How many days had passed since that evening? Was Konoe okay? What about the twins? Those hags would’ve told him if they’d gone after his family, wouldn’t they?
The room had no windows or candlelight. He remembered walking down a staircase to get here, so maybe he was in a basement of some kind.
The touch of those hags had invaded his dreams, making sleep impossible.
He stared down at his nakedness. So dark was the room that he couldn’t see the rags upon which he’d been made to lay. His ankles itched, but his bound hands were just barely unable to reach.
He could always call out for help, but they would touch more than just his ankles. His stomach churned at the thought.
The door creaked open, and he averted his eyes from the sliver of light that shone through.
“Do you have a preferred form today, Tamatoya?” came a hag’s coarse voice, as though her throat was sandpaper.
“Just get on with it,” he grumbled, sitting up and glaring into the direction the voice came from.
“Come now,” she said, sauntering over. “I want you to enjoy this too, Tamatoya.”
As she approached, her voice softened to that of a woman. When her fingers traced a line along his upper thigh, he lunged forward for where he imagined her throat to be.
She stumbled away from him, and fell over with a squawk.
“Y-You bit me!”
“Not deep enough, it sounds like,” he snarled back.
“You brute. Just give in,” the hag said. “If you did your job properly, you’d be back home with your family, with scarcely a memory of us.”
“I’m a herbalist, not some stud,” he said.
“And yet you had two beautiful girls,” she said. “What’s one more? A few more?”
His blood ran cold.
“Oops.” The hag didn’t sound particularly apologetic.
He roared, and the chains groaned as he struggled against them.
“If you hurt them,” he growled. “You won’t have your head for long.”
“I like you better when you’re angry,” she said.
“And I’ll like you better when you’re food for the birds.”
“They aren’t hurt, don’t worry,” she said. “It was simply a misspeak on my part.”
He couldn’t help but sigh with relief, even as he continued glaring at her.
“But we might be tempted to hurt them if you don’t cooperate soon,” she said. “We have a schedule to keep, after all.” Her voice fell low, and returned to its rough serration against his ears. “If we don’t have our gift when the Demon Lord’s General arrives, our coven mother would be displeased indeed.”
The threat to Tsubame and Kotori had to be a bluff. Everyone in town would rise to the twins’ protection should the need arise. Townsfolk here cared about each other deeply, not like those in Eternia. He just had to believe in them.
“So you’d give that monster one of your own? A baby, at that? Here I thought those in your coven cared about each other,” he said.
He smirked when she stamped her foot.
“Someone so ignorant shouldn’t be speaking,” she hissed. “We need that General’s protection.”
“Whatever you say. I’m not the one gifting my coven sisters to a complete stranger,” Tamatoya said.
The hag snarled and shoved him onto his back. The back of his head struck the floor through the thin sheets, and he grunted in pain.
Her face neared Tamatoya's. Her breath smelled of rotten berries and spoiled meat, and his nose wrinkled.
“You blame us for this,” she said. “But have you ever considered blaming the magic dwelling here?” She cupped the fork of his legs. “We saw a once in a lifetime opportunity, how could we not take it?”
His breath caught in his throat upon feeling the hag’s long and taloned fingernails gently raking the reason behind his imprisonment here. Any harder, and she would draw blood.
“I-I will never give you what you seek,” he growled.
She chuckled, but her voice was slightly distant. Perhaps she was leaning away from him to avoid getting bitten.
“The human men we’ve captured over the years never had a choice,” she said. “What makes you think you will?”
He glared at her.
“We’ve dispelled all your magics,” she said. “So if you have any tricks, they’re gone.”
He kept up a stony grimace.
“Perhaps your…endowment is deceiving,” she said. “And you’re not as potent as you appear.”
He still kept silent. The hag could not doubt see his reaction with her impeccable night vision.
“But you had two daughters,” she said, resting a hand on his chest. The other hand remained at his fork, fingers turning into softer and velvet smooth digits. “So you aren’t infertile. Perhaps we must simply be patient. But I can be very patient.”
He could almost see the grin contort her mouth from ear to ear, and he drew in a breath.
Then a voice came from the doorway. His ears flicked, and his mouth twisted into a scowl at its familiarity.
“Maud, the coven mother said it was my turn with him,” the woman said.
“Well if it isn’t Foucine.” the hag called to the doorway. “Are you actually going to do your duty this time?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Foucine said, stepping into the room.
“Just that when you get your chance with him, things get awfully quiet. No moaning, no screaming, no crying, not a single peep. And you seem to enjoy assuming that form.”
“It’s what he’s familiar with,” Foucine said.
“I guess you didn’t care for the feelings of those other men, then?”
Foucine frowned at her.
“The coven mother was satisfied with me bringing him here,” Foucine said. “But clearly that wasn’t enough for you. When will you be satisfied, Maud?”
“Get a baby in your belly, and then we’ll talk,” she said.
“I wouldn’t want to deprive you of that honor, but if you insist,” Foucine said. “Now please leave us. He will be hard to arouse if you’re staring at him like a vulture and a carcass.”
Maud pouted and left the room.
“Fine, but I will make him into a carcass if he doesn’t cooperate soon,” she said, and then shut the door behind her.
