Birdcage

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

Chapter 6 (v.1) - Chapter VI - Return, or: the time my legs wouldn't stop moving

Submitted: June 04, 2019

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Submitted: June 04, 2019

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MacDonald and I pulled the body out of the river and looked it over. Much to my dismay, I recognized the corpse’s scraggly beard, red bandana, and borrowed mithril armor. “Connors,” I muttered.

 

His bones were shattered, with parts jutting out from beneath the plates of armor. His skin was slimy and cold from the trip through the river. MacDonald started taking off Connors’s plate mail and placing it in a pile on the side of the river. “What are you doing?” I asked.

 

“It’s your armor,” MacDonald replied. “Figured you’d want it back.”

 

“What good will it do? That Ogre killed Connors in a single strike.”

 

“Are you sure about that? The last time the two of us saw Connors, his body was lying in the cistern. The body being here means that it was moved to the river. Do you think it’s possible Connors survived that first blow?”

 

“The Ogre could have thrown his body into the river.”

 

“Perhaps. But that doesn’t sound like something an Ogre would do, and it doesn’t explain this,” MacDonald said as he leaned down and inspected the bandana.

 

“Connors’s bandana flew off when he got hit.”

 

“Yet it is currently tied around his head. Even if the Ogre’s massive fingers were precise enough to wrap a small piece of fabric around its victims head, it still would have no reason to do so. Connors, on the other hand, considered the bandana to be a good luck charm, and may have retied it if he was on the brink of death.”

 

“Connors didn’t die when the Ogre hit him, meaning that the armor protected him, if only enough to buy him a few more minutes of life.”

 

MacDonald handed me one of the gauntlets. “Take it,” he said. “I wield a bow, meaning it’ll do more good to you than it will to me.”

 

I suited up in the armor. It felt wrong, wearing clothes taken from a dead man, but I really didn’t have many options. I leaned down and took Connors’s bandana and placed it in my pocket. I glanced over at MacDonald. “Do you want to say anything before we leave the body?” I asked.

 

MacDonald didn’t say anything and pushed the body into the river with his foot. “I’ll take that as a no,” I muttered.

 

We scaled the waterfall and made our way through the tunnels, inching closer and closer to the surface. “The only way to the surface on the map is the one beneath the Temple, meaning we’ll have to go through the cistern again,” MacDonald said.

 

“Is there another route to the Temple on the map?”

 

MacDonald looked over the map again. “There is, but it’d take several days worth of travel without food through dark passageways filled with unknown monsters. I think the best course of action would be to go through the cistern and hope the Ogre has left.”

 

“And if it hasn’t?”

 

“We try and slip by and hope it doesn’t kill us.”

 

We walked in silence for a few minutes. “Do you have any family?” I asked.

 

“Why do you want to know?”

 

“Because we’ve been helping each other out, and we might die soon, and we really don’t know anything about each other. Plus, if I was going to die, I’d want my sister and grandfather to know that I’d been thinking about them in my final moments.”

 

“Are you superstitious?” MacDonald asked.

 

“Not really, why?” I replied.

 

“Because a superstitious man would tell you to shut up before you jinxed us.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

MacDonald sighed. “To answer your question, I have family, but my relationship with them is complicated,” he said. “I doubt that they would be especially upset by my death.”

 

I didn’t know how to respond to that. We followed MacDonald’s map to the cistern, fighting off any monster we encountered along the way. Eventually, we reached the place where I’d fallen into the river. Slowly, I peeked my head into the entrance of the cistern.

 

The Ogre lied on its back in the center of the cistern, its fat belly blocking most of my view. Still, I was able to make out the carnage. Eleven bodies were spread among the pillars, lying in the shallow water. The remains of Squad V. I pulled my head back and struggled to avoid vomiting.

 

“Is the Ogre in there?” MacDonald whispered.

 

I nodded my head. “And Squad V?” MacDonald asked.

 

I shook my head. “They’re gone,” I muttered. “I’m sorry.”

 

MacDonald sighed. “We should double back and find another route to the surface,” he said.

 

“No,” I said.

 

MacDonald raised an eyebrow. “No?”

 

“That monster killed eleven people because I screwed up. I’m not going to run away while it’s still alive. It’s my duty to kill it,” I said. “Besides, the cistern is close to the crypt beneath the Temple. If the Ogre makes its way to the surface, more people will die.”

 

MacDonald ran his fingers through his hair. “How exactly do you plan to kill that thing?” he asked.

 

“Simple. It’s asleep right now. I’ll just walk up and stab it in the stomach.”

 

“That won’t work. That thing’s skin is incredibly thick-”

 

“My sword is incredibly sharp.”

 

“Even so, a tiny stab wound is more likely to annoy it than kill it. If you stab it’ll just wake up and step on you.”

 

I mulled over strategy for a few moments. “What about using your Verse?” I asked. “You said we couldn’t use it because it might cause the tunnel to collapse or flood. What if we snuck through the cistern and then collapsed it in on the Ogre?”

 

“That might work,” he said.

 

We snuck into the cistern and slowly walked past the Ogre, being careful to avoid waking it. We spoke no words and were careful to keep our footsteps from being too loud. But, we neglected to avoid one thing. Ripples from our feet traveled through the water and awakened the beastly Ogre.

 

It sat up and opened its golden eyes. It stared at me and I struggled to avoid screaming. As it crawled to its feet and squinted at me, I staid still, hoping that it would go back to sleep. The Ogre grabbed its club and swung.

 

The club struck a pillar behind me, breaking it in half. The broken pieces of the pillar crashed down next. The Ogre brought its club down once more, striking the shattered pieces of the pillar as I leaped to the side.

