C26 woke up, which was his first surprise, but he kept his eyes closed, pretending to be asleep, just in case it somehow helped. He was being carried, a strong hand holding his scruff painfully tight as he dangled there. Each step jolted him painfully as the fluff around the grip threatened to rip free.
He felt a sharp slap on the bottom of one of his hooves and his eyes opened with a screech. “You think I didn’t notice you were awake?” Janice’s voice said, and he felt his heart sink. It was over. Was she going to do that to him? No! She couldn’t! She couldn’t she couldn’t she couldn’t! IT WASN’T FAIR!
He began to struggle, knowing it was pointless. The grip was far too strong, and all he could hope for was falling out of her hand and dying on impact with the ground. He struggled harder, hoping desperately that he would fall, that he would land right and break his neck. Anything, anything to escape his current predicament.
“Stop struggling, dumb fuck,” Janice said, voice growing even colder. “What, was a bit of exercise too much for you?”
C26 felt hope blossom in his chest, a chrysanthemum of warmth that overwhelmed even the cold of the wind. She didn’t know! She hadn’t realized he’d seen! She thought he was just trying to escape because of the laps! Maybe that meant she’d be merciful!
“You think you’re the first to try to run after some laps? You know, for creatures with such miserable physical ability, fluffies don’t seem very interested in self-improvement.”
“See-tuu-sicks…hoofsies…huwt…” he muttered, hoping that it would make Janice more certain of her deduction.
“Of course they hurt, wouldn’t be much of a punishment if they didn’t,” Janice explained. “Running away was stupid, though, C26. Did you think you’d be able to survive out there with those on your hooves? Good thing Bella caught you or you’d probably be dead by morning, dumbass. Now you’re going to get punished again, once for running away and again for making me have to come out twice now.”
C26 redoubled his struggles and whined, even though right now he was prepared to except almost any punishment if it meant Janice didn’t find out he knew. He quieted down when she shook him and he felt something beginning to tear in his scruff, though. He did not was to make her angry right now.
They reached the barracks, and Janice opened the door with her customary slam. The fluffies looked up from their meal, apparently it was dinner time, and stood at attention. Janice looked around, spotting the spot with an unclaimed bowl, and walked over. She roughly yanked the shoes off C26’s hooves and set him down. He peeped involuntarily as his tender hooves touched the hard concrete floor.
“A24, I take it he finished his laps?”
“Good. He also tried to leave without permission,” Janice said, and C26 saw A24’s expression change to one of absolute horror. Su A24 nyos, tuu. An uproar started as the other fluffies began to panic. Clearly Janice believed in group punishments for things like escape attempts.
“HOWEVER,” she shouted, over the noise, and the fluffies grew quiet. “I gave A24 permission to return to barracks alone. Therefore, only C26 will be punished. If any of you decide to add your own punishments it will go badly for you, understand?” There was a chorus of agreement. “Good. Now, I’ll be taking C26 to the house for the night. Get some sleep, tomorrow we’re back to full days.”
Janice grabbed C26 again, yanking him into the air, leaving his bowl only half finished. Looking at the others as he was taken away, he saw a mix of expressions. Fear, anger, annoyance. But most of all, pity.
“You fucked up,” Janice said, as C26 struggled to somehow escape the immobilizing board. “First rule I told you, and you broke it. Stupid game to play. But I’m feeling merciful today, so don’t be scared.”
C26 knew what that meant. It meant he should be very, very scared. Nobody ever told a fluffy not to be scared unless they were going to do something horrific. He remembered the basement, and struggled not to let the abject horror he felt show on his face.
“Tomorrow is going to be a full day, and I fully expect you to excel,” Janice continued. "If you aren’t at least as good as a normal new recruit, I will be very disappointed. Of course, you’ve already made that much harder on yourself, but rules are rules, and you need to be punished.
“It is your first day, so I understand. You don’t want to have to adapt to a new life style, you’ve spent your life living by your own rules, and the change is jarring. However, that doesn’t mean you can break the rules I’ve set for you, do you understand?”
“Good, then you know why I have to do this,” Janice said, and C26 saw a flash of motion in his peripheral vision before something lashed across his flank with a loud CRACK! He bit back a cry of pain, mostly on instinct from long months living in the wild, where making noise was a death sentence. Too be honest, though, it wasn’t as bad as he’d expected. He’d suffered far worse pain from stepping in an ant mound in his youth.
But then it kept going, and going, and going, until his sides were raw and blood was oozing from a dozen different nicks. His breathing was ragged, partly from the exhaustion of his recent exertions and mostly from the pain. Eventually, Janice stopped. She wasn’t even breathing heavily, and he knew she’d held back.
“There. Next time you try to escape, I won’t be nearly as kind,” she said, and he felt a gentle hand smearing some kind of soothing ointment on his cuts. He struggled to reconcile this with what he knew of Janice, with what he’d seen in the basement. Had he misjudged her? Maybe the basement was only for the very worst fluffies. Maybe she was kind after all.
