivy, a door like a gaping mouth and windows like shuttered eyes; a collared doll with a too-familiar face opens the door and haltingly welcomes the hunter home.

Behind her in the van she can hear the the broken doll mewling as she's led into her new home.

The hunter's home.