13: Caged

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Powder had been out for a while, because when she finally stirred on a hard surface her organs felt like they had settled against her back. A long, slow breath sent sensors to her stomach to see if it still wanted to vomit. It was numb and she felt like her energy had drained from the tips of her fingers to her sore bare feet.

The real pain now was on the outside of her body, especially her right leg which was lifted up high in the air. When she opened her eyes, Powder saw her ankle tethered to a large swinging bar that hung suspended in the middle of a giant bird cage that entrapped her. The bar was high enough that Powder's lower back was elevated. All was dark and still. When she tried to shake her leg out of the rope the cage swung. Powder flexed her toes in an attempt to revive the blood that had drained down to her torso. If she ever walked again, she would pay adoring attention to her right leg forever.

When her eyes adjusted she could see that the room surrounding the cage was sparse. The ceiling was lower like the one at Base, but the place had a stuffy feeling and didn't appear to have ever been used or decorated. It was some kind of storage room filled with white statues and boxes and even a pool table, but no fabrics or bright things to be seen. A musty room that protos dragged bleeders into and then left them alone in suspended giant cages.

Like her leg, Powder ignored her situation as much as possible so that the horror simmering in her subconscious wouldn't boil before it was necessary. She was alive, her limbs were attached, and she had stopped vomiting. There was, however, dried blood all over her chin and neck. Alive, though. She was alive.

Almost as soon as she had thought this, her cage tipped from the edge near where her head was, sliding her backwards a little and straining her leg. Powder cried and spread her fingers across the floor to keep from sliding further.

"Shhh! It's me."

Powder craned her neck to see Scotch holding onto the bars behind her. He was covered in lint, dust balls, little feathers and... was that sawdust?

"I can't believe you're alive after losing that much stuffing," he whispered. "How did you get in here?" He looked up and down the cage.

"You're here..." Powder said. If Scotch was expecting her to think analytically then he was about to be disappointed.

"Are you... all right?" he asked the question carefully, as though he knew she'd say no. After all, there was no reason for this situation to be all right on anyone's terms except the protos'.

"I'm not dead." Powder licked her sleeve and used it to wipe at the dried blood on her face. "Is everyone else...?"

"Amaretto and Licorice were torn. Totally done for. Last I saw was Chaos thrashing Fizz with his own arm, and Mint and Puckerz had chased Dolly deep into the Lower Levels." Scotch's voice portrayed no emotion here. "I left Meringue—or whatever he calls himself now—in a knot after Cross picked you up. Then I followed you. Is this cage locked? We need you outta here before he comes back."

Cross. That name was familiar.

Scotch climbed up onto the bars and the cage swung from side to side. Powder groaned from the new stress the motion added to her leg.

"Sorry," said Scotch. "Did you break any sticks?" He maneuvered around the extremity of the cage until he came to the square gate that was the entrance. It had a large black padlock.

"I don't think so. What about you? Dull Face—I mean Meringue—cut your neck."

"Actually, he got a good rip beneath my collar stick," said Scotch. "But your condition's more important."

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