Birdcage

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

Chapter 14 (v.1) - Chapter XIV - Nightmare, or: the old man at the mine

Submitted: August 06, 2019

Reads: 24

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Submitted: August 06, 2019

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I was alone in a dark cave. A single candle sat in front of me, the only source of light as far as I could see. Its dim flame glowed with the cursed violet hue of Dark Magic. The walls and ceiling of the cave were far out of view, if they even existed at all. Beyond the small flame of the candle lied only darkness.

 

I reached for the candle and places my fingertip in the flame. The end of my finger burned away before my eyes, leaving only dust. The flame spread through my hand and up my arm, destroying my body. The fire consumed me.

 

The small candle with the violet flame illuminated my ashes. Then a breeze came from the deeper halls of the cavern and blew away the ashes. The flame disappeared, leaving only darkness.

 

I woke up in a cold sweat. Sterling sat on the bunk next to mine, sharpening an arrow. “Are you okay?” he asked.

 

“I’m fine,” I said.

 

I’d experienced the dream about the candle countless times before. Still, even after years of the same nightmare, the fear remained. The only difference between that morning and the ones when I was a kid was the fact that I learned to swallow the screams.

 

That time I had the candle nightmare happened to be the same morning we left for Stonecage. Squad V, along with the other Squads chosen for the mission, spent a week traveling down abandoned roads to the town at the edge of the mountains. We ran into monsters along the way, but they fell easily to our combined might.

 

Eventually, we reached Stonecage. Stonecage was surrounded on three sides by tall cliffs, with thin ledges looking out over a wooden hamlet. The entrance to the mine was carved into the northern cliffside. A wooden fence, still standing after a decade of abandonment, covered the southern side of Stonecage.

 

The cobblestone houses of Stonecage were covered in vines. Some of them had collapsed completely after spending so long without maintenance. I felt uneasy as we approached Stonecage; the place was far too quiet for my liking and stunk of death.

 

Firebrand stopped the marching battalion as we reached the wooden fence of Stonecage. “The town may seem deserted, but don’t let that fool you,” he said. “This place is almost certainly filled with monsters, especially in the houses and mine. We should be able to get through this without casualties, but we’ll need to be smart. Captain Cross of Squad V has prepared a stratum to retake Stonecage.”

 

Captain Cross cleared his throat. “Thank you, Richard,” he said. “Right now, the sun has just begun to rise in the south. If we enter through the southern gate, any monsters that rely on eyesight to attack will be blinded, giving us an upper hand. I suggest sending a group of armored troops to attack from the south, holding close ranks and focussing on defense. Meanwhile, we’ll position mages and archers along the cliffs. We’ll force our way to the mine and block it off while we take out any stragglers. After the village is clear, we’ll begin drawing monsters out of the mine.”

 

“Sounds like a plan, Calvin,” Firebrand said. “Alright men, you have your orders. Let’s reclaim this village.”

 

Cross walked back over to me and the guys. “What do you need us to do, sir?” I asked. “Pollux and I could help with the attacking group while Sterling and Cas provide cover from the cliffs.”

 

“No, I have a much more important job for you four: protecting me,” Cross said. “I intend to use my Verse to protect the knights attacking from the south. Unfortunately, there are two difficulties with this plan. First of all, I can’t move while using my shield powers, leaving me susceptible to ambushes. Secondly, I can only protect people I can see, meaning I’ll need a good view of the entire village if I want to do my job. Your job is to get me high into the cliffs and protect me while I protect the Knights.”

 

“Will do, boss!” Cas said.

 

Sterling placed his hands on the base of the cliffside and formed a large staircase leading up to the ledges. We climbed high enough that Cross could get a good view of the entire village. The Captain got down on his knees and pressed his hands together. Down by the wooden fence, green scales spread over dozens of Knights.

 

“Sterling, help give the Knights some cover. Gemelos, keep an eye out for any enemies that could disturb us,” Cross ordered. “Ernest, take the telescope from my back pocket and call out anything unusual in the village.”

 

I did as Captain Cross said. Through the telescope I watched as the Knights moved through the village, slaying the wolves and zombies hiding in the village. Captain Cross’s verse kept them safe. Before long, the village was almost clear.

 

Unbeknownst to us, Stonecage wasn’t actually completely free of people. No, one man was hiding among the ruins when we arrived. An old man who’d been sleeping in one of the abandoned houses. An old man in tattered clothes, a man with the power to ruin the mission.

 

After being awakened by the sound of the Knights, the groggy man stumbled out of his abode. Two of the Knights approached the old man and pointed their spears at him. “This area is supposed to be abandoned, what are you doing here?” one of the Knights asked.

 

“Oh, just getting by,” the old man said. “What are you guys up to?”

 

“We’re Knights of Cieleta, and we’ve come to reclaim this city,” one of the Knights said.

 

“That’s interesting. How many of you are here, out of curiosity?” the old man said.

 

“A few hundred,” Knight said.

 

The old man smiled. “I can take that,” he said.

 

What happened next occurred in only a few moments. The old man clenched his fists and violet lightning covered his arm. He opened his palm and the lightning shot into the ground, creating a large cloud of dust. When the dust cleared, the old man stood unharmed, the bodies of two Knights at his feet.

 

“There’s trouble in the center of the village,” I yelled. “I think two Knights are dead!”

 

“Give me details. Is it some kind of monster?” Cross asked.

 

“No, it’s a dark mage!”

 

Some Knights charged at the old man and jabbed at him with their spears. The old man grabbed one of the dead bodies. It turned to dust in his fingers as he consumed the energy stored inside. The old man fired a powerful blast of dark magic, knocking all of the Knights away. The old man fired more lightning into the ground, creating more dust. When it cleared, all of the Knights that attacked the old man were dead.

 

“He’s striking the ground to create dust clouds,” I shouted. “He must know about your Verse, sir.”

 

“Impossible,” Cross said.

 

A storm of arrows rained down on the old man. Before they could hit him, the old man grabbed another body and raised his left fist into the air. Dozens of bolts of lightning arced around him, vaporizing any arrows that came close. The old man ripped his fist down and the lightning bolts shot off, striking ledges of the cliffs.

 

One of the bolts struck our ledge. Captain Cross almost fell, only to be saved when the twins grabbed his legs. I, on the other hand, tumbled down the rocky cliffside. Before perishing I managed to draw my sword and stab it into the cliff, slowing my fall enough for me to survive.

 

I picked Cross’s telescope off the ground and looked at the old man in the distance. He was standing there, surrounded by bodies, smiling. At that moment, I finally got a good look at the old man’s face. I realized that it was a face I’d seen many times before.

 

After the Purge, the Knights distributed pictures of Black and Darkholme among the people in an attempt to prevent the duo from hiding within the city. I stayed up, night after night, studying those pictures. The faces of Nathaniel Black and Jericho Darkholme were burned into my memory.

 

The most striking thing about those pictures were Darkholme’s eyes. In every picture I ever saw of Darkholme, he was smiling. But his eyes, his eyes weren’t happy. They were glossy and dead, reminding me more of a doll than a man. Something about those eyes made every smile Darkholme made feel fake.

 

I saw those same eyes on the old man at Stonecage.


© Copyright 2019 Casey Jarmes. All rights reserved.

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