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Songbird

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In retrospect, he should have known better.

Molly assumes it’s a misunderstanding; it wouldn’t be the first time his infernal heritage has caused him trouble, someone of small mind and smaller sensibilities taking exception to his presence and assuming he’s up to no good. Point being, he isn’t overly surprised when he’s approached by two Crownsguard asking that he please come with them.

They’re polite, apologetic, and he’ll kick himself later at how easily they take him in, how completely he buys it. It takes him longer than it should to realize they’re not headed to the city’s stockade, to realize they’re going the wrong way. When he turns to one of them to ask where they’re going, that’s when everything goes to shit as the man at his back clocks him on the back of the head and the world goes dim and watery. Before he can react, the man hits him again and Molly crumples, everything going dark.

When he wakes up again, it’s to the unpleasant knowledge that things have not improved. He’s folded up, knees pressed into his chest and wrists bound tight behind him, his shoulder and the side of his face shoved against unforgiving metal bars. There’s a cloth gag that’s been stuffed between his teeth and tied around his head, digging uncomfortably into the corners of his mouth, and no amount of pushing at it with his tongue gets it to move. He lifts his head and hits something; he’s in a small cage, and there’s something draped over it, only weak light getting through. As he becomes more aware, he notices the whole cage is moving, him along with it, gently bouncing in a way he associates with riding in a cart.

Son of a bitch.

He squirms, trying to see how securely he’s restrained, and quickly realizes he’s stuck. He’s bound tightly, cage too cramped to allow the movement to attempt escape. His mind is going a mile a minute, trying to think of who would want to kidnap him. If this is something to do with Lucien, he’ll have to try to talk his way out of it or run. If the rest of the Nein haven’t noticed he’s missing yet, he may well be on his own for a while. It’s hard to gauge the time of day with the drape on the cage obscuring the light, but when it starts to get even darker he knows it’s getting toward nightfall, and his stomach sinks; it was early morning when he was taken.

The cart stops sometime later, and Molly thinks they’ve stopped for the night. He hopes they let him out of the cage, or at least give him water. He’s been getting progressively thirstier and hungrier as the day goes on, with no way to tell anyone, though he thinks based on his predicament, anyone he could tell probably wouldn’t be very sympathetic.

No one comes.

Eventually, despite the cramped muscles, rumbling belly and terrible thirst, he drifts off to a restless sleep.

Molly wakes up the next morning to pale light filtering into cage and the lurch of the cart as it starts to move. Everything hurts from the position he’s in, and he can’t remember his throat ever being so dry. He tries to yell through the gag, to get someone’s attention, anyone, if only to lift the tarp for just a moment, but if any sound makes it through, it’s ignored.

He drifts in and out of sleep through the day, spending his waking hours uncomfortable and cycling through anger and panic; the raging emotions and lack of food and water are leaving him wrung out and exhausted, slumped listless against the bars. As much as he dreads whatever’s coming, he thinks he might go mad if he doesn’t see sky or another person soon. He’s stupidly grateful for the light that makes it into the cage, giving him faint outlines of shape. If it was pitch dark, he doesn’t know what he’d do.

The light is starting to dim again, and he’s resigning himself to another night stuck where he is when he hears raised voices, shouts that sound like greeting in tone even if he can’t parse the words. The cart comes to a stop, and the drape is pulled off the top of the cage, letting evening sun slant through the bars. He blinks against the sudden brightness, peering out to catch part of a high stone wall with a gate and the tops of buildings; the slivers of dread he’d been feeling before grow into icy shards. This is a compound, not some hidden ramshackle camp in the woods like he’d been expecting. A compound implies a lot of things- it means they’re established, whoever they are. It means they’re comfortable, embedded, organized, and none of that is good for him.

Someone climbs up into the cart with him, unlocks the door to the cage and swings it open.

“Let’s go.”

Molly’s still in the process of getting his legs unfolded when he’s grabbed by an ankle and dragged out into the bed of the cart. The man pulls him to the edge and shoves him over the side like a sack of potatoes; bound as he is, he can’t catch himself when he falls, and he lands hard on his side with a muffled shout of pain. He’s quickly hauled up again and pulled along by two men, one on each arm, through the gate and inside. They move quickly through a courtyard and into a low stone building near the gate.

