WARNING: Potentially graphic content ahead. No overt triggers at this time, but it’s not pretty.
The dreadlord lashed out with a terrifying ROAR. Cael, positioned in the holy fire, realized too late she was off balance- her battle-honed reflexes brought her shield up just in time to intercept the crushing swipe he made. It probably saved her life. As it was, though, the blow sent her flying, knocking sword and shield from her grasp. Ribs crunched and everything exploded into white-hot blinding pain as she landed and cracked her head on the elegant stone streets of Suramar. The world faded to black-
-Cael woke with a start, jerking to her feet wildly. Or she would have, if something didn’t yank her up short and send her crashing back down with a yelp to the bare dirt.
Blinking, the young worgen’s mind scrambled to catch up as her head spun, dizzy.
Yes, it was bare dirt she lay on. Cool, slightly damp, rocky; not forest loam, sweet with the rich smells of leafmold and growing things. In fact, it sported undertones of blood, sulfur, rank fear-sweat of several different species, urine, fecal matter. She coughed weakly. Her lungs burned with the effort, but for all that, and the pounding in her head (now fading) Cael felt… remarkably whole. Where was the throbbing pain from broken bones or the hitching agony of an internal injury? Cael shook her head to clear her vision and tried to stand again.
And froze, halfway through getting to her knees, as raw, undiluted terror flooded her, as good a wake up call as a bucket of icy water from Northrend’s seas. By reflex, her clawed hands dug furrows in the dirt as they clenched underneath her. She fought to keep all-consuming panic at bay as the full horror of her situation began to dawn.
Sword, shield, armor, the dagger Aunne gave her, her pawn necklace, the guildstone and the stone from Petal, all gone- she was left in nothing but her fur, shivering in the damp chill of the place. Or rather, almost nothing. Cold and heavy on her neck, wrists, and ankles were shackles, still shiny and new, very thick and very sturdy. An even thicker length of chain clinked as her breath caught in her chest. It connected her collar to a short, heavy, solid metal rod, and then that to another rod and the shorter length between her wrists and ankles. It ran behind her, tethered… tethered to the solid rock wall. The slack between her head and hands wasn’t enough to raise it fully; the length between hands and ankles was short enough to keep her on all fours. Standing would be impossible, even if there was some flexibility to sit, though awkwardly. The distance between her ankles was more than enough to keep her hobbled. The purpose of the strange bars became apparent as, on reflex, Cael tried to grip her collar and wrench it free: it prevented her hands from reaching the restraints on her ankles and neck.
The coarse grey stone behind her gave way to walls as she looked frantically around her. They were wood, almost flimsy looking- she was in some kind of… shed or little building. Barely four feet high, maybe six long and four wide, it boxed her in, much too small normally, and even now hobbled as she was, Cael barely fit. She bucked, struggling, and hit her head on the wall. Thin as it looked, she didn’t have the leverage to break it, and the little building shook but didn’t tip or turn over. Probably bolted to the floor or the wall, or magic, a distant part of her observed.
The front had a simple doorway, but barred, from the outside, in several simple sliding deadbolts- no locks!
She lunged forward, but the chain tripped her and sent her facefirst into the dirt. Stretched to it’s uttermost, she remained a good foot from her (cell?) door.
Clausterphobia added to the gibbering fear that threatened to drown her. Tears pricked and burned in her eyes as Cael shook, trying to fight the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her.
No, no, no nononononono this is a dream it’s another dream this is a bad dream this has to be dream-!
It was the two bowls on the floor that brought everything into painful clarity.
Specifically, the dog bowl, filled with… dog food, and the one next to it, filled with water.
Both of them had DOGGY written on the side in black, blocky letters.
It’s a dog house. Oh Light, I’m in a dog house. Which means-
“What a smart girl!” Zenrozem cooed, kneeling to see her through the doghouse door. “It took you a second, but then you were kinda concussed and broken when I got you. You’re welcome, by the way, for the healing. I don’t mind broken things but only as long as I’m the one who gets the pleasure of breaking them, and you’d be so much less interesting bleeding out internally.”
The wolf slammed into her with force that was nearly palpable, howling for blood and ruin, making her half-choke on a gasp and flinch hard away from the door. Rage more terrible than any she could remember almost swamped her fear. She trembled with the effort of control, more violent than feverchills.
“You know, I used to be more of a cat person. But meeting you Templars -and you specifically– really made me want a doggy all my own to play with,” the dreadlord said, smiling. “They’re loyal, easily trained… Why, look at you! Your training still holds strong after all these years.”
