35 - Pigs on the Wing

I've checked over the windows.  They're warded, and I even started poking at those wards.  There's guards outside the windows too, though.  And I think I could sneak out of here if I tried, but fighting isn't something I'm very confident about. I don't know why I want to get out, really.  I mean, look at what I have to face.  Daddy's here.  For some reason, the shivers aren't running down my spine at that thought anymore.

You know?  I think I'll just deal with that once I get out.  And I am getting out.  I'm tired of this place.  Of course, I have no clue how I'm breaking out--

Of course, once I go and think that, I hear a slam against my door, and a sound that I'd definitely equate with a guard expiring.  There's some scrabbling against the door, then.  "Lyric!  Get this door open!  Find a way!"

I blink.  "...Faun?"

"Yes, yes!  Now open the door, it's annoying having to kill all these people just because you're too slow about things!"

I grab my hairbrush and a few hairpins, and set to work on the lock.  It's wonderful what a few years on the road can teach you.  I'd given some thoughts to picking it before, but didn't want to piss anyone off or get in trouble.  I daresay it's a little late now to be worrying about those kinds of things, though.  The lock pops open and I pull the door open.

Faun's face is in enough of a blood-covered snarl that I almost dart back and slam the door in his face.  Before I can manage that, he grabs he and hauls me outside.

"Come on, Poet.  I need you to tell the Judge a few stories."  He levels his baleful gaze down the hall.  Nobody else, yet.  I squeak as I step over the body of the guard that was posted outside my down.  Faun tsks.  "Let's go."  He walks, his arm wrapped over my shoulders, hunching us both close together.

"...Faun?  Where are we going?"  I keep an eye out around us.  I'm waiting for someone to come up on us any moment.  Either the Peacock King's men or...my Father's.

"While your Father's sorely late arrival makes its own waves, I feel it prudent to dispense some justice in other areas."  He leads me toward a side corridor, peers in.  It's pitch black, but Faun doesn't seem to have a problem with this.  I'm glad we're so close together - I'd just stumble around in this.

"...Ah."  I feel for my own mental map of this place.  Headed back towards Faun's cage?  "...The zoo?"  He grunts an affirmative.  "...Faun, why'd you call me a Poet?"

"Because I'd call you a bird if you flew me out of here."  He pauses before the end of the corridor, right where a shaft of light falls in from the outer, torchlit hall.  I see his long ears twitch.  He's listening for anyone else.  "Hm.  They must have all cleared out and followed the commotion into the audience chamber.  Come on, let's finish what your Armed failed to."

I follow him out into the hall.  "What do you mean?"

He glares down the hall, looking at the rows and rows of cages.  Some strange things are in here.  Some...people, too.  I remember it well, but from times when I had to pretend to be the captor.  It's a new feeling, being the one who could let them all free.  "Is that...wise?  All at once?  Someone might get hurt."

"They deserve it.  Stop worrying.  I'll ensure the safety of all we free.  That's my proper job, you know.  Even outside my forest...someone has to do it."  He passes his fingers over the lock of a fine-wired cage.  It creaks and falls off, dust leaking out of the keyhole.  The door swings open.  With a sweep of his arm, Faun guides the birds out.  They're like flying, gliding jewels, darting through the air and skirting up through the corridor ahead.  "They'll find the nearest open door out.  There aren't enough open windows in this Palace, you know."  He goes on to the next cage.  "Lyric...you can pick locks.  Take care of the humans here.  I daresay you'll have more of a way with them than I would."

I set to that task.  What results is a huddle of people inside the corridor, too afraid to leave it and possibly emerge into captor's hands again.  Some people I can't even get to leave their cells.  And then there's the chain of children who hold hands behind me, the one in the lead hooking his fingers into my sash.  I'm not sure what they expect me to do, here.

I guess I should say something.  "It's going to be okay.  There are people who are outside who will listen to what's happened to you.  You can bring your story to the Law.  You won't be put in chains again."  There are some hopeful faces from that, and a lot of disbelieving eyes.

