For Adam H. and Daniel H.
My Creatures of the Night
The beast awakened. An all-too familiar sound echoed through the darkened prison. The muffled snarls of another bound and muzzled captive being muscled into the centre holding space of the south wing of the underground compound. She must have come from one of the Plains regions, like himself, judging by the long limbs and strong chest. But unlike him, her wings were a golden hue and her hair was the colour of brass. He watched as about four prison guards forced the young female into submission. They had tranquilized her in order to capture her, but her metabolism had adapted to it by the time they came out of Hyperspace, thus it would do little to use it again. She was strong; even four men could barely hold her. She even momentarily freed her tail and swatted one of the guards across the face. Wherever she came from must have been a proud tribe, but her struggles were in vain. He knew that, just like everyone else that came in here, she'll either break... or die.
The humans called them Straithconians and they weren't from around here; they came from another world. Humans came to their world and took them from their home. They said their faces looked almost human if it weren't for the scales and horns. The beasts were strong when they came into the prison, but they remained there until they were weak and broken and then they were taken away and they never came back. The guards wore special armour that could stand up to the attack of even one of these beasts. It still took several minutes, but they managed to subdue the female long enough for three more guards to untie each limb and insert it into a waiting hot-iron shackle chained to the floor. These shackles are designed to mold to the captive's wrists and ankles. They could not be escaped from without breaking the hand or foot. Another guard then placed a thick steel collar around her neck.
Once the new prisoner had been secured to the floor with a couple of guards restraining her head and waist, one guard went on with the procedure he had done many times in the past. He cut off most of the tunic she wore and cut the ropes holding her wings tied to her sides. She flapped them momentarily before the other guards grabbed hold of them and pulled them taut so the guard with the blade could sever the skin connecting her wing to her back. Even while muzzled, the screams she made were bloodcurdling and even made the nearby veteran prisoners cringe.
After that, two more guards attached a metal apparatus that resembled a steel ribcage onto her chest. The device is designed to restrict the prisoner's ability to breathe, making it harder for them to struggle. They tightened it until her shrieks were stifled and she stopped fighting against the shackles. The pain of her ribcage being compressed ultimately made her bend down in seething submission. Now that her wings hung limp on the floor, connected only by the wing joints, the guards folded them against her sides and tied them with ropes. Some of the other guards taunted her about being female. They had plans for her as they do with most of her kind they bring in. She didn't understand their language, but it was likely she would become part of their breeding program. One of the men nearby took hold of her tail and examined the skin flange on the tip. “She's not in season, yet,” he said.
She was still trying to assert herself when they disconnected the shackles from the floor and ushered her into a cell now opened by the prison warden. This room was a paired cell that had a concrete wall between the two cell doors, but there was no partition between her and the adjoining cell. She was placed directly across from a male Straithconian who had clearly been a prisoner for several months; maybe even over a year. He was dark-skinned and emaciated. He wore nothing other than a pair of dirty rough-spun shorts and his skin was stained with dirt and dried blood. The scars from months of straining against his chest brace were visible under the grime. She couldn't even tell what colour his wings were, since malnourishment usually dulls the colour. His black stringy hair was shoulder length and hung over his face, but his eyes pierced through the gloom. He locked eye contact with her as the guards began attaching the shackles to the cell floor and his piercing gaze paralysed her with shock so she barely even noticed as they fastened the final chain to the collar on her neck.
It wasn't until the guards finally let go of her and removed the muzzle did he blink and she immediately started pulling against the bindings again, while the guards left her to her futile struggles. She looked again at her cellmate who was now baring his teeth in a sneer and growling deeply. She made a weak vocal sound in her Plains dialect in attempt to speak to him, but he only snarled loudly which betrayed his borderline insanity and could only be interpreted as 'You're going to die here.'
She recoiled in fear and bowed her head for moment. Then she started sniffing the cell floor and scratching at the stone; trying to smell as much as her chest brace would allow. Suddenly she looked up in horror and started shrieking. Apparently the scent of the previous occupant of her cell was very distressing. She received no response from the other prisoners within earshot and her cellmate only stared at her. After a moment, her form changed as she seemed to become resigned to her fate. She sank to the floor and curled up as much as the chains would allow her.
She didn't move for several days. She refused to eat and only occasionally surrendered to her thirst and drank from the dish of stale water left for her. Now and then she would glance at her cellmate and it became apparent why he was so thin. The “caretaker” barely fed him. Only a palm-sized morsel was provided every couple of days, which was not even remotely enough to sustain the body of a Straith. If their aim was turn him into a ravenous animal, they were succeeding.
After about a week, her initial sadness had turned to depression. Her cellmate was right; she was going to die here, because that was her preference at this point. Anytime the caretaker fed her, she would use her tail to flick the morsel towards her cellmate who snatched it up without a second thought. There was a reason he never offered her any hope. He had none himself. His body and mind were broken and the same would eventually happen to her.