“It’s an empty threat,” Foucine said, mixing water and what she’d brought with her in a small bowl.
“Get lost, you hag,” Tamatoya muttered.
Foucine seemed to ignore him as she wiped his face with a cloth and began feeding him a brew of foul tasting tea.
“We need you to drink,” she said. “And this should boost your virility a bit more. The last one has probably run its course by now.”
He had half a mind to spit out the concoction, but she seemed to catch on, as she said, “Kotori wasn’t feeling well.” His eyes grew wide, but she pressed a hand to his lips. “But I’ll only say more if you drink. So please?”
A muffled growl slipped out, but he obediently swallowed the drink. A brief shudder racked him as the first mouthful slithered down his throat, and he stared at her.
“I don’t know the details,” Foucine said. “But she wasn’t waking up. Tsubame and Natalia came for some medicine. They brought someone else with them, a foreigner that didn’t seem to know Meliodan. I don’t know much else about them. But anyway, I gave them medicine, and Kotori is awake now, at least. I’m not sure how well she is beyond that though.”
When he’d drunk the last of the tincture, he blanched.
“I have something for the aftertaste,” Foucine said.
But Tamatoya kept his lips firmly closed.
“You don’t want it?” she said.
“Don’t feed me with your mouth this time,” he spat.
“Fine,” she said.
His nose wrinkled at the disappointment in her tone, and she slipped a small sprig of mint leaf into his mouth. Though he half expected it, his brow still furrowed when she gently traced his lips with her thumb.
“Your wife will move on, you know,” she said. “She will certainly search for you for months, or even years, but she won’t find you. And then, her children will convince her to stop waiting for you, and move on with her life. She’ll find a nice man here, or find one in Eternia. And your children will be there to support her.”
“To hell with that,” he spat, flecking her cheek with bits of mint leaf.
She wiped away the mint without even a light crease of her brow, instead reaching down and cupping his cheek with her other hand.
“But I’ll be here for you,” she whispered. “I can free you right now. We can leave for Giormund, and make a life together there. Open up a bigger apothecary there. All you have to do is never leave me.”
“You can ask that a hundred more times, and my answer won’t change,” he said, glaring at her. “I’d never betray Konoe’s trust. Especially not for the harlot that put me in this place to begin with.”
Foucine made no attempt to deny the insult, and winced.
“Our coven mother wishes to be in this general’s good graces,” she said. “And we have no other gifts to provide that would get his attention. But a child with an elf’s natural flair for magic and a hag’s magical disease and illusions at their fingertips would be quite the fearsome caster indeed, don’t you think?”
Tamatoya looked at her flatly, not even bothering to answer that.
“I don’t know if this helps you feel better,” Foucine said. “But even if male hags existed, I would have asked the coven mother to pursue you rather than Konoe.”
“Thanks for that, I guess,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“If you want me gone that badly, why don’t you tell the other hags about my offer? To run away with you?” Foucine said.
“Remember what you said about Kotori?”
Foucine’s mouth grew round, and she nodded.
“Having you around is better than not knowing anything at all,” he said.
After a few moments, Foucine glanced at the door.
“I imagine Maud is listening right now,” she said slowly, and Tamatoya felt her eyes upon him.
His thighs squeezed together.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry,” she said, running a hand along his face.
“Don’t you dare try to say that,” he spat. “You’ve probably dreamt about this very thing.”
Foucine kept quiet for a time.
“Never like this,” she eventually said, the words coming out amidst a sigh. “This isn’t what I wanted.”
“Why me?” Tamatoya said. “You hags can make yourselves look like whoever you want, and are just as good at playing pretend. Any man would want you. Do you want my babies that badly? Is that why I’m special?”
“You probably don’t remember,” she said. “But you helped me a lot in the apothecary last summer.”
“I remember. Wish I hadn’t, now.” His lips pinched to the side. “You’re saying that that was enough to get you smitten? What are you, a schoolgirl?”
“N-Not just that,” she said, and he wanted to smack that blush that was no doubt flooding her cheeks right now. “But you knew what you were doing. You know your craft well, and I suppose I liked that. That reliability. And you checking to make sure that I was okay even with everything else you were doing at the time.”
“It’s my job,” Tamatoya said. “I’m going to be competent. And yeah, I said I’d help you, so naturally I’ll check on you. I won’t be that guy that just says something without following through. Any decent person would do that.”
“Then there’re fewer decent people than you seem to think,” Foucine said.
“That sounds like it’s not my problem,” Tamatoya said flatly.
“I know, but…” Foucine sighed, and again glanced at the door before turning back around to face him. Her hand paused near his groin. “May I have your permission? Please?”
“You have my permission to go die.”
“Please? If I don’t do it, Maud will come in. A-And I don’t like the idea of her or any of them getting their hands all over you.”
He glared up at her.
“So the only one that can defile me is you, do I have that right?”
“I-I’ll be gentle,” she said. “I promise. I’ve been with many men, so I have plenty of experience. I can treat you well.”
Tamatoya averted his gaze from her, turning his head to the side.
“...I’ll treat you well,” she said, more softly. She stroked his cheek. “I’ll treat you well.”
Tamatoya glared at the wall, his teeth clenched.
Foucine descended upon him, and he closed his eyes.