"Hey, are you a girl?" chirps a tiny voice from the line of kids behind me.  I sigh.  Faun goes on letting the animals out.  I guess it's when the moose trots into the audience chamber that someone decides to look in and see just what the hell is happening.  Her eyes widen.  It's Rachella.


It would be a nice greeting , but I can feel my Father's attention on me from wherever he is in the audience chamber while I stand here searching for something to say.  "I...can you give me some help, Rachella?  They're all way more scared than the animals are."  She hustles in to do just that.

"Are you all right?  How'd you get here?  Oh dear look at you you poor thing..." Her attention goes to the people in the corridor with me.  "I...Lyric, I'm going to go get some help, this is a lot of people.  Can you stay here while I-"

"Sure!"  Sure I'll stay here out of the way of my Father, I'm totally fine with that.  Faun watches her leave the corridor, then looks over the cages.  The animals are out, and the people are looking more hopeful and generally composed.

"Come on, let's go."  He grabs me by the wrist and yanks me down back the way we came.  "These aren't the only cages in the Palace."

"But--" Well I can't very well stop him, he'll cut me or something.

* * *
Recorded from an excerpt of Gerude Akribastes's Travel Log
* * *

Yeah, so, when Dad- err, the Judge...when he said for everyone to go out and look for Lyric, that order included me.  So, off I went, lookin' for my brother.  Feels like old times, since I've been out on missions to do just that since years ago.  Nice to know I'll hit jackpot this time.  He's pretty easy to search for, you know, since I know who to home in on.

I don't quite know my way around the palace, mind you, so I decide to take a shortcut.  Well, you see, I figured it was a shortcut.  It's got all the right hallmarks for one, accrued through my years of experience with the subject.  It's low-lit, creepy-looking, and obviously not oft-used.  The fact that it's warded marks it for a dead-ringer.  Disconnecting a ward is a piece of cake, you know, if you just want to slip through a door.  I can even silence my pistols.  I'm also much more discreet about it than Jenny is, but you know, I've got the experience on her there.  My little sister'll have to train up a long time to match up to my expertise in that!  So, I'm going through this hallway.  It's like weaving my way through catacombs, with the creepy low lighting.  There's a lot of tunnels but I just keep going.  They have to come out on the other side somewhere, after all, and--

Okay, so, I'll admit.  Somebody knocked me out right as I got to the circular room where all the cells were. I know it's where the King kept Gerald.  Shame I got konked out, because that would have been a pertinent find to report in right then.  I get dragged off, though, before it's a real possibility.

I'll give you two guesses as to who it was.  If it took your second one to get to Cade, then the first one better have been a really funny joke, because otherwise that's just pitiful, man.

* * *
Recorded from an excerpt of Jax Cruxradia's Travel Log
* * *

I have the best job.  Now, I know what you're thinking.  How could Jax Cruxradia, future Poet and Armed extroardinaire, proud member of a distinguished royal line, ever have fun doing chores?  Well, you see, I just like an honest day's work.  And, well, if that honest day just happens to be a long one out of the reach and gaze of one Jhe Camden Briarseal, then all the better, I say.  So, the stables are stinky.  I think a good stench is manly.  Well, I still make it a point to shower pretty often and put on some deodorant before I'm anywhere I'll meet the ladies, because you know.  It might very well happen.  I even splash on a little cologne, but not too much.  And I try to look my best, even for work clothes, because-[paragraph from this point on excised for reason of being excessive drabble]

After I'm done with the stables I get to do landscaping and maintenance.  Digging in the dirt is good for a man!  Gets me close to the soil.  That's honest work!  Also, get this- dryads.  Audiva Rocale has tons of them, and they're all cute.  And, uh, they don't usually wear clothes.  It's more like tastefully trimmed foliage. 

So, yeah, I'd have to say that gardening is awesome.  Since I liked it so much, I started asking the attendants if there was any more work for me, even when the extra work the Jhe o'Audiva Rocale assigned me was all done with early.  I figured a few more hours wouldn't hurt, especially with all of the lovely scenery this country has to offer.  Now, it's been awhile since I started up this extra work, so they started running out of it.  Eventually one of the girls decided to have me work in one of the inner palace gardens, and then one thing lead to another, and then I'm in this beautiful place.

