Birdcage

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 11 (v.1) - Chapter XI - Cold, or: the love of a father

Submitted: July 16, 2019

Reads: 29

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Submitted: July 16, 2019

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Pollux and Castor Gemelo were born in Forenz, a small country to the west of Cieleta, six and a half years before the Purge. Forenz was an inhospitable country, with tough soil and icy winds that killed crops. When the first people to settle in Forenz arrived in this frozen tundra, they realized the two options that sat in front of them: adapt, or perish. They chose the first option.

 

Inspired by the teachings of their patron, the Sage, the people of Forenz mastered the art of magic. Using crystalized mana dug deep from within the earth, they bent the elements of nature to their will. With fire magic, they warmed their homes. With wind magic, they blew away the icy storms. With earth magic, they broke the frozen soil and planted their crops.

 

By the time the twins were born Forenz was a paradise. Then the Purge came.

 

---

 

Two weeks after Eric’s escape, the twins took the recruitment exam, passing with flying colors thanks to a little tip I gave them. They requested placement on Squad V. I led them back to the barracks, where Sterling and Captain Cross waited.

 

“Welcome to Squad V, Gemelo and...Gemelo,” Cross said.

 

“Glad to be here, Mr. Cross,” Cas said. “I can’t wait to start fighting monsters, and going on adventures, and-”

 

Cross chuckled. “Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, Castor,” he said. “I’d prefer to keep you two away from real danger until I have a chance to properly train you.”

 

Sterling carried over a box full of armor and sat it down on one of the beds. “I grabbed some gear from the armory,” he said. “It isn’t the nicest, but it’s still better than the stuff you guys sell.”

 

Pollux reached into the box and pulled out an old helmet. He glanced at me. “So, do you guys wear this every day? Seems a bit uncomfortable,” he said.

 

“You get used to it,” I said.

 

Cas pulled off his stocking cap, exposing his uncombed brown hair, and put a helmet on his head. He pulled his hat tight over the helmet. Pollux rolled his eyes and put on the rest of his armor.

 

Captain Cross handed the twins a pair of lances and we marched to the gate. After two hours without an incident, the twins finally spoke up. “So, is this all you guys do?” Pollux asked.

 

“Pretty much, yes,” Sterling said.

 

“At least the pay’s better, I suppose,” Pollux said.

 

Cas climbed up and joined me and Cross atop the guard tower. “So, see anything cool with the telescope?” he asked.

 

“Nothing yet, Castor,” Cross said. “Seems that today will be rather peaceful.”

 

“Oh, that’s nice,” Cas said with a frown.

 

Cross tossed the telescope to Cas before climbing down off the guard tower. Cas spied out on the desolate lands on the other side of the wall. “See anything?” I asked.

 

Cas smiled. “I see something!” he shouted before thrusting the telescope into my hands.

 

I looked out on the field. “I don’t see anything,” I said.

 

“Look down by the river, at those blue jelly things,” Cas said.

 

I followed his instructions. A couple of small blue blobs were crawling around on the beach. “Those are just slimes,” I said. “Balls of grungy water given a fragment of sentience by magic. Basically harmless, really.”

 

Cas groaned. “So there’s no reason to go out beyond the wall?” he asked.

 

At that moment, I realized Cas had given me an opportunity. “Actually, it’s a perfect reason to go out,” I said.

 

I yelled for Cross and he climbed up the ladder. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

 

“It’s terrible, Captain,” I said, fake fear filling my voice. “Gemelo here spotted some dangerous monsters down by the river.”

 

“How dangerous?”

 

“Slimes!” Cas shouted.

 

Cross rolled his eyes. “You don’t really need to concern yourself with slimes, Gemelo,” he said. “Especially not ones down by the river. It’ll take them a week to get to the gate. Even then, it’s not like they’re a high level threat.”

 

“Oh, I don’t know about that, Captain,” I said. “Their lack of danger is their greatest weapon. Today we ignore them, tomorrow they squeeze through the bricks of the wall and invade the city. And when that happens-”

 

“We kill them instantly because they lack any real ability to harm us,” Cross interjected.

 

“Yes, but have you considered the following: what if they could harm us?”

 

“They could crawl into our food supplies and make them...dirty!” Cas said.

 

“We have no choice but to nip them in the bud now, lest they destroy us tomorrow!” I said.

 

Cross sighed. “If it’s that important, I can tell one of the other Squads about it,” he said.

 

“Oh, there’s no reason to get other Squads involved. They’re just slimes,” I said. “We’ll handle it.”

 

Cross narrowed his eyes. “I take it that the two of you are bored,” he said.

 

We nodded. “So you want to go over the wall, into monster infested territory, to fix an inconsequential problem, because you're bored?” he asked.