 

An arrow flew through the air and lodged itself in the Ogres ear. It roared in pain and swung its club wildly as I ran away. “Its eyes don’t work well enough in the dark to tell the difference between us and the pillars!” MacDonald yelled. “It’s navigating using noise right now!”

 

I wondered what he was doing, shouting while fighting an enemy that attacked loud noises. For a moment, I thought he was crazy. Then I realized that he knew exactly what he was doing. The Ogre stopped looking for me and charged at MacDonald.

 

MacDonald slipped past a pillar, touching it as he ran by. As the Ogre closed in, the pillar fell apart, collapsing into a pile of rocks. The sound of the falling rocks masked the sound of the MacDonald’s footsteps, allowing him to slip away from the Ogre.

 

MacDonald darted towards the center of the cistern. “Hey ugly, I’m over here!” he shouted.

 

The Ogre chased him, club raised in the air. I ran behind the Ogre and sliced the back of its knee. It stumbled to the ground. MacDonald raised the ground beneath my feet, lifting me into the air. I jumped at the Ogre’s head and sliced off its remaining ear.

 

MacDonald and I ran from the cistern as the now blind and deaf Ogre screamed and struck random pillars with its club. When we reached the point where the cistern and side tunnel connected MacDonald placed his hands and knees on the floor. White light spread throughout the cistern, climbing the pillars and covering the ceiling.

 

The Ogre spotted this us using this light and ran for us. It was too late. The ceiling of the cistern caved in, dropping countless tons of stone onto the Ogre’s back. More than enough stone to kill any monster, no matter how big. Unfortunately, the collapse of the cistern spread through the side tunnel, collapsing it around us.

 

MacDonald and I struggled to dodge the falling chunks of rock that fell from the ceiling while we ran for the main tunnel. As we reached the end of the tunnel a rock fell in front of me. I tripped and fell on my chest.

 

MacDonald grabbed my hand and flung me into the main tunnel. He dived after me, landing outside the side tunnel just in time to avoid being crushed by a pile of rubble.

 

“We made it,” I wheezed.

 

Then I heard it, a roar from behind the pile of rubble. For just a moment, MacDonald and I locked eyes. From that brief glance, we shared we knew that we both knew the horrific truth. We hadn’t made it, not yet.

 

The Ogre burst through the rubble and struck MacDonald with its club. His body flew down the tunnel like a thrown ball, crashing into the stone floor on the side of the river. The sound his bones made as they broke could only be compared to the sound of an egg being thrown against a stone wall.

 

I raised my shield to block a downward strike from the Ogre. It shattered into a dozen pieces. My arm was blessed with the same fate as my shield. Mercifully, the force of the blow sent me sliding away, ending up twenty feet from the Ogre.

 

I didn’t have time to focus on my pain. I ran as fast as I could, trying to protect the tiny sliver of life I retained. I glanced over my shoulder at the Ogre chasing behind me. Its long legs allowed it to run incredibly fast; with each step, it gained on me.

 

A gigantic stone fist burst from the wall, striking the Ogre in the face and knocking it into the river. Fifty feet away from me I saw what was left of MacDonald, a broken mess of tangled limbs sitting in a pile of his own blood. His hands were pinned on the floor of the tunnel.

 

“Run,” he said with broken lungs.

 

I listened and ran as fast as I could. As I passed MacDonald, I glanced over my head once more and saw the Ogre climbing out of the river. I looked at MacDonald behind me. He was practically dead. I was injured. I was scared. The Ogre was gaining on us. And he was telling me to run.

 

Just like the first time I faced the Ogre, I couldn’t stop myself from running. This time, though, I ran back for my ally. I grabbed MacDonald with my remaining arm and pulled him over my good shoulder. “What are you doing?” he said.

 

“Saving your life,” I said as I ran for the crypt.

 

“You dumbass,” MacDonald spat. “Put me down. There’s no reason for both of us to die.”

 

“I can think of one reason: people who win at the expense of their allies have no place in this world,” I said.

 

“Don’t get yourself killed over a fucking platitude about teamwork! This isn't a game! It’s real life, people die!”

 

“Don’t you think I know that? A few hours ago eleven knights, good ones, died while I ran away. I can’t do that again. It isn’t right.”

 

“This isn’t the time to grow a backbone!”

 

“I always wanted to be a hero. But, if I’m honest, I’m not even close to being worthy of that word. I’m a coward, I’m an idiot, I’m selfish. But you, you saved me. Time and time again you risked your life for mine. You’re a hero, MacDonald. Saving you is the least I can do.”

 

MacDonald sighed. “You’re an idiot,” he muttered.

 

The heavy footsteps of the Ogre got louder and louder as it closed the gap. I didn’t dare look over my shoulder. After a mile of sprinting, I finally saw the connecting point of the crypt and the tunnel.

 

“Look out!” MacDonald shouted with the little strength he had left.

 

I glanced over my shoulder to spot the Ogre swinging his club at us. I turned my body, shielding MacDonald with my chest. For a brief moment, my world went black.

 

I felt like I was drowning as my lungs filled with blood. My heart screamed in pain. I heard a booming noise, louder than anything I’d ever heard before. I opened my eyes to walls covered in bones.

 

MacDonald and I were lying in the crypt. My arms were still wrapped around his limp body. I glanced at the entrance of the catacombs to discover a wall of stone. “The last blow from the Ogre knocked us in here and I used my Verse to collapse the tunnel,” Sterling whispered.

 

I looked back at his empty eyes. “That’s fantastic,” I mumbled before fading from consciousness.


© Copyright 2019 Casey Jarmes. All rights reserved.

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