I'm not sure if I can really call it a garden.  It's more like an earthly paradise.  You know, I can imagine heaven like this.

Okay, nuff said: there are girls everywhere.  Some more dryads and some nymphs and some types of things I've never even heard of.  They're all around and they're gorgeous and, get this - they all like me.  I guess I'm a nice, charming guy.  Girls back home don't treat me like this, though.  I don't really know what it is.  I guess the Peacock King just knows something that we don't.

So anyway, that's work for me.  It's hard work, but oh the fringe benefits.  Especially since, by now, the stables are pretty clean, the other gardens are all maintained, and so I get everything done pretty early and end up here for the rest of the day!

And, so, as always, there's this one girl.  Everyone else is pretty but she's different.  She's...a little shy.  Blonde.  Cute as a button.  And...feathered, and I'm not sure what that means.  Today, I finally do what I've been too afraid to, all this time.  I talk to her.

She's not too sure how to react, at first, but she opens up to me pretty quickly.  She's pretty used to me by now, I think.  That helps.  I wonder just what she is, but I don't really have a smooth way of asking, so I just let it rest for now.

"Cruxradia, you say?"  Her eyes twinkle.  Her voice is so soft and quiet.  It's precious.  "You're far from home.  Are you here for long?"

"Ah!  I...well, I don't know how long my mission here will be, Jhe Rocsui, but I'm quite sure I at least have a few more days."

"Oh, you might be leaving soon!  What a shame!"  She pouts.  "Perhaps I could write you a letter.  That would be alright, wouldn't it?"  Strange, she's almost asking it to herself.

"Hey!  I've got an even better idea.  You could come visit my Kingdom when I go back.  Wouldn't that be swell?"  The prospect seems to shock her, but she's thinking it over even so.  Of course, I don't get an answer out of her, because right then somebody decides to, yet again, ruin my prospects of romance.

There's a commotion right near the entrance, and a few spirits come running from it in a panic.  Hey, speaking of panic...doesn't the mood seem a little strange now?  I'm still learning to pick up on that.  What's going on in the Palace right now?  Did somebody break something?

I see Lyric walk in, then, with some strange guy that looks more like an animal than Rocsui, somehow.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  I think it's cute.  I mean, on a girl.  Anyway, this guy, he keeps sniffing the dryads and nymphs in here.  It's kind of creepy.  I stand in front of Rocsui just in case he's dangerous.  You know, that Lyric, he kinda has weird taste, so after the Peacock King this guy isn't too much of a surprise.

Lyric looks up to me and startles in surprise.  "Jax!  What are you doing here?"

I look at him with a deadpan.  "Lyric, I work here."  He seems awfully confused.  Rocsui peeks around my shoulder at him.

"Jhe...Lotus?"  Her voice lilts slightly at the end of the inquiry.  Lyric sweeps an automatic bow.  "Why are you here?  Father's been acting strange lately.  Is everything alright?"

His lips purse, while the other guy he's with seems to be gathering a few spirits around him.  They're curious about him for some reason.  Lyric...man, he looks worried.  "I...Jhe Rocsui-ehellenae...it's looking quite bad."  He bites his lip and looks away.  "The...the Judge is here."

It's like her skin turns dead-cold right after he says that.  I try to steady her.  I don't understand what the problem is.  I'm also surprised the Judge got here this early, but hey.  "What's he doing here?"

Lyric looks at me like I'm an idiot.  Even Rocsui has that same expression, to a lesser degree.  "What?  Who's in trouble?"

"My Father.  Come.  While he's distracted, I should get some things together."  She turns and walks off to a little-used door that I've only seen her come in and out of.  I look back at Lyric.  His eyes are wide, but he gestures for me to go.

Oh, well.  If she trusts me and all.  Nothing here for me but Lyric's weird new boyfriend sniffing at girls like they were trees and he were a dog.  Wait, they are trees, some of them.  ...Ew.