 

“Well, when you put it like that, it makes us sound dumb,” Cas said.

 

“Come on, Captain. The twins need training,” I said. “You said it yourself, it’s strangely peaceful today. It’ll be weeks before we find another opportunity like this.”

 

“I don’t know-”

 

“You’ll be there, I’ll be there, Sterling’ll be there. Nothing bad will happen.”

 

Cross sighed. “Fine, let’s go slime hunting,” he said.

 

---

 

The Purge devastated Forenz. By sheer bad luck, a majority of the mages that kept the nation hospitable were among those killed. Crops died, the icy winds returned, and village after village fell to the new monsters. Overnight, the nation of Forenz collapsed.

 

Pollux and Castor’s mother died during the Purge, but their father and them survived. They, like hundreds of other Forenzites, left Forenz and marched through the snow in search of a new home.

 

---

 

Sterling pulled the wench, raising the gate. The twins and I stepped out into the monster filled plains. “You know, I haven’t gone out since I was a kid,” Cas said.

 

“It isn’t so scary. I go out all the time and haven’t had a problem yet,” I said.

 

“Don’t lie to the recruits, Zuckerman,” Cross said as he walked out the gate. “You’ve only been out twice, both times under my supervision.”

 

“Trying to make it less scary, Captain,” I muttered.

 

It took the five of us thirty minutes of walking to reach the slimes. They slithered around on a small beach on the side of the river. The slimes resembled the drops of water that rest on grass after a rainstorm, except big enough to swallow a cat.

 

“Monsters are born when magic interacts with the natural world,” Cross said. “It takes these slimes magical energy to hold their forms. Fortunately, slimes only contain a miniscule amount of power.  A large amount of kinetic energy, or even a small enough applied over a small area, is enough to destroy them. MacDonald-”

 

“On it, sir,” Sterling interjected.

 

He drew his bow and fired an arrow at one of the slimes. It popped like a balloon when the arrow pierced its slimy membrane, releasing all of the liquid stored inside.

 

“MacDonald, stand back and step in if anything goes wrong. Castor, stay back with Zuckerman,” Cross said. “Pollux and I will get the next one.”

 

Cross and Pollux approached the next slime. Cross placed his hand in front of Pollux. “Stand back, and watch closely,” he said.

 

Cross took a step forward and thrust his lance, popping the slime. “If you’d like to watch me do it again, I can take out another one for you,” Cross said.

 

Pollux rolled his eyes. “I think I can handle it,” he said.

 

Pollux ran forward and jumped in the air, smacking the next slime with the side of his spear. The slime popped. “Not the best form, but I appreciate the enthusiasm,” Cross said.

 

Pollux and Cas swapped positions. “Castor, I’d like for you to do the same thing as your brother,” Cross said.

 

“Relax, sir. I’ve got this,” Cas said.

 

As he approached the next slime, Cas pulled a small pouch out of his pocket. “Welcome to your doom, evil slime!” Cas shouted.

 

Cas ripped a fistful of dust from the pouch and crushed it between his fingers. “The end has come!” he shouted as ice crystals grew on his skin.

 

Cas opened his hand and released a blast of blue energy. The energy flew through the air and struck the slime, freezing it solid. Cas walked over to his defeated foe and picked it up, holding the block of ice over his head. “The first of many monsters falls to the might of Castor Gemelo!” he shouted.

 

A small bit of the slime melted by his hands and dripped down onto Cas’s shoulder. He screamed and threw the slime at the ground, shattering it. “Ew ew ew ew!” he shouted.

 

“Are you okay?” Cross shouted as he ran to Cas’s side.

 

“Who, me?” Cas asked, regaining his composure. “Of course I’m fine, dear Captain. After all, I’ve just slain a mighty slime!”

 

“What was that, anyway?” I asked as Pollux and I jogged over.

 

“Ice magic. Me and Polly learned a little from our father when I was a kid,” Cas said.

 

“May I see that bag?” Cross said, earning a nod from Cas. “Of course, powdered mana crystals. Potent stuff. Although, a bit more than is necessary for a few slimes.”

 

“Hey Cas?” Pollux said. “Where, out of curiosity, did you get that bag?”

 

“You know how you told me to sell the leftover scrap metal to the blacksmith because we weren’t using it anymore? Well, I took that money and bought some magic powder.”

 

“I see. So, just to be clear, you spent all of our money on magic powder?”

 

“It’s for our own protection!”

 

“Let me rephrase that. Did you, and I want you to be honest with me, spend all of our money on magic powder and then use it on a goddamn slime?”

 

“I didn’t use all of it,” Cas said sheepishly.

