Birdcage

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

Chapter 9 (v.1) - Chapter IX - Window, or: the part where expectations are thrown out

Submitted: June 25, 2019

Reads: 42

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Submitted: June 25, 2019

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“My name’s Roland Rice,” the injured man said. “I’m a traveling merchant.”

 

“A merchant?” I asked.

 

“It’s a dangerous job, but someone’s gotta do it. The villages outside these walls, as rare as they are, would die without supplies from the Capital,” Rice said. “Not that I’m complaining. You’d be surprised how much those people will pay for basic goods.”

 

“How noble,” Sterling said.

 

Rice leaned over my shoulder as we led him to the Temple for medical help. “I owe you two a debt of gratitude,” Rice said. “I’d probably be dead if you didn’t open that gate for me.”

 

“Just doing the right thing,” I said. “Anyone would do the same.”

 

“You’d be surprised. In my experience, a sadly large amount of the Knights lack any sense of human decency.”

 

“So, Rice, do you have experience fighting monsters?” Sterling asked.

 

“Me? No, I’ve never been good at that type of thing,” Rice replied.

 

“It’s hard to believe that you’d travel alone through monster-infested wilds without the ability to defend yourself.”

 

“You’ve got me there. I was actually traveling with some mercenaries I hired to defend me, but they stole all of my money and ran away while I was sleeping,” Rice said.

 

“That’s horrible,” I said.

 

“Where were you traveling from, again?” Sterling asked.

 

Rice paused for a moment. “Luttonheld,” he said.

 

“What did you bring them?”

 

“Grain.”

 

“Your cart looked to be pretty full when you were coming towards the gate.”

 

“I, uh, brought back some Hekate Glass to sell to the Knights.”

 

“Lay off on the questioning, Sterling,” I said. “Mr. Rice almost died, let’s get him to a healer before we interrogate him.”

 

We led Rice into the Temple and handed him over to Sister Nancy, who assigned Anna to treat his wounds. Rice took his pack off, placing it on the ground, and sat down on one of the beds for examination. “What happened to you? Your arm looks like a raw steak that was torn up by dogs,” Anna said.

 

“Wolves, actually,” Rice said.

 

“Your armor seems to just be thin plates covering filled layers of cloth, which the wolves were able to tear through easily,” Anna said.

 

“It was cheaper than full metal” Rice mumbled.

 

“In that case, it’s a good thing armor is purely decorative and serves no defensive purpose,” Anna said.

 

After his arm was healed, Rice lifted his helmet and placed it on the bed, finally giving us a good look at his face. Put simply, it wasn’t a pretty sight. “So, how do I look?” Rice asked.

 

“You look...fine,” I mumbled.

 

“You look like someone poured tomato juice over a piece of moldy bread,” Anna said.

 

“It really isn’t that bad,” I said.

 

“It’s bad,” Sterling said.

 

Rice sighed. “Figures,” he said.

 

“In all seriousness, the wounds are pretty deep,” Anna said. “I can do some healing, but there will be some serious scarring. The good news is that the damage seems confined to your arm and face. Your internal organs are fine.

 

“That’s good, I guess,” Rice said.

 

Anna wiped Rice’s face with a towel and began healing the lacerations around his face. While Rice was distracted, Sterling crept over to the bed and opened up Rice’s pack. He pulled out a tarp and several metal poles.

 

“I’m sorry to disappoint, but there isn’t anything valuable in there for you to take,” Rice said. “Just a tent and some herbs.”

 

“Herbs?” Sterling said.

 

“I grow them myself. They help me sleep. I, uh, get nightmares sometimes.”

 

Sterling stepped away from the pack. “You know, you guys can head back to the gate,” Rice said. “I’m sure this girl doesn’t need you standing over her while she works.”

 

“You’re right, it isn’t fair to leave Cross alone to deal with the gate,” I said. “Come on Sterling.”

 

We left Rice with Anna and began walking back to the gate. “What’s your opinion of that man?” Sterling asked.

 

“Mr. Rice? He seems nice enough.” I said.

 

“I don’t know, something about him just rubs me the wrong way. He seemed surprisingly healthy for someone mauled by wolves.”

 

“Yeah, ‘cause we saved him. Besides, I wouldn’t exactly call him healthy. You saw his face.”

 

“That’s the thing I don’t get. How did his face get cut up if he was wearing a helmet? Something strange is going on.”

 

“You’re paranoid.”

 

“And you’re naive.”

 

Sterling was right about Mr. Rice, of course. There are few things he was ever wrong about. After Anna treated his wounds, stopping the bleeding and covering his face in bandages, she left him alone. Rice used this opportunity to sneak out a window.

 

Rice spent the rest of the day preparing for his mission. He bought an old woodcutting axe from the twins, three glass bottles of juice from a grocer, quills from a book shop, whiskey from a bar, and ice from a mage using money hidden in his boots. Using the bottles and quills, Mr. Rice constructed rudimentary syringes. He dried out the herbs and powdered them, mixing them with the whiskey to create a dark green salve that he coated the remaining quills in.

