Cage of Gold: Chapter 1
Chapter 1: The Little Birdie
Twelve years later...
Astral, Capital City of Everand, the White Whistle Inn...
Big, violet eyes flew open as her internal clock went off.
Past midnight. It was time.
She sat up on the dirty, broken-down bed, and stood, running a hand through her waist length black hair before tying it back out of her face in a braid.
Her bare feet skimmed lightly over the wood beneath them as she moved through the room, gathering what she would need, and avoiding the places where the floorboards squeaked, merely out of habit. It wasn’t the kind of habitual act built up over years of walking the same floors, but rather stemmed from the habit of taking in everything about a room when she entered to be sure she would make absolutely no noise.
Fitting everything in place, she ran a sure hand over her simple black outfit to double-check that all her tools were where they should be. With a slight nod of satisfaction, she slipped on her light boots, pulled her deep cowled hood up to hide most of her face, and moved to the window as she put on her gloves.
The window made no noise as it opened and she let a small smirk touch her lips. Ducky had always gotten on her case for constantly oiling the hinges of whatever room they were staying in and he never heeded her warning-- you never knew when you’d need a quiet getaway. Served the big lug right for getting himself caught.
She felt a slight twinge of emotion as she thought of he and the other two, but frowned and shook it off irritably. Now was not the time. What was the point of getting emotionally attached to a date? It wasn’t like she was the only one in the Kingdoms who’d had something happen on this day however many years ago. Anniversaries of events happened all the time, so what was the point of even thinking about it?
Stupid. She had a job to do.
She slipped out the window, stealthily climbing down the side of the inn and landing in the shadows. No more visible than a spirit, she ducked and weaved her way through the slums of Everand, and up into the higher class districts where her target would most likely be asleep by now.
As she did so, she hummed a chord and began singing softly.
“I know a little birdie
With wings as black as night
I know a little birdie
Who’s quite a pretty sight
“And this little birdie
Is eager to meet you
But a meeting with this birdie
You won’t have long to rue
“You see, this little birdie
Is a rather fickle one
This pretty little birdie
Has a mission to be done
“This lovely little birdie
Listens to the Rayne
And as the Rayne has told her
Tonight she’ll be your bane”
Locating the house was simple and she wasted no time in moving around to the side where there were better hand holds to climb up to the second story. She had scoped the house out before she’d rented her room that afternoon.
Carefully and swiftly, she made her way up the stone wall of the grand building as she continued softly singing to herself.
“The little birdie’s tracking
Disciples of Abaddon
I know a little birdie
Who’s gonna kill her one
“So watch out for this birdie
She’s coming after you
This funny little birdie
Can’t wait to bid you ‘adieu’”
She reached the window and looked in, noting the furniture, entrances, windows, and lack of occupants. Not surprising really since this appeared to be a sitting room, but Nightingale felt Killer slowly moving to take dominance.
Their target was near.
“There’s a little birdie
Knocking on your window pane
Don’t bother trying to run, now
Her goal she will attain”
One-handed, she re-oiled the hinges that she had oiled earlier that day. She wasn’t like Ducky who ran in with fists flying or Pan who lost his head when his target was in sight. Her approach was stealth.
Carefully, Nightingale opened the window and slipped into the elaborately decorated chamber. Her eyes continually swept the room as she moved through it to the door on the other side. She took her time in oiling the door’s hinges before she crept out into the hall.
“And now this little birdie
Is creeping through your house
Because this little birdie
Is more silent than a mouse”
She felt herself slipping into the back of their mind as Killer took over. They reached the master bedroom, but Killer didn’t bother with the hinges. This close, there was no way the target would escape her.
Quietly, Killer opened the door and moved like liquid mercury to the bedside. There was the man, asleep with some pretty little thing curled up next to him, most likely a prostitute.
Killer slid her dirk out of it’s sheath and, with in-humanly smooth movements, she put a hand over the man’s mouth and slit his throat. Blood stained the sheets and her hands as she looked in his fading eyes, whispering,
“Give Abaddon our regards.”