Cael felt a whimper building in her throat and viciously killed it into a strangled, more snarl-like noise. The hammering drums of her fear (he has me he has me he has me he’s going to hurt me he has me oh Light oh Light oh Goldrinn’s teeth and claws please please no no no nononononono) thundered against waves of pure hate (killhimkillhimKILLHIM rip shred tear eathisheart make him bleed copperontonguejuicysweet hurt free free will be free kill and be safe and free KILL). Her ruddy fur stood on end, ears plastered flat back against her skull, teeth half-bared in a snarl she couldn’t quite suppress.
“I guess I should find that goblin and thank him. After all, it’s not very often my interest is piqued like this, you know. It’s really an honor. Millennia of service to my master, untold years of playing cat and mouse with you mortals… Imagine my surprise when I encountered an enigma in unassuming, cowering, little ol’ you.” Zenrozem tilted his head, considering her. The gaze was familiar enough, she’d seen in in their Zen before, and it made her stomach lurch, bile rising in her throat.
I have to think- think clearly- With a massive effort, Cael swallowed and spoke: deliberately, each word bit out like it cost her to do so, her stammer so thick and her voice so raspy she croaked the first time.
“There’s some water there if you want it. Oh! And that food is Iams! Good for today, good for life!” he added helpfully. “Complete nutrition for the life of my pet, and #1 recommended by veterinarians!”
She didn’t move to touch either of them.
“F-F-F-F-F-F-… G-G-G-Go. A-A- Aw-w-way,” she enunciated, very careful. Her immediate response, the much less polite fuck you, told her she’d been spending far too much time around Koryander. But then… that wasn’t respectful. And here, in this darkest place, she clung to that little bit of Light.
“…Well, considering the speech impediment, I guess you wouldn’t be good at witty comebacks. But then, the good news is! Doggies don’t need to be.”
Her teeth creaked under the pressure as she set her jaw, grittingly stubborn for all the wracking shakes that betrayed her inner turmoil. Don’t answer- don’t look at him. Don’t give him that. He likes to play. Refuse to follow his rules. He’s going to hurt me either way. A bubble of mad panic almost made her laugh, floating through the firestorm of fear and fury.
“Strong, silent type, huh? You are a little bit butch, I can see how that would work for you. Unfortunately for you, it doesn’t do shit to me, because when I want something-”
He reached for her. Cael recoiled.
-I simply take it, his voice echoed in her head. That terrible mind-touch burned, leaving white agony that sent spots dancing across her vision, and then-
A guttural sound ripped from her throat, a snarl he recognized, by the flash in his eyes. Cael’s own changed, burning and feral, and she could feel something rising on a cresting wave of bloodlust, like the howling crescendo of a hunting pack-
-The pain vanished, Zenrozem pulling back a hand and shaking it in the air, like he’d touched a hot griddle. Cael felt abruptly lightheaded and a little sick with the absence, reeling.
“Whew! Pulled out just in time. Normally I don’t, you understand, but then I never needed to before… you are very special, aren’t you? Even among your fellow dogs. I’m dying to know what makes you able to resist me,” he said, settling back onto his haunches, conversational, talking with his hands as he spoke.
He grinned at her, all knowing malice. “And by the time I’m done with you, doggy, you’ll be dying to tell me.”
Fear pierced her heart again with the implication. It was all Cael could do to keep from crying, which was an indignity she’d never get over. Not in front of him. Later. Have your mental break later. Not in front of him. Think like a paladin, calm and strong calm and strong calm and strong, fear is there, anger is there, but be calm and strong….
She could not make herself look at him, but she didn’t rise to his bait, either, even if her breathing got more ragged and her heartbeat pounded in her ears.
“Of course, there’s an alternative to all this, you know. Why be their attack dog? Seriously! What have they ever done for you? …Besides providing you with some of the basic necessities for living, food, roof, all that. What’s it gotten you, besides scars and hurt and a distinct lack of appreciation and people who betray you when you least expect it?”
Cael flinched, and swallowed.
“Now, if I had a doggy,” he continued, ever-so-casually, “if you were my attack dog, why- there’d be no need for muzzles or chains.” Cael’s head jerked up, momentarily confused before she caught his meaning. Zenrozem managed to school his face into something remarkably like sincerity. “I can be a good master. Really! I’d take you for walks every day and wake up early to feed you and brush your fur and give you lots of toys to kill and give you baths when you get all bloody. ….No? Is that a bad offer?” he said as she fought and lost the battle to glare at him. The amused smirk on his face only widened, growing a knowing edge.
“How about this one- maybe I’ll have better luck appealing to your… humanity.”
“After all, I botched the offer with Aunne, I see that now. A damn shame too- she’d’ve been such an asset-“
“Y-Y-Y-You l-l-leave h-h-her a-a-a-al-lone!”
