By Feyerah Klydell Evvs
9: Nothing Personal
The old woman was a bizarre sight, and she smelled of rotten food. Her height was abnormal, and her nose was crooked in a way that would have given someone hard time breathing. Normally, one would doubt that a small woman could be harmful. Apparently, however, this particular person's demeanor did not guarantee us safety, rather it was the opposite.
She looked like she could devour me and Lady Stillone any second.
"Wow that was a great feast," the old lady said loudly, "You see, we've taken a few souvenirs from the land where you and your fellow captive came from, mage."
I felt an incomprehensible fright crawling beneath my skin, and a slight panic overcame me. I was not sure what made her appear like scary being, but I did not ponder on that thought too much, because whatever the case, she was already frightening enough to give Lady Stillone light shivers, despite the strong and calm front.
I moved in front of my fellow captive. In the situation we were in, I felt obligated to protect her—not just because it was my duty as a gentleman to do so, but also because I was most probably the very reason why she was caught up in this mess. I was more than sure some enemies of the royal family conspired for the capture of the prince. After all, the ball would have been one of the rarest events where he would be in the public, a perfect opportunity to abduct him what with his elusive nature.
"Who are you? Are you mercenaries?" I asked the old woman. "Who sent you? Was it the Atlass High House? Or was it the Kingdom of Lorkshaar?"
"Huh?" The old woman exclaimed. "So you're awake, karaniwan," she laughed, her oversized belly heaved sickeningly along with every cackle.
It sounded familiar, but I was not sure where I actually heard it. Perhaps it was because of the panic, but I ended up with nothing when I searched my memory for any reference to the word.
"What's a karaniwan? Are those the people who sent you?"
The old woman laughed more heartily as a man with the similarly odd body structure and white eyes showed up in the doorway, brought in a basin of water, and exited. Lady Stillone grabbed my arm alarmingly and whispered, "Adviser Kolch, I don't think this is actually how you think it is."
"What?" I whispered back in surprise. "What do you mean?"
"What she means, karaniwan," the old woman said in her loud, thick accent, "is that you are in more trouble than you think. You're right, though. We are mercenaries, but no house or kingdom sent for us—at least none that a mere karaniwan like you would ever know of."
The old woman grinned and Lady Stillone stifled a gasp of horror. That was when I realized why she looked way more frightening than any old lady. She had large sharp teeth, and there were still meat stuck in between her them, red blood trickling down. What horrified us, however, was not that. It was the unmistakable sight of a bloody broken finger peeking through a wide gap in her mouth where a lower tooth was missing.
By 'few souvenirs,' I thought, she meant the other guests in the ball?
So far, Lady Stillone was the calmest (albeit oddest) lady I had ever met. From the moment I saw her reading in the palace garden and by her display of wits, I thought of her as a lady who had a collected mind and would not be swayed by anything. But despite such she was, there was no way anyone would still be able to keep their calm with such horrid display. She was frightened, that was inevitable. Perhaps it was because the view was too repulsive for a lady, but I would think it was more like human instinct—a warning for survival.
Her body shook, as did my hands, and probably all of me as well. Seeing dead palace guards' bodies were no match to seeing a live cannibal in front me. Lady Stillone and I were silenced, and I could feel how much effort she was exerting just to stop herself from crying and losing her mind because I was in the same boat. It felt like if we did something, she would snap our bodies with second thoughts.
"I believe introductions are in order," the woman said, "I am not human. I'm a dwarrow, Pilda of the Acorn Dwarrows. We're mercenaries sent not to abduct you as you quite misunderstood, but to escort beings such as your companion. Now, karaniwan, the question is: do you know who that lady is?"
I frowned, "Yes, I do."
The old woman, Pilda, grinned again.
"Oh do you, now?" she mocked, "Do you know that she's not just a human? That she's a mage?"
Mage? I thought, not believing the old woman. I had read about mages in fantasy books, but I had always thought it impossible they existed.
"I don't believe you. If she was a mage, we would have escaped long ago," I replied.
"She's a rogue mage," Pilda continued, "Normally a gifted one is raised in training until he or she is old enough to be called a mage, but she doesn't know that. Am I right, girl? Because you were untrained, raised among the karaniwan, and even cloaked in their scent. You probably don't know how to burn paper, much less to escape from here."
