Caged no more.
The pain. It was unbearable. Even a week afterwards, her eyes still felt like they were on fire.
It was all the result of her latest failed escape attempt; failed, and yet this was the closest she had ever gotten to the window. Somehow, Robin had managed to slip out of her cage and slide down the table leg, only to scurry up another piece of furniture. It was the closest one to the window, the only source of light in this dismal room.
But then, the door opened and the sound of a surprised, angry human soon followed. It had startled her so much that she stumbled in her footing, knocking over a small oil lamp on the table and spilling just a few drops of the hot, burning oil…right into her eyes.
With her attention directed towards the burning pain on her face rather than getting away, she had made it quite easy for the human to re-capture her. Not taking any chances in risking another escape attempt from the tiny, he decided to hang her cage in the middle of the room from a chain attached to the ceiling. No way down now, even if she did slip out of that cage.
In an attempt to numb the pain she felt from the burns, she tore off a scrap of fabric from the bottom of her dress and wrapped it around her eyes like a blindfold. She had almost tasted that freedom; a freedom that had been taken from her years ago when the humans had come and invaded her village. She remembered that day all too well:
“Can you believe this?! He’s bringing her back AGAIN!”
“Come on, Raja, you’re starting to sound as worried as the elders. So what if Ollie likes a human? If it makes him happy, then that’s all that matters then, right?” Robin said with a simple shrug, her mind more focused on the bracelet she was trying to weave than her friend’s disbelief. “Wasn’t there an old story about one of our kind falling in love with a human?”
“Robin, this isn’t a fairy tale! He’s our friend, of course I want him to be happy but…but bringing her to the village without giving us any warning? I nearly died of a heart attack yesterday! It’s a wonder the elders were ok with it! And now he plans to bring her again today?! Let’s just give her a map so she can show the whole world where we live!” she shouted out, throwing her hands in the air, continuing to pace around on the tree root anxiously.”
“Raja, relax! It’s just one human. And Ollie trusts her! How bad could it b-“
She was interrupted by the sound of screams coming from the outer reaches of their tiny village. The bushes rustled and Ollie’s human friend emerged, smiling triumphantly at the sight of them. “There, see? I told you! Little pest led me right to them yesterday.” The human was followed by a rather big group of humans, each emerging from the bushes carrying nets, cages and strange looking guns. “Go on and do…whatever. Just make sure to send me my cut of the profits, ok?” she waved passively, turning heel and disappearing back into the bushes.
Robin stood there in shock, her mouth moving to speak, but no words came out. What…what was going on?!
“See!?!” Raja pointed out, already trying to scramble down the root to the ground. “I was right! She went and gave us all awa-…Robin?! Robin don’t just stand there! Run!!! RUN!!!!”
Her legs finally kicked in and she turned to climb down the root, but she had acted just a second too late. The hand descended onto her like lightening, roughly snatching her right up and tossing her carelessly into a cage with others.
That was the last she ever saw of her village…or her friends.
Over the last few months, she had watched as, their captors would take the others away, probably to be sold to a private collector or something…hopefully. That was honestly the best scenario she could think of. One by one they were taken away until she was the only one left in the cage. She expected the humans to just take her away the next day, but surprisingly…they didn’t. She was never taken to be sold. For years, the only time she saw the humans was when they came down to feed her, or stop her from escaping.
And this latest attempt was the nail in the coffin. She had given up completely. It was hopeless, even she had to admit it. Even if she did somehow manage to escape, she wouldn’t get very far with her injuries.
The door burst open. Robin jumped up in surprise, staggering backwards and slamming into the bars behind her, causing the cage to rock slightly. Boots stomping, something dragging heavily along the floor and the sound of chains, all echoing loudly through the large cellar.
“-filthy pilferer! Come on! Quit your squirming!
More chains. Struggles. Were they restraining someone?
“-teach you a lesson you won’t forget! Hahahaha!” It had all happened so fast. The voices, the sound of footsteps ascending up the stairs, and the door slamming once again told her that the humans had gone and left her alone.
Yet, Robin knew that she wasn’t alone.
“……..Damn it…….RRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAA!!!!!!!! FRIGGIN’…………DAMN IT!!!” the stranger screamed, thrashing in his bonds for a few moments before slumping down against the wall, frustrated and tired.
The sheer volume of the voice told her that it definitely wasn’t one of her kind. It was enough to make her wince and cover her ears. A human? Obviously not a friend of the ones that captured her. She could imagine him wrapped up somehow in the chains she heard earlier. He was another captive, like herself.