* * *
Recorded from an excerpt of Gerald Akribastes's Resumed Mission Log
* * *

It is a gloriously triumphant feeling, running down these halls, fully Armed, waiting at corners for what might be lurking around them, spotting for danger, feeling out the wards.  Something major is going down, I know.  Hell, I can even find out for myself, now.  Just a few mental nudges give me the information from my comrades on the status of what's going on with the Judge and the Peacock King.  There's a search party out looking for me and my brother.  Good.  I'm ready to finally see some familiar faces.  I've been isolated far too long with little good company.  So once I emerge from the labs and run down these hallways that cut through the Peacock King's private suites, I feel out the passages ahead of me to see if any of them are near.  No, not very - might be able to intersect with someone if I go down an upcoming branch...

Wait.  I feel a different aura, up ahead, if I take a branch that's pretty close.  Much different than one of my comrades, but I recognize him all the same.

I stop to cloak my own aura and put a silencing effect on my footfalls and Arms.  Then I proceed up the hallway with more caution, my revolvers waiting and ready, already cocked.

It's time for some vengeance.  It's gonna be just.

* * *
Recorded from an excerpt of Jhe 'hAkribastes's Travel Log
* * *

This audience chamber is absolute madness, and I can't help but feel I have my son to blame for it.  Possibly both of them.  I'm trying to avoid thinking on that just right now due to the regent pinned under my Trident, but considering everything that's happening in here...

...Is that a moose?

The birds and other assorted fauna flapping, squawking, trotting, scurrying, and elsewise being distracting in here aren't helping my concentration.  The Peacock King certainly isn't settling down any because of them, either.  He's still not worked up the gumption to speak, which is a small mercy on the world's part.  I can do less with prattle and begging right now.

At least Jhe Hawksgard is making herself useful giving counsel to the strange flood of freed captives from that side-corridor. That only makes me wonder where my daughter has gone off to now.  Probably up to no good yet again.  Just like the others.  What is this family coming to?

...Where is Camden?  He has a lot to answer for.  Ah.  Staying busy as well, I see, organizing the refugees and subtly keeping them from turning into a mob.  A fitting task considering his skills with armies.  A clever way to avoid me.  How intelligent. At least he's keeping out of my way.  It makes me wish I saw more of that intelligence in my ranks these days.

The git pinned under my Trident finally has the gall to wiggle.  I pin him down with a glare.  He glares back up at me.  "Take me under arrest?  ...Fine, if you seem to have the authority, but I'll unravel just what's behind that later, and you'll answer to my censure."  I only raise an eyebrow.  Words I've heard before, and they're less entertaining each time.  I'm polite enough to suppress a yawn.  "...But."  He looks away.  "If I'm to be under arrest I request the treatment due my station."  Well, at least he sounds reasonable.

"...I'll consider it."

He snorts.  "Let me put it in plain words for you, if you have such trouble grasping the meaning of my speech.  Unpin me from this wall.  I'm getting a cramp."  Indeed, I don't doubt he is.  When I pinned him by the neck, he hunched down a bit in a defensive crouch.  Considering how tall he is, the slight hunch, with his knees forced to bend under him as he stands, is likely growing very painful for him.

"Ah.  Is that what you meant?  My apologies.  I'll file the proper paperwork as soon as possible."  He makes an indignant squawk and sputters.  I turn and ignore him.  Diyn can keep an eye on him instead.  Some of my men are returning and I'd like a report.

I blink.  They're carrying something with them, and I recognize it.  "Jhe K'varek, Jhe Harpseal.  Where did you find that?"

Clark's black clump of bangs falls over his forehead as he makes a short bow.  Kevrin echoes the bow, his sandy hair almost completely obscuring his face.  It's strange to even see him, he usually keeps to the shadows with the more secretive operations.  Each of them holds an end of a cloak crudely sewn from many furs and animal skins.  It's too distinctive to not be Faun's - it's one of his distinguishing characteristics.  

Come to think of it, why was that animism in one of the servant robes associated with the Peacock King's Court?

"We found it in the quarters Jhe Lyric was occupying, Judge."  Ah.  Neither of them seem to be eager to give me details on that.  "He was no longer occupying them, but this looked like it might be of interest."