They drag Molly to a small room that holds a third man, a blazing fireplace, and not much else; when one of them pulls a wicked-looking blade Molly freezes, but the man just starts cutting through Molly’s clothes. He’s not careful, leaving grazes and nicks behind, but Molly’s done worse to himself, so it’s more insult than injury. The shredded pieces of his coat, shirt, leggings, and small clothes are tossed into a pile, and he’s thrown to the ground as they yank his boots off as well, leaving him naked against the cold of the stone floor. He stares wide-eyed as one of men gathers the pile of cloth and leather and unceremoniously tosses it all into the roaring fireplace. Molly watches, helpless, as his beautiful coat, the one he’d spent hours, days, embroidering while in the circus- the first thing he’d ever owned that was his- goes up in smoke. He snarls behind the gag, rolling to his knees to launch himself at the man closest to him, but one of the other men easily catches him by a horn and yanks, pulling him off balance to land on his ass. They wrestle Molly onto his stomach, the slate floor of the room rough against his bare skin; one of the men sits painfully on Molly’s bound arms as they methodically remove every last piece of jewelry.

By the time they’re finished he’s shaking with rage, and gods, he hopes they remove the gag soon. He’s dizzy with thirst and hunger, but all he needs is a second, a single moment ungagged to unleash a wave of Infernal at them, to let out some of the anger boiling uselessly through him.

Instead, he’s grabbed again by the first two men and dragged from the room, down a set of stone stairs to a hallway lined with heavy wooden doors, all of which have a small barred window set in them at the top. Gods above and below, he’s in a fucking dungeon. He thrashes in their grasp, trying to get free; he knows there’s nowhere to run to, and even if there was, he wouldn’t get far gagged, arms bound, and naked while in the middle of an enemy compound, but rationality isn’t part of his thinking process right now.

They go to a door halfway down the hallway and pull him inside. There are no windows, the only light coming from the torches out in the hallway. They get him to the far side where there’s chains set into the wall with large, heavy manacles at the end. They don’t even untie him, clapping the irons on his forearms just above the ropes around his wrists, locking them into place.

One of the men reaches for the gag, and Molly tamps down the desire to shout for joy. If he can get them down maybe he can do something to get loose after. The man pulls the gag free and Molly is speaking before it’s even fully cleared his lips. The man flinches back with a surprised noise, toppling over and the other man is turning toward him when Molly unleashes again, spitting the foulest curses he can think of at them both, over and over until one is unconscious and the other is bleeding from his ears, writhing on the ground. He’s so close, if he can just get the other fucker to pass out-

There’s a noise from the door and Molly looks up; he catches the impression of dark robes and a pale face before the figure speaks a word and agony floods him, dropping him to the floor. He’s trying to breath, to spit a curse, to do anything but scream and writhe, but it’s impossible; the pain flares, ripping through him, everywhere at once, rendering him helpless, and his vision grays around the edges, then goes dark.

When he wakes, he doesn’t think he’s been out long; his nerves are still on fire, echoes of pain sparking along them. He’s hazy, but aware enough to realize something’s been forced into his mouth, pressing down on his tongue; he tries to spit it out, but it’s connected to a plate pressed against his lips and there are straps being fastened around his horns, down either side of his nose and to his jaw with a strap that fits under chin to hold the whole thing in place. He blinks his eyes open as the person pulls back, and when he tosses his head, the straps and the thing in his mouth don't budge, keeping him silent.

Gods damn it.

“That ought to hold for now. Get these two idiots to my work room, I’ll deal with them in a moment.”

A hand grabs his face, fingers digging into his jaw around the straps, tilting his head up, and there’s a woman looking back down at him like he’s an interesting specimen. It’s a look he’s familiar with, and he still doesn’t much care for it. He growls low in his throat, the only sound he can manage with his mouth forced shut.