The girl next to him stirred and Killer was down the hall, out the window, and back in the shadows of the street before the prostitute's first scream of horror was heard. It echoed down the well-kept lane and Killer faded back, letting Nightingale come to the front once more.
With a smirk of satisfaction, Nightingale became one with the shadows as people began stirring in their houses at the screams which continued to grow in volume and octave.
“Good work,” she murmured quietly.
The guards who were the first to arrive swore later that they heard a voice singing and, despite it’s beauty, it sent a shiver of fear down their spines.
“The little birdie watches
For the Wings of Abaddon
The mark of his disciples
White feathers like a swan
“Now this little birdie
Has another task this night
Fly, fly little birdie
Give another disciple a fright
“I know a little birdie
With wings as black as night
I know a little birdie
Who’s quite a bloody sight”
Nightingale moved swiftly through the city, still humming. See? No problem. Who needed to worry about what day it was? Silly.
The second house was even richer than the first had been, and even more elaborate. She went through the back door this time, the entrance that the servants used. The hinges of which were well oiled thanks to her thoroughness. She slipped in easily, leaving the door cracked for a quicker escape. Silently, she crept through the kitchen and upstairs, avoiding the places where the floor or stairs might creak.
She was in the hall moments later and she looked through the only open door to see something that made her stop dead in her tracks.
It was a painting, breathtakingly real, depicting the Three Sister Mountains in the distance, and the foreground was filled with Jang-ja trees in full bloom by a flowing river.
Without meaning to, Nightingale took one step into the room, followed by another and another, until she was mere feet from the wall-size mural. How did it look so real? So vivid? So...
She froze as her eyes caught sight of the trunk of the largest Jang-ja tree. There, right at the height a child might sit at, were bloodstains.
Alarms began blaring in her mind. Something was very wrong. No one would paint something like that unless they’d seen it or...
She whirled back toward the door and ran straight into a small table she’d unconsciously avoided before, but in her haste hadn't noticed. The statue on top of it went flying and the shattering sound rang loudly through the silent house.
Cursing between her teeth, she knew that killing her target would have to wait. Better to retreat and remain free another day. She leapt up, ready to flee the way she’d come, when the doorway was suddenly blocked by a wall of humans.
She moved back swiftly, toward the window, but they wasted no time in spreading into the room and blocking her escape. She whipped out her dirk and a knife, taking a ready stance as she did a quick head count. Looked like twenty to one odds in the room. No telling if there were more waiting outside. That wouldn’t be a big deal unless...
A beam of moonlight caught the insignia on one of the uniforms and Nightingale cursed inwardly again as she saw the golden mountain on a white background with a deep purple crown over it. These were no ordinary soldiers.
They were the Sky Crown Guard, the most elite of Astral’s fighting force. Each of them had been trained to perfection and each was as good as she was, maybe better.
There was almost no way she would win this fight.
‘Killer! Killer take over! I can’t beat them!’
The deadly aura suddenly coming from her would have made a normal person scream in fear and run away as fast as they could. The Guards, though surprised, only looked more determined.
A hiss escaped Killer and she launched herself at the ones nearest the window viciously, cutting the air with the easy of an expert as she aimed for vital points. If she could get just a moment without the window blocked, she’d be able to get out and away.
She whirled, blades spinning while she fought five at once as they encircled her, parrying her attacks almost as easily as she threw them. More moved and blocked the window as she managed to catch one in the side and another in the arm. Unfortunately, they were quickly replaced by fresh Guards, without even breaking enough for her lightning-quick self to get out of the circle.
So that was the plan, Nightingale noted from her place in the back of their mind. Keep her blocked in and wear her down until they could take her alive. What kind of humane freaks did that with a person they considered pure evil? Not that she was going to complain about living longer, it just wasn’t the way she would have done it at all.
She felt herself beginning to get gradually slower to react as the minutes stretched on and suddenly, she felt a stabbing pain in her side. She froze with a gasp, looking down to see a large gash in her side from one of their weapons.