After two weeks, the female Straith spent more time asleep than awake. That is until a new prisoner was brought in. This one proved to be quite a challenge. He was an adult male with bright crimson wings streaked with green. He had long black hair and in body size he was short-limbed and compact, but incredibly fast and agile. He wore a pair of tight animal-hide short trousers and bracelets decorated with small animal bones. He was clearly from a Tropical region and thus had poison glands within his claws. Some of the lower-ranked guards were lamenting how foolish it was to bring in another Tropical Straith. They weren't particularly strong compared to a Mountain or Plains Straith, but they were unmatched in agility and could be extremely aggressive when threatened. He had struggled free and started to run loose in the central area and even managed to poison two of the guards; one of whom collapsed against the bars of the female's cell. She noticed a pair of chain link cutters on his belt and with a bit of subtle stretching, she carefully used her tail tip to pull the cutters off his belt and into her cell. She hid them under herself until the guards chased the Tropical Straith out of the central area and back into the entryway.
With the guards occupied by this Tropical terror, she carefully manoeuvred the cutters until she had cut the chain link on one of her hands. This was the first time since she was captured that she could stretch her arm out straight. Now with a free hand, she used the cutters to cut the links on her other hand, her feet, and her neck. At last she was no longer chained to the floor and was able to stand up. Checking outside the cell, no one noticed her yet, but her cellmate had been watching her very intently. He was snarling and pulling against his own chains as if all he wanted to do was attack her. Quickly, she turned the cutters on herself and carefully clipped the metal bands on her chest brace until it clattered to the floor. Her first full breath in weeks left her light-headed, but she could hear the guards yelling. Apparently they were close to subduing the new prisoner. They had started using tasers and the new prisoner was shrieking in pain. She only had moments to escape. She snatched the key off the unconscious guard's belt and was about to unlock the cell door, when her cellmate roared at her. She looked back at him. At this angle as she stood higher than him, with him looking up at her as he pulled against the chain on his neck, she saw little more than pain-induced rage.
She carefully approached him and knelt down in front of him just out of his reach. He continued to strain against his bindings as if he was ready to tear her to pieces if he broke free. It could be that she wasn't thinking clearly due to having not eaten in two weeks, but she went against her better instincts and deftly placed the cutters on the chain of his collar and cut it. The male Straith lurched forward and stopped pulling on the remaining chains. He actually looked surprised that she was trying to free him. For a brief moment, he stared at her confused, before allowing her to cut the remaining chains. Suddenly, the Tropical bolted into the central area. He was visibly exhausted and there were bruises forming on his skin due to the increasingly aggressive means the guards were using in an attempt to subdue him. The guards then abruptly entered the room as well now with rifles in hand.
The female Straith grabbed the male's collar and pulled him behind the concrete wall and brandished the cutters again. He moved and allowed her to cut the bands on his chest brace. There was so much scar tissue around the brace, he had to exhale fully so she wouldn't cut his skin. Suddenly, one of the guards shouted into the cell and started to unlock the cell door. The female quickly clipped the remaining bands on the brace just as the cell door swung open.
As the rusted chest brace fell to the cell floor, the male Straith had his first taste of freedom in a very long time. He rose to his hind feet and inhaled deeply. The outline of his ribcage was clearly visible under his thin skin, but a starving Straith is still a threat. A Straith will defend its life and those of its Kin until death. The guard was foolishly confident in the armour he wore and pointed his rifle at the beast that stood before him, but a second later, the Tropical pounced on him and swiftly snapped his neck. He had already incapacitated the remaining guards; it wasn't clear how many of them were dead. He hissed and gave the other two Straiths a passing glance before darting back to the entryway.
There would be more men coming. They could already hear the footsteps from the connecting corridors. The remaining prisoners collectively started roaring at the freed Straiths, urging them escape. The Tropical Straith had already torn one the grates off one of the vertical air vents that connected to the surface. It was just big enough for them to squeeze through. Within seconds, he had climbed halfway up. The other two followed as quickly as they could, the male stalling partway though from exhaustion, but the female behind him pushed him on his way. The Tropical Straith punched through the fan at the end of the vent, tore the cover off and crawled out into the open night air of the mountain. He waited only a moment for the other two to drag themselves out as well. The male Plains Straith had to pause for a second to fill his lungs with fresh outdoor air, but there was no time to enjoy freedom; they had to keep running. In the Tropical's case, he had already taken to the air while the Plains natives bolted across the rocky plateau. The compound's reinforcement guards emerged from a mechanical lift and opened fire on the escaping Straithconians. The Tropical was already out of range and the female Straith darted into the trees after bounding over the small river before the forest, but the remaining male, being in such poor physical form lagged behind. The guards managed to fire a bullet through the first bone of his left wing and another though his abdomen. He grunted in pain before he staggered and fell into the river. The female Straith watched with shock from within the trees as the water's current carried his lifeless body downstream before the guards could reach him. She couldn't stay there. She had to run far away and get help. Where her former cellmate ended up, she had no idea.