Her smile is cool and curious, and it sends a shiver down his spine. “We’ll deal with you tomorrow.”

With a swirl of robes the woman leaves the cell, shutting the door behind her, the sound of a heavy bolt being thrown coming a moment later. Then he’s alone for the first time since this started, the faint flickering of torchlight coming through the small barred portal in the cell door the only thing preventing the room from being pitch-dark.

Now that everything is still, the aches and pains that had been drowned out by adrenaline mere moments before are making themselves known; his shoulders and arms are a misery, his wrists burning and raw from struggling against the ropes. The room spins around him even as he lays still on the floor, his dizziness getting worse, and gods, the things he'd do right now for just the smallest sip of water or bite of food-

He shivers, curling up as much as he's able, wrapping his tail around himself so the spaded tip is tucked under his chin, trying to keep it warm. The cell is cool, and he's still very naked, though the nakedness itself doesn't bother him so much- he'd lost any sense of modesty he might have possessed while in the circus- but the loss of his beloved coat rankles. He snarls again, muffled by the front plate of the gag he's wearing, and wishes he’d been to kill at least one of the men who'd dragged him in here.

Molly listens, hoping for the sounds of fighting, of rescue, but while there are sounds, it's not the sounds he hopes to hear. The cell walls are stone, but even so, some noise makes it through- screams, cries, sobbing. Not very encouraging, all things considered.

