Full Text Edit
Part One Edit
“Get out! Get out! Go, go, go!”
Treepelt coughed and squinted against the smoke as she bolted through the haze, waving a hand in front of her and hissing in pain as sparks licked her exposed skin. She pulled her dark cloth half-mask up over her mouth and nose and turned back to see another figure hot on her heels. “Move!” she yelled in a muffled cough, and the boy charged up beside her. “Where’s Quill?”
“She’s catching up; she’ll be here soon!” The boy shook ash out of his wild red hair, amber eyes squinting from between his makeshift robber’s mask. Two spiraling ram’s horns stuck out from either side of his head, sooty and stained from the fire they had started. The half-breed rebellion had decided that it was time for a new strike against the government. This time, it had been the chancery, the building within the city for creating official High Central documents and records.
“You LEFT her?!”
“No time! They’ll all be outside!” The ram half-breed grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the room, leaving the official documents to go up in flames.
The pair thundered through the dark hallways of the chancery, shaking dust out of their eyes, brushing hot embers off their shoulders and constantly calling out each others’ names to assure the other that they were still beside them. A tall, lanky figure approached them from the other end, the sparks billowing out of a doorway behind them, and Treepelt was relieved to see a pair of tall ears. “Run, Ayaan, run!” she screamed. The half-wolf dropped to all fours and the three of them rushed into the entrance hall and out of the main doors, blazing past a few late-night workers that were still scribing. Ayaan put on an extra burst of speed and then leapt to her feet, shoving the doors open into the night air so they could escape. Tree snarled at an official that stood in her way, shoving his side and causing him to fall against his companion. The half-breed strike team thundered down the stairs and booked it towards the alleys, leaving the chancery to begin rising in smoke and flames behind them. They distanced themselves from the building in the maze of strange canals and streets draped in night, pressing up against the wall of a bakery, panting hard and fast.
The other half of the team joined them in running from a side street, a hulking mass of white stiff fur and claws and a tiny girl with round mouse ears clutching at his back. Her narrow dark brown eyes glanced over all of them and then she leaned back, putting a hand to her forehead to shade her eyes from the bright glow of the firelight. “Where’s Quill?” she demanded.
Treepelt got up from her doubled-over position and glared at the ram. “Tupper! You said she’d be out!”
Tupper was wide-eyed, glancing back and forth from the entrance to the group, waiting anxiously for a figure to emerge. None came. “She said she’d be here, okay?” he snapped under his friends’ glares. “It’s not my fault she was caught up in some--”
There was a horrific scream from the building and the entire group gasped and whirled around. One of the guards was standing outside of the building on the stone stairs, struggling with holding a writhing someone. He had his gloved hands around her wrists but the woman was fighting him fiercely, lashing him with her barb-covered tail. There were several barbs sticking out of his thick leather armor already, but he had almost managed to subdue her.
Before Treepelt could move, there was a red blur and Tupper had charged off after Quill, roaring at the top of his lungs. “Stop!” Tree called after him, ripping off her boots. “No--no...you blasted...crud-brained…”
But the half-cat had already thundered after him, lunging across the street’s dirty gravel with padded hands and feet, ripping away the mask and shooting past Tupper. “Get back!” she shouted as she raced past him, unsheathing her claws and smashing into the guard, sending both him and Quill flying to the ground. The woman’s dusty brown hair was disheveled, spikes sticking up every which way and bristling from her back as she fell hard to the ground, gazing at Treepelt with wide eyes. “Get out of here,” the cat panted. “Run! Tell Scorch I’m sorry!”
Then the guards caught a hold of her arms, and with tears filling her eyes, Quill let herself be dragged away by Tupper, who was grimacing in pained sadness. There was a heavy blow on the back of her head, and her neck was jerked forward. She was stunned again and again, thoughts scrambling in her head, pain surging through her mind like a poison until became too much and she finally lost consciousness, slumping into their rough hands, the sharp sting of smoke in her nose.
Part Two Edit
“And you couldn’t save her.”
“She didn’t want us to,” Tupper repeated angrily, still refusing to look at his elder. “There wasn’t time, they already had her, she told us to run.”
The old dragon half-breed sighed and rubbed his forehead tiredly, scales rasping against his fingers. “She never listened…”
“It wasn’t her fault,” Ayaan said defensively.