"Indeed."  I reach forward and take the cloak to examine it.  Hand-sewn, by whatever Faun might use for a needle, I suppose.  He prides himself in this cloak.  As he should - the animals themselves gave pelts to him for it.  It is a symbol of what he works for, fights for, and exists because of.  There can be no mistaking it.

"I wonder what that was doing in his room, where I found your son's guns."  Ebrellin-i's voice drips with intrigue from behind me.  I'll have none of it.  "Perhaps he's more involved with this than you think.  Maybe it's best to just leave it untried, untouched, and let everyone forget.  Spare your son the humiliation...and possible punishments..."

"Spare yourself the breath.  If my son's guilt hangs in this cloak's threads I can easily imagine who weaved it in.  You're too eager to squirm out of this."  I put the cloak aside for now, draping it across the throne the King addresses his visiting audiences from.  It was placed conveniently nearby.  I look back to my Armed, who await further questions or orders.  "Was there any other sign of Lyric?"

Clark shakes his head.  "Quite the opposite - by the look of the dead guards outside his door, someone very deadly already made the rounds there."

Kevrin holds up a long-fingered hand.  "It was the animism that killed those guards.  I of all people would recognize those marks, and how they were dealt."

My eyes cast over Kevrin's taloned fingers and feathered neck, and his strangely beaked face, for yet another appraisal of the boy.  Yes, he of all would.  "See if you can track them, then, without Faun killing you."  They turn and take off, then, Clark looking slightly perturbed at this new mission.  It's his first time partnering with Kevrin, isn't it?  Still, they're from the same unit, and they're both armed.  And if anybody has a problem with one of my Armed, they have a problem with me.

Speaking of which, I turn to address Ebrellin-i yet again, just in time to see him try to grip Diyn and pull him out of the wall.  Well, I certainly won't stop him from trying that, though I have to suppress the almost overwhelming urge to laugh before he manages it.

The scream makes everyone in the giant chamber pause.  "It BIT me your...your mongrel of a cheeky weapon bit me how dare it BITE me?!?"  He glares at me for it.  I don't see why, Diyn did it because he deserved it.

"...You tried to get out.  He did what any guard dog would, mongrel or not.  You're lucky to still have your fingers.  The last time someone was stupid enough to try that, there was nothing left past his bloody stump of a wrist."  My voice is level and calm.  As far as incidents go, this doesn't interest me much.  My children have been much more mature in their whining.  ...More convincing, for that matter.

"You cur, he ate my signet ring!"

"I don't see why you're so upset.  You might not need it anymore."  I ignore his screeching and look over the audience chamber.  Slightly less cacophonous now than it was a few minutes ago.  Perhaps things will resolve.  ...No, I can't lie to myself.  All of this spells out trouble that's more far-reaching than the perimeter of this Palace.

The best part is that I'm waiting for it to get even worse, as tends to happen in these situations.


  1. *Early update squee*...it *is* early, isn't it? Well, it's Wednesday on my side of the world which means it isn't yet in yours...obsessive visiting sometimes pays off!

    I love your story :)

  2. I for one welcome our New Zealander overlords.

    I try to update a day early if possible, especially since art can go overschedule and thus make it a bit hairy updating on time. With a day job it especially helps. Thanks so much for commenting!

  3. I just wanted to say that I absolutely love this story! I found it while randomly following weblinks and it is now one of the highlights of my week. The characters and the world you've created are so interesting; I especially love the Armed and their weapons :). Keep up the awesomeness!

  4. I love the way the plot is going. Keep it up, your writing is amazing. Sorry that I haven't commented earlier... I've been reading for a little over a month now, but I tend to lurk. I love your characters, they're all very distinct and entertaining in their own ways. Your world building impressed me the most, though. It's very complex, I love it. :)

  5. Thanks Anonymous and Auriferous! I'm glad you're enjoying the show so far and I'm glad you commented. World-building's something Char deserves the most kudos for, by the way, since she hashed out a LOT of The Peacock King's details when it comes down to that.

  6. Ha!
    "You cur, he ate my signet ring!"
    "I don't see why you're so upset. You might not need it anymore."

    Good stuff :)