For lack of anything else to do, he rests his head on the floor and tries to get comfortable. When exhausted sleep creeps up on him, he lets it take him.

~~~

He wakes a few times, but dozes off again. He hasn’t eaten since the morning he was taken, hasn’t had water since then either, and as much as he wants to rage and struggle, he just doesn’t have the energy. His lips are dry and cracked around the gag, and the hunger pangs are enough to double him over; Molly knows this is a tactic, something the people who took him are doing on purpose to weaken him, but knowing doesn’t do anything to combat the effect it’s having. Even if he were suddenly freed of all his bindings, he doesn’t think he’d make it more than a few steps without collapsing back to the stone floor of his cell.

He’s just dozing off again when there’s a sound at the door, the bolt being thrown with the creak of hinges as the door swings inward. It’s the two men from the day before, looking better than the last time Molly saw them, and they look the unfortunate combination of smug and pissed-off that tells Molly he’s going to be hurting soon. He’s proven correct when they both approach, one of them kicking him sharply in the ribs before he can move. Molly curls in to protect himself as much as he can, but the other man is grabbing his hair, yanking back before using the grip to slam Molly’s head into the floor. Stars explode behind Molly’s eyes, and while he’s still trying to recover, the first one kicks him again in the same spot. Molly feels something in his chest give, and his next breath brings stabbing pain with it.

Molly loses time- he blinks and the chains are off, he blinks again, and they have him by the arms, dragging him down a hallway. His side burns, feels like he’s being stabbed every time he draws breath, and his head is throbbing with an edge of nausea that speaks of concussion. He can’t get his eyes to focus right, which worries him, but he doesn’t honestly know if it’s the concussion or the lack of food and water causing it.

They carry him into a room and drop him to the floor, his bare knees jarring against the rough stone under them. Metal once again encircles his arms, and one of the men grabs his horns, holding him still as the other places a metal collar around his throat, linked to a short chain embedded in the floor in front of him. He has to bend forward slightly, straining his arms and shoulders further to keep from pulling on his neck, and gods, he just wants to lay down, to sleep.

It takes him a minute to realize the men aren’t there anymore, the area around him once again quiet, and he glances up to see as much of his surroundings as he can.

The room is well-lit, torches dotted every few feet in sconces along the walls. There are tables, covered in books and other things which he can’t easily see. He appears to be in the one empty space in the room, and his panic spikes as he realizes that this, too, is a work space. He struggles, pulling on his arms, at the collar, trying to move, to get away, but there’s no give to the chains, and the small amount of energy his panic has gifted him is soon spent, leaving him gasping and in more pain than before. His heart is still racing when he hears quiet footsteps behind him, and he can’t stop the noise of distress that makes it out past the gag. The figure moves around to where he can see it, and he finds the same woman from the day before. She’s pale, human, and dressed again in dark robes. There’s a pendant around her neck which fills him with a sense of foreboding; it looks like it has the imprint of shackles worked into it, and that does nothing to set Molly's mind at ease.

She reaches a hand for him, and he pulls back without conscious thought, caught short by the collar at his throat. Her fingertips are ice cold where they press to his temples, and when he shakes his head to break the contact, her grip firms, holding him like a vice. He remembers not that long ago something similar, and no, not again, he can’t do this again-

But it’s not the same, and that’s both better and yet so much worse.

Power flares through where her fingers make contact, burning against his skin, and something slithers into his mind, like an eel working through his brain, and he chokes on a whimper at the sensation, missing it when she starts speaking.

“-not seek to do anyone else harm, or suffer the consequences.”

She pulls her hands back and something snaps into place in his mind; it feels like a lock or a door clicking shut, something completing, and he shudders in his bonds.

The woman tilts her head at him, considering, then smiles. “Good.” She places her hands on his face again, and the same power flares, but stronger, digging furrows into his mind, and he’s shaking, overwhelmed and powerless to stop it. The power spikes as she starts to speak, and he screams, glad for the bit in his mouth that keeps him from biting his tongue.

“You shall not speak until I lift this command from you, or suffer the consequences.”

And again, the feeling of finality, of binding, a manacle locking, but around his mind instead of his body. She pulls back and he sags, shuddering, exhausted beyond measure. He’s done, so very done, but he doesn’t appear to have much say in what’s happening right now.

She reaches for him again, and he flinches back. Gods, what else, what else is the bitch going to-

“Stop that,” she says, as if to a petulant child, and catches hold of one of the straps from the gag, pulling his head closer, unbuckling the contraption from around his head and horns. When she gets the whole thing undone, she tugs the mouthpiece from between his lips, and he grimaces as the metal slat slides against his tongue on the way out. He doesn’t understand what’s happening, why she would ungag him. It feels like a trap, but he doesn’t see how.

She smiles down at him.

“Go on, I know you want to.”

Molly snarls, opens his mouth to speak but has the oddest moment of hesitation. He wants to scream Infernal at her until her ears bleed, but there’s a small voice inside telling him not to. He’s pretty sure that voice isn’t his , which only spurs him on. He gets as far as “ Fuck y- ” when a silent explosion goes off in his head, rendering him speechless. He would scream, but can’t find the voice for it, the pain overwhelming. He desperately wants to clutch at his head as spots dance in his vision and Molly realizes he’s stopped breathing; when he drags a gasp of air in, his ribs scream at him, and he finally topples sideways, his arms wrenching behind him as he falls. He’s never felt anything like this before, can’t process it. The pain is different than what she’d done to him the day before; that had been all-encompassing, unfocused. This is in his head, spikes of agony lancing through his temples. His vision goes grey again, and this can’t be good for the concussion.

His vision tunnels, and the last thing he sees before unconsciousness takes him is the woman’s feet coming to stand in front of him.

~~~

He comes to back in the cell, shivering against the stone. The gag is still gone, and he’s still bound, once again chained to the wall. This time, though, there’s a shallow bowl near him filled with water, and with a little effort he’s able to squirm over to it, carefully sipping so he doesn’t spill any. He forces himself to go slow, even though it’s torture; he can’t risk making himself sick and throwing it back up. He licks up the last few drops, refusing to feel any shame in the action.

He’s so preoccupied by the water that it takes until he’s finished it and collapsed back to the floor to realize they’ve healed him while he was unconscious. It no longer hurts to breathe, and his head only has a phantom ache to remind him of what had happened when he’d tried to speak.

After some effort, he gets himself up onto his knees and shuffles over to lean against the wall so if nothing else he won’t have a stiff neck in the morning. The stone is cold against his back, and he wonders if they’ll be giving him something to wear anytime soon. He curls his tail around himself again, tucking the point in against his neck for warmth, and falls asleep telling himself the others are coming, are looking for him. It’s just a matter of time.

art of molly in chains yelling