It wasn't because I believed Pilda, but it seemed like Lady Stillone was somehow involved so I looked at her, and she looked back at me. Her emerald eyes seemed to plead, and at that moment, I knew she believed Pilda, and that mages—despite how unbelievable it was—existed, because there was no denying the guilt and helplessness reflected in her eyes.
Funny how that worked. A few moments ago, I was the guilty one, now our positions were reversed. However, be that as it was, I could not blame her. If what Pilda said was true, then perhaps Lady Stillone herself was clueless. Like Pilda said, she was untrained. Her identity was most probably kept secret from her.
Lady Stillone sighed and tapped my shoulder, her eyes still begging me for an apology. She turned to Pilda and said in a shaky voice, "If—if you were escorting mages, where are the others? Where's my sister?"
Pilda huffed and folded her arms in front of her chest, "I don't feel obligated to answer that, mage, but I think it won't hurt to tell you that we've eaten the other karaniwan people we've brought."
That made me angry. These dwarrows were eating people of Faedor. Lady Stillone, on the other hand, seemed like she was going to lose her mind.
"But they were innocent!" she exclaimed.
Pilda slacked her jaw, "Watch your tongue, mage. We didn't eat your karaniwan companion here, didn't we? Although when we get hungry we might. It's nothing personal, really. We brought them here to eat them. Karaniwan people are food.
"Now as for your sister, I don't know. I can assure you, though, that if she's a rogue mage just like you are, there won't much future left for her, either. If she wasn't caught last night, some other patch of the dwarrows will get her, and the Acorn Dwarrows will be sure to get the job done."
"Where are you taking us? To Ziervox?" Lady Stillone demanded.
That made the old woman laugh, her greasy neck shinning as she laughed her head back.
"That's the most amusing thing I've ever heard, mage. Well, I would not blame you for being clueless. You're untrained after all. Don't you feel any difference in the atmosphere around you? Do you honestly think that we're still in that filthy karaniwan land?"
Our eyes grew wide. For some reason, what Pilda said alerted me. It would seem as if 'patches' of dwarrows have been coming to Faedor to abduct rogue mages. That did not sound too good. It could only mean either that the kingdom's defenses have been weakened, or that the defenses just were not good enough to detect and stop the dwarrows from coming into Faedor unwelcome. If that were the case, something had to be done, and it would need to be done fast.
"Yes, mage," Pilda said in a wicked tone, "You are already in Ziervox."
Another white-eyed dwarrow appeared in the doorway. He whispered something to Pilda to which she grinned, replying aloud, "We eat the karaniwan by sunset and then depart for Uzziah to deliver the mage."
"You can't eat him!" Lady Stillone shouted, making the other dwarrow scoot down the way he came from, "Let him go, he doesn't have anything to do with this!"
Pilda snarled, her sharp bloody teeth showing, "We will eat him mage. Besides, he's already here. If he didn't try to get you back from us when we got you, he would not have been here now. Speaking of which, you should eat as well. It would trouble us if you get to Uzziah starved. Our client wanted us to take care of you after all."
She turned to leave when Lady Stillone asked, "What do I eat when there's no food around?"
For the third time, Pilda laughed again—at our ignorance, most probably.
"There's plenty of food around you, mage. If you still haven't noticed, this entire house, along with every piece of furniture, is made entirely of sweets. So there's plenty of food, and we've already provided you a basin of water."
If I didn't believe in the existence of mages, I had not even considered the possibility of having a sweets house, but that would explain the faint sweet smell in the room, and the smoothness of the walls. A thought flashed in my mind.
"If we are in a sweets house, then we can just eat our way out, can't we?" I said.
"Really, you humans, both karaniwan and mage, do not fail to amuse me," cackled Pilda, her eyes focusing on an odd direction for the conversation, "How can you escape when you're bound by Kulkin ropes? If you think you can just cut them with your karaniwan knives, you're wrong. You would need something that severs magic, one that would bleed magic from your mage companion. With your hands and feet tied like that, there's no way you could eat through the walls. Biting through the table and chairs in this room will be enough for you fools to eat."
She shook her head in amusement and continued to laugh her head off as she closed the door which was probably an unbelievably thick chocolate.