Blood seeped out and she hissed, launching herself at the Guards blocking the window. She barreled into them and almost made it to the glass, but they tackled her, bringing her down with sheer numbers.
She let out a strangled yelp of pain as Killer was replaced by Nightingale. She kicked, bit, and punched whatever body parts were near her, but she heard chanting and knew it would only be moments before whatever type of magic user they’d brought had her restrained one way or another. True to form, she felt something akin to lead weights attach themselves, first to her arms, followed by each ankle, her waist, and then neck.
She stopped moving, now practically unable to, and let out a low growl. She could see her left arm and noted the small flat stone with the symbol for ‘bind’ carved into it as it hovered low over her wrist. Similar ones hovered over her elbow and shoulder. It would be the same for her other restrained parts.
She was dragged to her feet, and made to face the Captain, as the gold wing on his shoulders indicated he was. He looked battle hardened and had the same blonde hair and blue eyes that all Astralians had.
Nightingale glowered at his triumphant expression, only making his smile widen a bit more. Her hood had long since fallen down, exposing her cute, heart shaped face, big violet eyes, tanned skin, and full lips, all framed by her long black hair which had mostly come out of the braid it had been in. He looked at her closely.
“I never would have imagined that the deadliest assassin in the Four Kingdoms would have such a sweet face to hide behind. It really is ruined by that scowl.”
He patted her head as he moved past her to the mural and she tried to bite him, barely missing. The bindings pulled her the opposite way, viciously chocking her. As she gasped and coughed, chocking on air, he serenely examined the wall. When he looked back at her again, his expression had changed from triumphant to curious.
“And I hadn’t thought that the Thousand Man Killer would have such a scene on her mind when she was preparing to murder her next would-be victim.”
She smirked. “It wasn’t Killer thinking of it. It was me.”
He looked at her confused. “What?”
“Hm?” She cocked her head to the side in mock surprise. “Don’t tell me you didn’t see it?” She laughed loudly, sounding slightly less insane than she was. “Oh that’s rich! You even saw our personalities switch places twice and you didn’t catch it!” Her laughter ceased abruptly and her face turned deadly cold. “I’m not Killer. I’m the Black Nightingale. And don’t you forget it. Killer wouldn’t be talking to you at all.”
He paused. “Are you trying to say that you have dual personalities?”
“No. I have three. And I swear if you hurt our host, Killer and I will destroy you.”
The Captain stood a bit straighter in surprise, wondering if he had imagined two voices speaking at once, but he dismissed the thought just as quickly.
“So, just what is that scene of?”
“What scene?” she drawled, raising an eyebrow.
“The one the mural shows. The wall was be-spelled to show what you were thinking.”
She looked past him to the vivid scene, voice a bit quieter. “Pretty obvious what it’s of. A river, mountains, and Jang-ja trees. What’s the point of your question when you can see that with your own eyes?”
He gave her a hard look as she stared blankly at the wall.
“I figured it wasn’t an ordinary painting,” she added.
“Yes,” he mused. “You seemed ready for the attack. What gave it away?”
She met his gaze, face still expressionless. “The bloodstain. No artist would put something like that in to mar the unity of the scene, and even if he wanted something to upset the symmetry and stand out, a bloodstain would completely spoil the artistry of it.”
The Captain blinked at her in surprise and looked at the mural again, obviously searching for the bloodstain, eventually finding it near the bottom of the piece on the base of the largest Jang-ja tree. He stared at it for a moment and turned back to her.
“You saw that so quickly? And that’s what gave it away?”
She nodded slightly, unable to move her head much due to the restraints.
“Are the bloodstains from your first victim?” he asked, voice hardening.
She tired to shrug, found she couldn’t, and looked away, muttering, “Don’t know.”
Her face was jerked around as she was forced to look the Captain in the eye.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” he growled dangerously.