“No, I don’t blame her.” Scorch’s neck craned back a bit as he looked out of the hut’s front door left ajar. He was one of the last full dragon half-breeds left alive in Aidorin, covered with scales ranging in shade from light orange to deep scarlet. His long, feather-tufted tail twitched in agitation as he considered the news of Treepelt’s capture. Tapping his claws against the table, Scorch sighed and looked Tupper in the eyes.
“I must deny your request.”
“What?” the ram nearly shouted. “Why in Odin’s bloody name not!? We’ve got rebels to spare, I’ll go out there myself if I need to--”
“Once again: no. I need you here, there have been too many scouts nearing our position and we need to drive them away.”
Tupper turned his ears back and said nothing.
“Scorch,” Ayaan interjected, “you know what will happen if she stays there too long.”
There was a grim silence. Three different sets of memories ran through three different heads, all reminded of the uniquely terrible procedure that High Central inflicted upon the prisoners of their dungeons. Scorch let a thin wisp of smoke trail from his nostrils. “She may be safer that way.”
Tupper’s anger was released in his short, brisk wording. “Safer not remembering us? Safer not having a home or a family, in her mind? Safer a clueless, brainwashed prisoner?” He locked his jaw and stormed to the door, hooves knocking against the wooden floor. He stopped just before he left and glanced back.
“I’m going to get her back,” he growled, his ears turning backwards. “Watch me.”
The angry thudding inside of her head was what woke her in the end. Tree blinked hazily and gritted her teeth as all of the pain came rushing in as she awoke. The sight before her was so dim that she almost couldn’t tell she’d opened her eyes. There was a faint flickering of firelight across the stone floor, though, and she grew more aware of her surroundings, struggling to shake off her pounding headache. She tried stretching out her legs and was alarmed to find her ankles tied together and folded underneath her.
“Ey, lookit, th’ little lady’s up and kickin’!”
Tree’s head snapped up. A man was towering over her, armor glinting, sword strapped to his side and a wide, lopsided grin across his unshaven face. She hissed softly and he laughed aloud. “Aw, I made the little pussycat angry. What’s wrong, kitty?” He knelt down in front of her and she leaned backwards in disgust. Tree’s head bumped against a hard surface and she shifted her shoulders, horrified to feel cuffs around her wrists as well as her feet. It appeared she was chained to the wall. Turning her head away from him, she shut her eyes and flipped her ears back as his rank breath misted across her skin.
“Get away from me,” she spat.
“I don’ think I will, sweetie.” The guard cackled. “Ye’ve got lovely spunk. Ain’t she a keeper, Harrison?”
“Ah, leave her alone, Dirk. You know Darien doesn’t want us messing with them before the mages get here.”
Tree glanced over Dirk’s shoulder and saw another guard walking up to them, a little less unkempt than his comrade. There were a few more slumped-over, shadowy shapes behind him and her eyes widened as she saw more prisoners shackled to the wall. Most of them were half-breeds but a few of them were humans. Nobody she recognized.
Dirk backed off, much to Treepelt’s relief, and paced the room, idly swinging his lantern a bit. “Ah, yer no fun, Captain.”
“No, I’m not. Get back out on the wall, soldier. I think I can handle a bunch of petty tied-up criminals.”
“Yessir.” He looked down at Treepelt again and winked, and she retaliated by stretching out her feet and nicking his leg with her claws. “Aah!”
“Problem, Dirk?” The captain turned and quirked an eyebrow at the grimacing guard.
“Little cat bloody scratched me,” he complained, holding up his bloody fingers.
“I hardly feel any sympathy for you, soldier,” he replied haughtily. “If I were half-breed scum I’d wound you, too.”
Grumbling, the soldier limped his way out of the room, shutting the door behind him with an ugly bang. Treepelt smirked after him and glanced at the half-breed boy sitting next to the entry. His badger-striped face smirked back for a second and then Tree suddenly saw stars as something struck her. The captain had come up and slapped her across the face with his heavy glove.
“Behave yourself, cat,” he said airily, pulling the glove back onto his hand in a very nonchalant kind of way. “The mages are on their way and I’d hate to have to...do anything...to make you submit before they arrive.”