He pondered this as she scooped him up out of the immobilizing board and carried him back to the barracks. To his utter shock, he saw his bowl still had the food he’d left in it. Had none of the other fluffies been hungry? Why would they leave perfectly good food there?
More importantly, why did they all seem to surprised to see him?
B17 barely suppressed a gasp as the new fluffy was carried into the room. Was Janice sick? What was going on? How could an attempted runaway get away with so little punishment, let alone with out…that? She struggled to comprehend the baffling circumstance.
The new fluffy, C26, was it? ate the rest of his food with alacrity, then took one of the unoccupied beds and lay down, clearly trying to avoid placing pressure on his tender sides. B17 glared at him, but he didn’t seem to notice. The idiot could get himself in trouble all he wanted, but why did he risk bringing the rest of the into it?
Still, to try to escape on his very first day, even with the sorry-shoes on…maybe he could be useful. As soon as A24 was asleep she’d have to have a chat with the newcomer. It was a gamble, but less of one than talking to any of the others, who’d just report her immediately.
C26 lay there in the dark, trying not to cry as the weals on his sides burned with a low, throbbing fire. He knew he should sleep, that it would be a long, difficult day tomorrow, but the pain was too much to just sleep off. Eyes screwed tightly closed, he tried to ignore the pain.
He felt something touch him, causing the spot to flare with renewed sharpness, but he suppressed the yelp of pain. Opening his eyes he saw a figure looming over him, and he flinched. Janice had said for the others not to hurt him, but Janice wasn’t here, and the others might have decided it was worth the risk.
Broken bones would not made his sides hurt any less.
“See-tuu-sicks” a voice whispered, so quiet he could barely hear it. He recognized the voice and scent, though. B17? Of course, she would be the first one to get revenge with him in this weakened state.
He prepared to yell, hoping it would get Janice’s attention or that at least the others would step in before B17 caused too much damage, but his mouth was filled with fluff as she leaned her side into his face. “Pwease, nu make noisies,” she murmured. “Bee-wun-seben wan tawk.”
He blinked a few times, then nodded. That seemed to satisfy her, and she moved away. Deciding it was better than yelling and hoping to not get beaten too badly by the abnormally-strong mare before the others intervened, he followed her. She made her way over to the designated waste area, a series of small holes leading into darkness. He murmured “Nu smeww pwetty,” as the reek hit his nose.
“Wisten,” B17 said, tone urgent. “Nu hab time, nu can be ‘way fow wong. Bee-wun-seben nee’ hewp, wan wun 'way. Pwease, hewp, See-tuu-sicks.”
C26 tried to process the complete reversal of his expectations. B17 had seemed just as hostile towards him as the others when he’d been brought back from his escape attempt. Why the sudden change of heart? Why did she want to leave so much? Could it be…that she knew too?
“Wai wan gu?” he asked, trying to gauge whether it was a trap.
“Bee-wun-seben nu hab much time weft. Nu wan-” she cut off as another shape approached in the gloom. The figure, a fluffy C26 didn’t recognize, failed to read the atmosphere and selected a spot between the two of them to begin voiding his bowels. C26 saw an expression of desperation and fury flash across B17’s face for an instant before her usual guarded expression returned, and she walked back to her bed.
B17 lay in her bed, eyes closed, but trying to stay awake. She knew she should rest, that being sleep-deprived wouldn’t do her any good, but…it felt wasteful of what time she had to just sleep during the few short hours she got without Janice or A24 watching her. She had so little time left! She had to hurry, had to get out of here, before…
She silently cursed A24 in the most vile ways her limited vocabulary could manage. The ass-kissing snitch! If not for him…maybe B4 and the rest of A group would still be here. She ground her teeth, remembering the smug tone the traitor had adopted the morning after the incident.
As she grew more exhausted, her thoughts became more disjointed, until finally she fell asleep fantasizing about what would happen to A24 after she escaped.
C26’s breath came in great wheezing gasps, his limbs feeling like water, lungs burning, throat dry as a desert. He pulled with all his might, the weight he was dragging behind him barely moving, the coarse rope grinding against his tongue and teeth painfully.
Finally, he dragged the weight past the finish line, and fell over with a thud, too devoid of energy to even care about the wave of pain landing on his raw side sent through him. As he rested, he silently hoped that they were done for the day, that he could go back to the barracks and sleep.
“15 minutes, then on to difficult terrain training!” Janice called in her parade-ground shout, and C26 groaned. He just wanted to rest! His legs were so tired, his hooves were still so sore! Why couldn’t she let them rest?
For the briefest of moments, he considered just ignoring her when she told them to move on. That wasn’t going to happen. He was already in enough trouble as is, he didn’t need to add more. He would stay on Janice’s good side no matter what it took.
“Break time over! Let’s move!”
He drew a huge gasp of air, and forced himself to his hooves once again.