“Now that got a reaction! Note to self,” he said happily, and Cael swore inwardly. “But I was appealing to your humanity. Or rather, using your humanity. I can do that, you know.”
Despite herself, he caught her eyes, intent, focused, older than she could imagine, calculating as a machine for all his joviality.
“Make you human.”
“Imagine: restful, dreamless nights. Not having to put two cots together to sleep on. Going vegan. A blissfully bloodlust and crazy-split-personality free world. Human. I’ll even remake your little house, give you somewhere more appropriate to stay. Not having to fight yourself all the time, waking up wondering if this is the day you rip your friends’ throats out with your bare teeth because you lost your temper.” He spoke soft and almost kind, almost understanding, almost emphatic and warm and pitying, and his words sliced into the heart of her and brought tears to her eyes despite herself at the idea.
But something in his eyes remained cool and nearly reptilian. Cael backpedaled, trying to get away, as his arm snaked through the bars and grabbed her, firm but gentle, under the jaw, dragging her as far forward as she could go. She clenched her fists helplessly, the smell of her own reeking prey-panic around her and something in her mind curled into a fetal position while something else mad threw itself against her mental restraints.
“Just tell me what you want, my dear doggy; swear to me and mine, and I will make it all come true. Why live this sniveling, wretched, divided existence any more than you have to? Why protect a world that has only ever given you pain and suffering and mockery? I can give you so much more.”
….To be human- free. To be free... Cael closed her eyes, and didn’t managed to choke back her sob this time, nor stop the tears rolling down her cheeks. She wanted it. She wanted to be human more than she could remember wanting anything else in her entire life, longing that crossed the border into painful and knotted into a hard hurting lump under her heart. I hate this, I hate being this, I hate being what I am… I could be free.
I could be free.
…Except for the price.
Zenrozem reached in his other arm, rubbing her huge lopsided ears in something resembling freakish fondness. “Just say the wo-”
A reckless roiling snarl, a flash of white enamel in the dark, a surprised curse, and a spray of lime, decorating the walls of her dog house like the beginnings of a Pollock- he threw her against the rock, stunning her on impact. Cael spat foul green blood out of her mouth as her ears rang and she scrambled to- well, not her feet, but her knees, all fours, really, the best she could manage.
(Like a dog.)
The dreadlord’s lacerated wrist dripped onto the stone, and for an eyeblink the look on his face rivaled her wolf in terms of wrath. What moisture she may have had remaining in her throat evaporated.
A fleeting thought -He’s going to kill me now- crossed her mind, and she was almost thankful for it. If she was dead, she couldn’t be bent to his will, and the hard truth was that everyone broke with enough time and effort. Cael braced herself.
“…I see.” Goosebumps pebbled her skin at the change in his voice, now clipped and clinical, not even angry as he examined the wound and snorted; somehow that made it worse. She watched with a dry swallow as it healed before her eyes.
“I may not know what you want –yet– but I do know what you fear. The Legion has eyes everywhere, even in that quaint little outpost of yours.” Face and heart sank like lead bricks. What-? Spies? Who? Light above oh no please no please let the others be safe please…. He smiled, just as savage and predatory as any wolf. Raising a hand-
-He snapped his fingers.
For a long moment, nothing happened.
“Oh, for the love of…” Zenrozem snapped again, harder and louder.
Cael blinked again. “…U-U-Uh…”
“I swear if they’re playing Hearthstone I’m going to kill them all over again and use their skins as doilies- HEY!” he roared into the room beyond the view afforded by her door. She jumped, startled. “GET OVER HE- ah, there we go.”
That smell. Decayed flesh made animate.
No, no, no, nonono no no no nononononoNONONONO!
“Oh yes.” Cael barely registered the fact that she’d spoke out loud without meaning to as Forsaken filed into view and gave her leering, gaptoothed grins like sharks.
“I’ll let you all get acquainted then. Doggy, be good and maybe they won’t declaw you. Did you know that actually involves the removal up to the first knuckle of the finger, not just yanking out a nail? Ladies and gents, feel free to muzzle her if you need to, she’s been rather unruly of late despite her initial training.” Zenrozem rose and stretched, casual and lazy and smug as a cat, twiddling his fingers in a goodbye wave. “I think I’m going to go watch the latest episode of Mi Corazon– last episode, they revealed Jorje’s child with Mariana is actually his identical evil twin’s! What a plot twist! I can’t wait to see what happens next!”
Zenrozem turned and walked away, whistling, his jaunty tune adding its notes to a chorus of cruel laughter, the rattle of chains, and defiant snarls that, as he turned the corner, dissolved into screams.