 

---

 

The twins’ father knitted as he walked, making a pair of hats to keep the cold away from her young boys. By the time he was finished, the group of travelers had left the icy plains of Forenz and entered Cieleta. Unfortunately, the newfound warm forests failed to ease the travelers' worries. A new trouble roared its ugly head: hunger.

 

The Forenzites carried their remaining food with them as they abandoned their villages. But, the journey was long, and they were many. Rations grew thin. Mr. Gemelo gave up eating for his children. Even as he grew weak, he refused to eat. His children were more important than himself.

 

After months of travel, the Forenzites finally reached the Capital. There they met a tall wall protected by the Knights of Cieleta. That’s when the real trouble began.

 

---

 

We cleared out the remaining slimes. “A job well done, gentlemen,” Cross said. “Let’s get back to the Capital.”

 

Suddenly, a sharpened piece of wood flew from the water, narrowly missing Cross’s head. “Sandcrawlers!” I shouted as I drew my sword.

 

Sterling ran to us and placed his hands on the ground, building walls of sand around us to bottleneck the sandcrawlers. I stood in the small opening and fought off any sandcrawlers that tried to enter our makeshift structure.

 

“Use your ice magic!” Pollux shouted.

 

“I used it all on the slime!” Cas shouted back.

 

“You said that there was still some left!”

 

“I meant money! I still have enough to buy a few more bags of powder. Come on, Polly, I handled the customers. I know how to haggle.”

 

A sandcrawler tore its way through the sandy wall and pounced on Cas. It grabbed his arm and chomped down with its dagger teeth. Only, instead of piercing his skin, the teeth just bounced off, revealing green scales covering Cas’s arm.

 

The twins turned to see Captain Cross, covered in green scales generated by his Verse. Cross pointed his hand at the sandcrawler and fired a blast of kinetic energy, annihilating it.

 

Cross walked over to me and took my place guarding the entrance. “I’ll handle this, Ernest,” he said.

 

It was over in less than a minute. Each sandcrawler fell to Cross’s blasts and spear, without any of us sustaining a single injury.

 

---

 

The Forenzites pounded on the wall, begging to be let in. Some even tried tearing at the wooden bars of the gate, hoping to force it open. After being threatened with death, the starving refugees backed away.

 

Two Knights rappelled down the wall to talk to the Fornezites: Calvin Cross and his superior officer, Roland Bennett. “Calm yourselves, you animals,” Bennett shouted as he approached the crowd.

 

A sickly man crawled over to Bennett. “Please sir, open the gate,” he wheezed. “We ran out of food three days ago. We’re starving.”

 

Bennett kicked the man in the stomach. “Don’t you think we know that? Every person on this side of the mountains wants to come here now that the world’s ended,” Bennett spat. “We’re full! We have our own mouths to feed!”

 

The sickly man grabbed Bennett’s legs. “Please, you don’t have to take all of us,” he whispered.

 

“Let go of me before I put you in the ground,” Bennett yelled. “We can’t take care of our own people. You think I’m going to take food from my peoples mouths and give it to you filthy frost people?”

 

The man tightened his grip. “Just take the children, please,” he whispered.

 

Bennett drew his sword and struck the man, killing him. The rest of the crowd stepped back, afraid of Bennett’s wrath. “There, something for you to eat,” Bennett said with a smirk.

 

A pair of children, one wearing a cyan hat and the other wearing an orange hat, ran up to the deceased man. The boy in the orange hat cried into his father’s chest. His brother pulled a small bag from the dead man’s pocket.

 

The boy in the cyan had crushed a handful of magic powder between his fingers and threw a blast of energy at Bennett, no stronger than a snowball. Bennett screamed and raised his sword in the air.

 

The boy in the orange hat jumped in the way and covered his brother with his body and Bennett brought down his sword. The sword bounced away, revealing green scales.

 

Bennett turned back to Cross. “What do you think you’re doing?” he asked.

 

“We’re leaving,” Cross replied quietly.

 

“What did you-”

 

“I said we’re leaving!” Cross screamed.

 

Bennett and Cross grabbed their ropes and were lifted over the wall. The next morning, Cross came back and opened the gate, letting the people of Forenz into the city.

 

---

 

As we got back to the gate, Pollux tapped on Cross’s shoulder. “Yes?” Cross asked.

 

“I’d like to thank you, for looking out for Cas back there,” Pollux said. “It’s been just the two of us for years now, so I’ve had to look out for Cas by myself for a while now. It’s nice to know someone else has his back.”

 

Cross forced a smile. “It’s nothing, really,” he said. “As long as the two of you are on this Squad, I swear that nothing bad will happen to you.”


© Copyright 2019 Casey Jarmes. All rights reserved.

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