“Y-…you shouldn’t scream like th-that…” her tone was barely a whisper. It had been so long since she had talked to anybody, that her voice had grown hoarse from misuse. It was actually a wonder that he had even heard her. The sound of him struggling against the chains immediately stopped, bringing a deafening silence to the room.
“…shit….this is perfect….just perfect. Stuck in the same room as a damn tiny.” Had he not noticed her before she talked? “Stupid humans…probably laughing about this right now.” He grumbled bitterly.
“…u-umm……So…why did they bring you here? No one ever comes down to the cellar.” She asked quietly and politely, trying not to let his bitterness get to her. What was so wrong with being a tiny? “The human called you a…a rotten pilferer…so then…that means that you’re a…a thief-?”
“Hey!” he snapped, the sound of the chains shifting again as he moved. “Thief is a strong word! I prefer the term, ‘Professional Collector.’ People don’t need half the stuff that’s sitting on their shelves. I just help them make room for even more pointless junk by collecting the junk that’s already there.”
Robin frowned, trying to process that logic. “but that’s…that’s still wrong. Taking anything that doesn’t belong to you is wrong.” She knew from experience…she had been taken.
The chains clanked together once again. “Hey, a naga’s gotta make a living somehow. Heh, like you’re one to talk, tiny. I’d bet half the scales on my tail that you’re in the same boat as me. They probably stuck you in that friggin’ bird cage because they caught you stealing cheese or something.” He retorted bitterly, too busy fiddling with his bonds to notice the girl’s sudden crestfallen look.
“Actually…I was captured a long time ago. Those humans came and…n-no. I don’t want to talk about i-“ she paused and tilted her head, processing a bit of information from earlier. “Wait….did you say…naga?” That was not good. Not good at all. If he was a naga…then…
“No, I said unicorn…of course I said naga! Like I don’t know what the scales on my tail are! Maybe you would know if you took that damn thing off of your face…idiot…”
Her heart sank. None of the humans had pointed out the blindfold when they came to feed her, and now this stranger had? “I…I don’t want to take it off…I’m…I’m afraid to…” she managed to choke out, hugging her knees to her chest and turning away from the voice.
“Afraid? Heh…” she heard him let out a small chuckle. “Afraid of what? You’re in a cage? What, are you afraid that they’ll come in and yell at you for taking it off?”
“No. I mean, yes! I mean…that’s not what I’m scared of...” she whispered, reaching a hand up to the back of her head to fiddle with the knot she had made. ”I…I’m afraid that it will hurt again…or that when I open my eyes, I don’t see anything.”
The room went quiet.
“…You mean…you put that thing on yourself then?” She heard him ask after a long, agonizing silence. Surprisingly, his voice was a lot softer than the bitter tone he had kept up earlier. Robin nodded silently, staying huddled in the corner of the cage. “What…‘cause you got hurt?” Another nod. The stranger sighed.
“…Leave it on then.” He answered her rather bluntly, looking down at the ground. “If it makes you feel better, then just leave it on. Not much to see anyways.” He said with a sigh, the sound of him shifting what Robin could now imagine to be his tail echoed through the dark cellar.
“Oi vey…this day is just getting better and better..…look…I need some rest, ok kid? Those guards put up one helluva fight. Once I get my strength back, we’ll break out.” he explained rather matter-of-factly.
“B-break out?!” She rose to her feet, her tone was panicked and surprised. “But…but we can’t! I know! I’ve tried! Now I don’t even know if I can se-“
“Kid, if you keep whining like that then the guards will hear us and then we REALLY won’t get out of here.” He growled out irritably, silencing the girl in the cage. “Look. I promise, ok? I can get us both outta here no sweat. Just…get some rest kid, ok?”
Robin heard him say nothing more, the silence broken only by the stranger’s gentle snores as he drifted off to sleep.
Was it really possible? Could he break her out? Or rather, could she trust him? After all, most nagas had a pretty nasty reputation for uh…well…showing great interest in her kind as a snake would a mouse. And he was also a thief. What if he wasn’t freeing her, but just ‘stealing’ her away to earn a quick buck?
An excited panic buzzed through her as all these questions floated in and out of her head. She was up for another hour or so, silently pacing along the edge of the cage before exhaustion over took her. Robin slumped over in the gently rocking cage and silently drifted off.
Whether he was there to hurt or help her didn’t matter anymore. With this stranger’s help, she’d soon be caged no more.