22: Bittersweet

22 3 6

Powder drew in a shattered breath, her body becoming painfully rigid. There had been no plan—no opportunity to trap the Monstress and demand release. Her stomach turned into hot sand but Scotch made absolutely no movement to push her forward.

"Butterscotch," The M's voice had not yet altered into any irritated pitch or cadence. "I'm ready."

Adrenaline was claiming every part of Powder's body. Scotch's hand, which was gripping her dress at the shoulder blade, relaxed and started to slide down her back. His hold around her arm loosened too. His body listed away from hers.

If there was a time to play along with the Monstress, it was now. Scotch had the chance to push her and make the Monstress think he had really lost interest in Powder. To not push her would surely imply the opposite, and Powder could only imagine what would happen then. The Monstress could make him throw Powder by her neck. Scotch would leave this scene either the perpetrator or the instrument of the Monstress' crime, and if he was the instrument, the crime would surely be murder.

In that moment, there was only one terribly frightening thing Powder could think of doing. So frightening it brought back that sickness which drove her to do it just to end the suspense. Scotch must have sensed her plan the half-second before it happened because she could feel his hand move up to grab her.

But those doll reflexes were not quick enough. Powder arched her back with a jerk, falling forward and downward faster than her eyes could see or her lungs could breathe. She tumbled head over heels and in each rotation, she was blinded and captured inside of a burst of light from the Monstress' box. At the bottom Powder slammed into the floor in a twisted pile as bits of her mind swirled in the air just out of arm's reach. Her eyes were closed but she was still conscious, afraid to look in case she wasn't in one piece. The wind had been knocked out of her but her mouth was open, gaping and unable to draw air. The Monstress' cold fingertips pressed into her neck for a pulse.

"Well done," the Monstress said to Scotch. "I thought you were hesitating." The fingers left.

There was no reply from Scotch, but several pairs of footsteps came running in from somewhere. One belonged to Fizz.

"What happened to Sugar?" he asked in a dazed voice. "Did she fall? Did you push her, Scotch? Is she dead?!"

Powder tried hard to open her lungs but the air still wasn't coming. Furry black blobs were appearing behind her eyelids.

The Monstress calmly answered.

"This is all part of the set-up, darling. She's just a little woozy."

Powder could hear the Monstress step near her, probably blocking Fizz from approaching. Her lungs finally gave in and a torrent of air shot down her throat.

"See," The Monstress said, somewhat triumphant. "Now then, we're going to have to try that once again, Butterscotch. You were looking shocked. This time you should be angry, just like in the other pictures."

The Monstress grabbed Powder by the arm and pulled upward. Powder's shoulder burned and something cracked in her back, making her shriek.

"Stop! Stop!" Anise yelled. "You're hurting her!" Powder felt pity for Anise since the Monstress never took well to criticism.

"She's only being dramatic," the Monstress assured them again, her voice terse. "Looks like we'll have to wait now. It'll be fine. I don't need her for the developing part. Come with me, dolls. Butterscotch... what are you doing?"

Slow footsteps nearing Powder stopped. A knee fell to the ground beside her. Powder couldn't feel her heart anymore but her mind was throbbing.

"I told you she's fine," the Monstress said. "Come."

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