Her blank gaze didn’t falter as she stared right back at him. “I mean, I don’t know. I had only just been created.”
“So your host knows? Bring her out!”
“Sorry, I can’t do that,” she replied evenly. “And even if I could, she doesn’t know any more than I do so questioning her is pointless. The only one who would have any idea would be Killer, and you won’t get anything out of her.”
“Told you already, didn’t I?” She sighed. “Killer doesn’t do much talking, even to us. I don’t think you want to talk to her anyway. She’s practically nothing more than a killing machine. It’s how she was created.”
The Captain looked as if he wanted to hit her, but instead, he turned away, moving to the door. “Bring her!”
The iron door closed with a loud clank and she turned to look. They still refused to remove the restraints, and that was really only smart of them because unbound she would have gotten out in under five minutes.
She was glad they had at least had the courtesy to bandage up her side before imprisoning her. They’d brought in a Healer while they were taking her weapons and she had to applaud them for their efficiency.
She leaned against the bars, pressing her face between two of them as she watched the Captain, who stood facing her cell. A Guard stood on either side, presumably to make sure she didn’t attempt escape. The Captain was scowling angrily at her, face hard.
“So who was it?” she asked quietly, sadly.
The Captain looked startled by the change. “What?”
“I mean, who was it that we killed that’s got you so upset at us?”
His scowl darkened. “How dare you ask that. You kill my father and best friend to provoke me and you have the guts to say something so callus?”
So that was it, she mused. He’d ended up with a personal vendetta against her because he thought she’d gone after him purposely.
“I am sorry that you were hurt,” she told him sincerely, voice still soft. “But killing them had nothing to do with you. I didn’t even know who you were until tonight, and even now I don’t know your name.”
He took three steps, getting right up in her face as he grabbed the bars, his rage apparent. “My name is Aziz, and remember that I was the one who put you in here! Go ahead and let your anger burn, for whatever good it will do you! Let it consume you and eat away at you! I hope you die miserably for what you’ve done!”
She met his burning eyes, her own so sad that it surprised him.
“I think,” she said quietly. “That you are the one who has let his rage consume and eat away at him. I am not angry with you or your men.” She would have shrugged if she’d been able to. “Of course, I’m pretty disgruntled about the whole prison thing, but it’s really very impressive that you were able to do something countless others have failed to do.”
She paused, watching his face flood with emotion.
“Why? Why do you kill? Why did you kill them? What did any of them ever do to you?”
She sighed quietly, glancing past him to the two Guards who were listening intently, before meeting his gaze once more.
“It’s not what they’ve done to me. It’s what they plan to do if they’re not stopped. I don’t kill for the pleasure of it. I kill to protect those I love.” She smirked at the brief flicker of surprise that crossed his face. “Yes, Captain Aziz. Even a murderer like myself has people she loves. At the end of the day, I’m still just a human, same as you and the rest of mankind.”
The Captain pushed himself away from the bars, scowling once more. “You’re not going to give a straight answer, are you?” He turned away, motioning the Guards to stay. “I was stupid to think you’d tell me anything.”
“Captain Aziz!” Nightingale called. He paused and slowly turned to look over his shoulder. “I want you to remember something. There are more sides to good and evil in this world than what one person sees. Good and evil themselves are a matter of perspective. We all fight for what we consider right and just.”
He glared, turned away, and began climbing the stairs, her warning voice clearly reaching his ears.
“If you meet someone who tells you about Abaddon, do not agree to anything!”
She watched him disappear up the stairs and murmured almost silently to herself, “I don’t want to have to come after you too.”
The next afternoon, Everand’s streets were filled with the voices of the Heralds.
“By order of His Majesty, King Rogthmar the Bold, the assassin Nyte Gale, also called the Black Nightingale and the Thousand Man Killer, is hereby sentenced to life imprisonment in the Cage for her crimes which include breaking and entering, vandalism, insult to the Crown, and murder.
“Let the Four Kingdoms rest easy at night. Long live King Rogthmar the Bold! All hail the King!”