And with that, he reached the end of the long room and sat in one of the chairs surrounding a table, kicked his feet up, and pulled out a pipe, all the while Tree’s eyes watching him, gauging his movements, and a mantra thundering through her head, defying the stinging ache from before.
We need to get out.
Part Three Edit
Tree was jerked from her sleep as the door to the holding room opened, and a bright light spilled into everyone’s eyes. There were several cries of surprise and indignance as the prisoners were woken from their few hours of uncomfortable sleep. The half-cat’s heartbeat increased as a new set of people entered: uptight and smooth-walking characters with long black-and-white robes. There were three men and two women, and all looked down at the half-breeds in something close to pity. But dirtier, less empathetic. Treepelt immediately hated them.
The captain escorting them jerked his lantern to the corner, where a sullen bear half-breed was incarcerated. “Take that one first. Killed a man, he has. You’ll need to work on him. And then her.” The lantern swung around to point at Treepelt. “Too much fight.”
“As you say.” Two of the men went with the captain to unlock the Ursidae, and one of the women approached Tree, pushing up the dark sleeves of her tunic under her wider robe sleeves. She bent over Treepelt’s handcuffs for a moment, hovering a hand over the lock, and then pulling upward and bringing her fingertips together as though drawing out a string and there was a small spark as the chain unlocked.
Treepelt’s stomach dropped. The mages are here…
Pulling off the chains, the woman briskly helped Tree to her feet, bending down to remove the restraints around her legs as well. Tree desperately hoped the woman couldn’t feel her racing pulse. Finally the mage took her by the arm. “Don’t struggle,” she said in a mildly bored tone. “You know who we are. You know what we can do. Understand?”
Treepelt nodded mutely. She was guided firmly out of the door and into a long hall with various rooms lining the firelight-streaked walls. The doors were large and barred with iron, illuminated by bracketed torches and traveling upwards into stone arches that disappeared into darkness. She would have looked longer, but the woman abruptly took her into one of the rooms, waving her hand to slide the bars aside and pushing Treepelt inside.
“Sit down,” she said, closing the door.
Tree glanced around and saw a stool in the center of the barren room. “And if I don’t?” she said boldly.
The mage raised an eyebrow and lifted a hand, fingers poised to snap. Tree cringed. “Okay, fine.” She swept over to the stool and sat down, folding her arms. “Sooo...now what do we do?”
Lowering her hood, the mage walked forward until she stood directly over Treepelt, still looking rather disinterested with the whole affair. She slowly reached out and put her hand over the top of Tree’s head, fingers splayed between her cat ears, and the heel of her hand resting on her forehead. “We only need to scan your mind for personal information. It is a much faster process than an interview and is for recording purposes. It will be harmless.” Tree rolled her eyes and was rewarded by the tightening of the woman’s grip on her head. “But first I need you to relax. Can you do that for me?”
She was going to respond with a snarky comment but it suddenly slipped her mind and she frowned, fishing for it. “I…” No, there it went, it was gone again. Oh, well. “Sure,” Treepelt said, shrugging. It would make the process less painful, at least. She attempted to calm her twitching tail.
“I need you to relax.”
Tree scowled at her. “I just s…” Her mind went blank temporarily again and she twitched her ears in irritation. What was going on? Her thoughts kept cutting out, fragmenting.
“You need to relax.”
She couldn’t summon the focus to respond. There seemed to be some kind of fog filling her mind, and she tried as hard as she could to see through it.
A kind of numbness was creeping through her, she was unable to move, her limbs just felt so heavy. Relax. The voice was in her head now. Her eyelids began to flicker, and she caught herself nodding off, chin dropping towards her chest. Something was wrong. No… she argued blearily, no…
Sleep. And when you wake, you will remember nothing.
Everything went dark.
The daunting walls of High Central loomed into view as the small party reached the edges of the forest. Their leader, dressed in black from head to hoof, motioned them to a stop and tilted his head to squint into the moonlight. “We’ll wait here,” he instructed the others in a whisper, and they nodded and began retreating into the shrubbery to prepare a small, temporary camp.
With one hand, the boy reached up and unwound the black cloth he’d used to cover his curling ram horns. Like this, he decided. I’ll go in like this.
He wanted that High Central scum to know exactly who was going to start a jailbreak.