 

That night, Rice found a retired Knight sitting in a bar. Specifically, one who’d worked as a palace guard when he was younger. The guard told Rice everything he needed to know after a few drinks. Armed with his new knowledge of palace security, Rice bided his time.

 

At four in the morning, Mr. Rice made his way to the palace gate. The guards stopped him, crossing their spears to block his path. “Who goes there?” one of them yelled. “Why are you wearing a helmet?”

 

“Same reason you’re wearing a helmet,” Rice said dryly. “Protection.”

 

“Take it off so we can see your face and make sure you’re a Knight!” the other Knight said.

 

Rice sighed and took off his helmet. “Got scuffed up pretty bad in a fight a few days ago,” he said. “Doctor said I have to wear the bandages for another week. Don’t worry though, I’m still the same man I’ve always been.”

 

“And what man is that?”

 

“Sergeant Roland Rice of Squad VI,” Rice said. “If you don’t mind, I’d like access to the barracks.”

 

The soldiers lifted their visors and looked at one another. “Do you know a Sergeant Rice?” one asked.

 

“I don’t know. Didn’t Squad VI just get a couple new members last week?” the other replied.

 

“I could go check, I guess.”

 

Rice sighed. “Look, it’s early,” he said. “Nobody wants you waking them up. Just let me through and you can go back to doing whatever it is you two do.”

 

“I don’t want to get in trouble for letting someone through the gate without proper clearance,” one of the guards said.

 

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”

 

“I don’t know. I think it would be best if I went and talked to someone.”

 

“Wait!” Rice said as he reached for his pack. “I think I have a letter from the leader of Squad VI, Captain Cross, explaining why I needed to be out so late.”

 

In an instant, Rice grabbed a salve covered quill from his pack and threw it, hitting one of the guards is the forehead. The struck guard fell asleep and collapsed to the ground with a loud clang.

 

The other guard slammed his visor down in time to avoid Rice’s second quill dart. He started to run towards the barracks to get help. Rice struck him in the leg with his axe.

 

Rice ripped off the man’s helmet and placed his hand over the man’s mouth to silence his screams. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. The dart’ll just knock you out,” Rice said as he stabbed the guard in the back of the neck with another salve coated quill.

 

After hiding the unconscious guards, Rice made his way through the palace, hiding to avoid guards and using quill darts on those that spotted him. Eventually, Rice arrived at the bottom of a spiral staircase leading up the palace’s spire. Rice used his final darts on the guards at the bottom of the stairs and began his accent. At the top, he encountered a guard wearing golden armor holding a large hammer.

 

“I assume you’re going to beat the shit out of me regardless of what I say to justify my being here,” Rice said.

 

The guard in the golden armor charged at Rice and swung his hammer, narrowly missing Rice’s head. Rice clenched his fists as glowing runes appeared on his gauntlets. Rice opened his palms, releasing a bolt of violet lightning.

 

The force of the blast threw the man against the stone wall of the tower, knocking him out. Rice sat on the steps for a few minutes, catching his breath and recovering his wasted stamina.

 

Eventually, Rice got up and climbed to the top of the spire. A wooden door guarded a room at the top of the tower. Rice examined the complicated lock on the door, requiring three different keys to open, before grabbing his axe and breaking down the flimsy door.

 

A child’s bedroom sat on the other side of the door, with a large pink bed sitting against the wall and a cage covered window on the wall. As Rice climbed through the door, the small head of a young girl poked out from underneath the covers. “Hello there,” she said.

 

Rice placed the axe back in his pack and pulled out the syringes. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. “Well, maybe a little, if you count poking you with a needle as hurting you.”

 

Rice walked over to the girl and grabbed one of her silver braids. He squeezed his hand and the braid fell off, without hurting the girl in any way. Rice placed the braid in his pack.

 

Rice jabbed the girl in the arm with one of the syringes and began drawing blood. “What is your name?” the girl asked.

 

“Eric,” ‘Rice’ said.

 

“Have you come to kidnap me, Eric?” the girl asked.

 

“No. I’d never get out of the city with you. I’ll stick with taking a little blood for now,” Eric said. “Besides, I’ve already got a pretty bad rap sheet. It probably wouldn’t look good to add princess theft to it.”

 

After draining three bottles of blood, Eric placed them in his pack by the ice. He pulled out the tarp and metal rods and began assembling them into a glider. “Judging by the heavy footsteps coming up the stairs, we’ll have company in a moment,” Eric said. “It’s been a pleasure, princess, but I’ve got to go.”

 

Eric pointed his arm at the window and fired a blast of energy, breaking open the cage. “My name is Tera,” the princess said.

 

“See you around, Tera,” Eric said before leaping out of the tower.


© Copyright 2019 Casey Jarmes. All rights reserved.

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