Lady Stillone and I looked at each other, and with that, we quickly came to a silent understanding. I knew we both had the same thought in mind, and that we had no time to lose by cowering. The fact that Pilda and her group of burly white-eyed dwarrows were blind was as crystal clear to us—and of course, so was our escape plan.
The plan was just what I told Pilda—we eat our way out.
It was fairly simple to execute. I just had to make deep holes into the thick chocolate walls but we had to make sure not to make too much noise because they always came to check on us whenever we did. It would seem that although these dwarrows were blind, their hearing was sharp.
The wall was too thick, and I could not dig into it without the right amount of force I wanted because we had to be silent. Of course, it wasn't necessary to eat, but we figured we had to if we were to survive treading our way around once we escape.
Lady Stillone was one step ahead of the plan already. Once she said she was full, she broke some legs of the chairs in the room—apparently, they were hard gingerbread—next, she tore a few parts of her petticoat (luckily, tearing it didn't make so much of a noise), and wrapped the cookie legs with it. In just a few moments while I was wall-digging, she already managed to prepare two handy bags filled with food supply. From time to time, I stuffed small chocolate chunks into each bag, just to make sure we won't get tired of the gingerbread.
"Where did you get that knife, by the way?" she whispered when she finished preparing food supply.
I paused for a moment to get a better look at the knife. It had a black blade with a sharp enough edge to cut through a person and yet too blunt for a sword. One of its edges curved to a point, like a kitchen knife did, but unlike it, this one's cutting edge wasn't on the curved side, but rather on the straight edge, where the back part of a normal knife should be. The first time I fished it out of my pocket to sever my bonds, I was tricked and so I accidentally cut myself a little.
The blade folds into the handle, with the sharp edge first going into its thin hollow space. On the knife's handle was the shape of two intertwined dragons, and embossed in between both their heads was the shape figure of the sun. The part where the sun figure was concerned, it was similar to the crest of the Royal Family.
"I got it as a birthday gift from a good friend," I whispered back her as I resumed digging through the wall.
"The Crown Prince Shiremin? But how—I mean that just cut through some magical rope. It has to be a magical tool."
"Perhaps it is a magical tool, but as to how His Highness managed to get it, I do not know. As of the moment, what matters is that it saved our lives—or rather, currently it is saving us, seeing as we haven't escaped yet."
"That's odd," she remarked. "I didn't think you were one to believe magic."
"Well, seeing as how you're not denying your being a mage, I don't see any reason not to, especially given our current situation. Anyway, just to check, are you really a mage?"
She shrugged, "According to my step-sister and my mother, yes, I am, and so is my other older sister, Helvet."
"Can you do anything about this wall?"
She shook her head sadly.
"Well, it's kind of sad that you weren't trained. We better do something about that when we escape. Maybe we could find you a teacher down the road."
"Thank you," She replied, biting her lips, "I'm very sorry for dragging you into this mess. I kind of knew they were coming because a week ago, my mother received a warning letter from someone she's probably acquainted with, but I didn't know much beyond my sister and me being a mage. No one would tell us anything. I even had to secretly read the letter because Mother would not let us. We were totally clueless and now…"—she gestured to the room vaguely—"…this. I'm really, really sorry. I should have been more vigilant."
"Drizella," I called back. My tongue seemed to paralyze at the unfamiliar casualness of her name, but if I recall correctly, she did not like being called 'Milady' or 'Lady Stillone.' "Pardon me, can I call you Drizella?"
She nodded nonchalantly, "That's far better."
"Well, Drizella, it's not entirely your fault that I'm here, with only a few hours remaining until those creatures—dwarrows or whatever they call themselves—eat me. Let's just say that a gentleman never lets anything happen to a lady. When you passed out right in front of me, I panicked, thinking I made you too tired during the dance—"
"That's true, by the way—"
"—but that wasn't the reason why you passed out, apparently. When they grabbed your body, all I could think of was to fight back. At the very least, something wrong is happening right in front of me and I could not just let it fly by. It's my nature, so you could say I was asking for this. Don't worry, besides, I gained information that the King and Queen must know. This isn't just about you being escorted."
"What do you mean?" she asked absently.
"It alarms me that they easily enter Faedor. Either they slipped past our borders or they've defeated our border soldiers. They have already infiltrated the kingdom. Do you see where I'm getting at?"
She replied grimly, "They could have taken over Faedor any time they wanted. There's no way a country would be able to ignore this opportunity."