Difficult terrain training, as it turned out, meant wading through mud. Mud, in this freezing cold. What human magic Janice used to keep the huge field of mud a particularly disgusting warm temperature C26 couldn’t begin to guess, but at this point he was beyond caring. All he knew was that he had to do three laps and then he could rest for a while. Just three. How bad could it be?
As it turned out, very bad. The mud resisted his every effort to move, and his jello-legs could barely make progress at all. Immediately he fell behind, the others taking off with speed he couldn’t hope to match. He felt Janice’s eyes boring into him as the fastest fluffies caught up to him, passing him one by one. But he couldn’t go any faster.
Then something slammed into him, sending him sprawling into the mud. Hooves pressed his face into the muck, and he held his breath as best he could. Well, as far as deaths went, drowning in mud probably wasn’t as bad as whatever Janice would do to him if he disappointed her. Honestly, he should probably be greatful to whichever fluffy was holding him under.
Then the weight was suddenly removed, and he was pulled gasping and choking from the mud pit. He heard screaming and shrieks, but he couldn’t understand them through the mud in his ears and the oxygen deprivation. Hands lifted him, and carried him with surprising gentleness, but to where he couldn’t tell with his eyes caked shut.
B17 gasped for air, the sharp pain in her side telling her at least a few ribs were cracked or broken. It was a stupid gamble, but she was getting desperate, and it might pay off. All she had to do now was follow Janice to the sick room.
She sure was lucky B14 was so easy to trick.
C26 watched with a mix of satisfaction and horror as Janice held B14 aloft by his scruff, like she had to him before. He didn’t understand why the large stallion had attacked him, or why B17 had saved him. He saw her wince again, clearly injured. Nothing in this place made any sense!
“Bee-wun-fouw nu du nuffin’ wong!” the stallion protested, making some of the onlookers flinch. That was just going to make things worse for him. “See-tuu-sicks am bad fwuffy! Gib bad enfies tu babbehs! Bee-wun-fouw onwy wan hewp babbehs!”
That didn’t clear anything up for anyone, apparently including Janice, who seemed just as confused as the rest of them, even if she didn’t make it quite as obvious. What babbehs? There were no babbehs here, or even soon-mummahs! It was strange that it hadn’t even occurred to C26 until now that B14’s incoherent rant brought it to his attention.
“B14, I don’t care what you think about the others, you tried to kill C26 and almost killed B17!”
“Nu cawe! Wan hewp babbehs!”
Janice sighed. “Well, I guess that means your dropping out. This batch has been nothing but disappointments. A24, keep an eye on things while I take care of this mess.”
B17 lay on her good side in the sick room, wincing with every breath, but secretly exulting in her success. Alone, unobserved, with the only fluffy here that hadn’t seen the incident. This was the best chance she was going to get to talk to C26 without interruptions, and she had at least a few days to plan now.
Unless, of course, Janice decided to cut her losses on B17, but hopefully that wouldn’t happen. She unconsciously drew a deep breath to prepare, then let it out with a hiss when her ribs protested. The sooner she could explain everything to C26 the better.
C26 watched B17 warily. She’d saved him from B14, but he still didn’t trust her. Not by a long shot. He’d seen her watching him with a calculating eye. If he wasn’t careful, she’d use him for whatever her plan was.
He heard her hiss in pain, then speak. “Bee-wun-seben nee’ hewp.”
B17 had rehearsed this speech in her head so many times, but the words seemed to flee as soon as it was time to tell B26 everything. She felt herself choking up, tears beginning to blur her vision as she struggled to find words to explain her situation, their situation, and how desperately they needed to escape.
“Bee-wun-seben nu wan gu fowebah-sweepies,” she sobbed softly. “Wan wibe! Wan hab speshow-fwiend an’ babbehs an’ famiwy an’ nice housies! Nu am faiw! Bee-wun-seben nu wan hab nu-pwetty mane! Wai Bee-wun-seben nu am gud 'nuff?”
She noticed the shocked and confused look on the stallion’s face and pulled herself together. “Nu am gud pwace,” she began to explain, trying to find the words to convey her meaning.
“See-tuu-sicks nyo. See wut Janice du. See-tuu-sicks wan wun ‘way, tuu, bu’ nu nyo hao. Bewwa am tuu fast, am nu way out!”
B17’s stomach lurched, emotions pulled two directions. Hope, that C26 would be willing to help, having seen the fate she was trying to avoid, and dread that he might just sell her out in terror if he knew the potential consequences of her plan. But it was too late to stop now. If either of them were caught, they would sell the other out, it was just the fact of the matter.
“Bee-wun-seben hab idea,” she began, before cutting herself off as the door to the sick room opened and Janice stormed in.
“B17, why did you convince B14 to kill C26?” she asked, voice choking with fury.
Of course, she shouldn’t have gambled on B14 being too stupid to sell her out to save his own skin.
GET FUCKED B17 HAHAHAH
I have a theory, but mostly I just want more chapters, immediately!! Holy shit I’m hooked AF
B17 gonna be another dead dumb bitch.