I nodded, "If my theory is correct, your captivity would just be the beginning. Whoever is behind this wanted to clear Faedor of any advantage and, ironic as it may sound, that advantage is—"
"—having mages," she finished.
"Untrained mages are still mages; they pose a threat and to a politician, they are a great human resource. Whatever the case, somebody's trying to go against Faedor, and it seems like we do not know the enemy," I concluded. "Everybody is in danger."
I struck at the chocolate wall a little too forcefully, creating a loud noise, but finally the wall crumbled, and a few rays of orange sunlight entered the room with a flush. I had created a hole large enough for a head. When I peered through it, I realized it was almost sundown, the figure of the sun almost touching the silhouette of a mountain summit.
The door banged open, revealing a gaping Pilda.
"I smell the outside air in this room," Pilda remarked in a disbelieving low voice, "That should be impossible. You could not have created a hole in the wall. How did you—"
Drizella was quick to muffle Pilda with a long enough piece of that magic rope that they used to bind us. I, on the other hand, closed the door and pushed the gingerbread table to block it.
"What do with do with her?" Drizella asked in a calm but alert tone, "We can't just leave her here, she'll catch up tp us, eventually."
"Right, we don't want that," I said as I looked around the room. Think, Caled, think! I thought to myself. There has to be a way…
There were pieces of the magic rope long enough to bind Pilda, so I picked them up and proceeded to tie Pilda's limbs while Drizella held her, but seeing as she had more than a few deadly sharp canine teeth, we should not bet on it too much.
We need some kind of a more restraining object, I thought, and then my eyes locked on the twin thick gingerbread cupboards at the end of the room. Or maybe, a tough enough container.
Drizella followed my gaze, and she might have understood it quickly because she walked towards the cupboard to knock on its surface and quickly inspect it.
She assessed, "Like the chair and the table, it's made of tough gingerbread, but it seems like it's affixed to the floor and can't be moved. It can be locked from the outside and lastly, it's large enough to stuff someone like Pilda in it—a perfect hiding spot."
She nodded as she opened one of the cupboards and I proceeded to carry the hopelessly struggling Pilda towards it. Drizella helped me stuff the dwarrow and noticed that Pilda was already starting to chew on her gag. She tried to punch the old woman but got her left arm accidentally bitten with the latter's sharp teeth.
Drizella was about to scream so I cupped her mouth and tried to muffle her voice by embracing her tight, burying her face to my chest, punching out the dwarrow in the cupboard in the process.
"We can't afford you screaming, Drizella," I whispered to her, to which she replied by drumming her hands towards my chest. I thought she was doing it to struggle from the pain of the bite, but then a few more pounding of her hands seemed like she was trying to get off of me, so I let her go.
"What were you doing, trying to suffocate me?" she whispered breathlessly in quite a reprimanding tone.
"Sorry, I was just trying to help," I whispered back. "Are you fine?"
"It's stings but I'm fine, thank you," she replied, still in a hushed tone. She turned to the cupboard and glared at the dwarrow in it. Pilda's white eyes were darting everywhere, focusing in and out, too tired to chew on her rope anymore.
"I don't hate you, Pilda, but it's nothing personal, remember? You deserve this for all the innocent humans you've eaten," Drizella said in a deadly calm voice, "I wish you burn."
With that flames erupted within the cupboard, and Drizella jumped back as I closed the cupboard door and locked it.
"Let's get out of here fast, before the other dwarrows find us," I said, picking up the two food bags she prepared and kicking the crumbling chocolate wall a couple of times, widening the hole enough for the both of us to crawl out.
She seemed like she was in a trance, but she crawled out of the hole with me. Once outside, I pulled her good arm and led her into the forest not far from the sweets house. We were already running in the forest when she finally managed to asked me, "What just happened?"
"I don't know. You tell me," I replied, amused with her reaction, "You're the mage, remember?"
A/N: Yup, it's based on Hansel and Gretel. ;) Happy New Year! ^_^
I can't believe our university. There should not be classes on January 2, but the admin's so zealous, damn it. -_-' Could they not spare us at least until Wednesday?
Anyway, forgive the glaring typos…I'll try to edit this if I have time. Why don't you help me and point out some errors or give some suggestions? Oh, and by the way, Next chapter will be fun. ;)