The birdie that doesn’t chirp – Part 3

The approaching twilight started to paint the sky red.
As promised, Takumi and his comrades were bringing Lise home, and were currently walking in the streets after descending from the gondola.

“Thank you for accompanying me home.”

The archbishop bowed her head, and Takumi shook his hand.

“I always keep my promises. I’m sorry I interrupted your research.”

“I do not mind. If I could, I would have loved to have a taste of Mirta’s dessert too.”

“Yeah… she fled in a hurry for the ‘puppet show’.”

Mirta was glad that Lise enjoyed the food, and started to prepare even a dessert, but she noticed that it was getting late, and darted off without finishing it.

“The doll maker had finished his job, but she couldn’t fail the play.”

“I would have never expected that you worked even as doll makers and as a theatrical company.”

“Ah, well, we plan to do a bit of everything.”

“…You are strange people. I heard that you originally were an illegal company of the slums, so I thought you only did scary jobs.”

Karin wore a complicated expression while looking at Lise’s slightly shining eyes.

“…Takumi, do you really want her to believe that?”

“Why not? She didn’t ask directly, anyway.”

The two talked in whispers, so that the child couldn’t hear.
He used a code.
The puppet show was actually a delivery of smuggled goods, the doll maker was the deal, and the puppets were the method of trading, which consisted in hiding the things within a false corpse in a coffin.
Vatel came up with all of this, and only Suzuran members could understand the real meaning of those words.
Karin was sorry to see that Lise was trusting them, but this type of job wasn’t something that a child like her had to know about. Although the corpse they used wasn’t real, she would have shown her indignation and scolded them for using such blasphemous methods.

“So, Lise, how was your first time in the slums?”

After their meal, Takumi and the others took her for a walk.
She couldn’t see the slums from the cathedral or the castle because it laid behind the top and middle layers. That’s why, time permitting, she wanted to visit as many places as she could.

“Now you’ve seen something you can’t just look from up there.”

“…Yes. I saw the embodiment of hell on earth.”

Remembering what she saw, Lise let out a deep, heavy sigh.

“Plenty of drunk people sleeping in their own vomit and excrement in broad daylight… Stallholders and seamen randomly fighting among each other while being surrounded by people who instigated them to violence… Children taking advantage of that to steal goods… Are the slums always this chaotic?”

“Nah, usually it’s even worse.”

“Right. The sleeping ones would yell at the fighting ones to shut up, and things end up in huge brawls.”

“Yep! Then the guards join in and quell everything!”

“…Admittedly, I can easily imagine it.”

The archbishop’s tone was resigned, but her expression was somewhat relaxed as her gaze grew distant, like she was seeing a faraway land.

“This is the worst, most awful place I have ever seen…”

Then, her voice became a whisper.

“…but I cannot help being envious of it.”

She lived in a completely different world, and although she was still admiring the townscape around her, she ended up lowering her gaze.

“You are all so free. Even the perverted bird and the sultry drakonid are able to have fun and be that noisy, despite being demi-humans—existences surrounded by a hostile environment.”

Her lips bent slightly into a little smile as she remembered the carefree behavior of that duo.

“The people living in the slums are poor and struggle to survive, pursuing the few choices they have… still, they have not lost the freedom in their hearts.”

Her answer took a philosophical direction while her smile became slightly bigger.

“Seeing people acting like that was… really nice.”

Resignation and a dim shade of envy painted her face, along with hope.
Seeing her, Takumi rubbed her head.

“If you’re envious, why don’t you also try to act like us?”

“Because… I cannot do it.”

Her words leaked out her lips as tears streamed down her eyes.

“The caged birdie… will never be allowed to chirp freely.”

The moment she stared down while balling her hands, an unexpected voice reached her.

“You catch up quickly, Lise Crest.”

Her entire body started to tremble.

“How dare this repulsing trash take my guest for a walk?”

A thick arrogance permeated those words, and soon, the speaker stepped out.

“Lise… we couldn’t find you in the cathedral and grew quite worried.”

“…I am sorry, Lord Kiad.”

Seeing her apologetically bowing, he snorted.

“Now… the thugs that kidnapped the archbishop deserve an exemplary punishment…”

A simple gesture of his hand, and a lot of soldiers stepped out while drawing their swords. They were the pride of Richtert: the magic knights.

“P-Please, wait a minute! They did not do anything wrong! I–”

“Who said you could speak?”

He growled and grabbed her by her slender neck.
The child struggled in agony as her airway was being crushed.

“You are very wise despite your young age. I thought you knew your place, and you even said all that just a minute ago, but you probably weren’t educated enough…!”

He easily lifted her up and forcefully threw her away from Takumi and the others, who watched the scene without moving an inch.

“Oh, weren’t you good friends? I thought you’d try to help her.”

“…Do you really think we’d fall for a cheap provocation like that? You need to come up with something better.”

“Hah… I didn’t know trash could be intelligent. If only you tried to touch me, we’d have washed the streets with your blood.”

A crooked smile cracked on his face as he lightly prodded Lise, who was lying on the floor.

“Look what you did by taking what’s mine with you… It’s hard to see her making such a face… no one ever asked for this.”

“…You have quite the status to treat her like something belonging to you.”

“I know, right? You all belong to Fortesea. And sooner or later, everything will.”

Takumi quietly listened while glaring at him.

“Lise, get up and hurry back home.”

“Yes, Lord Kiad… Thank you for sparing them.”

“Well, I must consider a plea from someone who always does what we ask. Also… I finally got something off my chest.”

He smiled sadistically in front of her, whose aching body was trembling in fear.

“We’ll see again each other in the match. Enjoy your last days, filthy trash.”

Spitting harsh words, Kiad turned on his heels and started to walk away, followed by his men and Lise, who looked at Takumi and his friends for a brief moment. A gloomy shadow darkened her bruised face as her lips moved in silence.

I had fun.

Then, she silently walked away.

“Well done for controlling yourself, Kunon.”

“I’m not so stupid to jump into a fight without thinking of the consequences! You’re talking to a wolf, you know?! Still…”

She gripped the hilt of her black daggers and whispered in a low, guttural voice.

“…that wasn’t nice to see.”

An aura of blood-lust formed around her, while Karin flicked her hair back annoyed.

“I totally agree. Even though I’m used to see stuff like that, it still gets on my nerves.”

“Yeah, I know where you two are coming from… but now there’s something we know for sure.”

Takumi started to tap on his temple as he repeated Kiad’s words.

“Although he said they couldn’t find the archbishop in the cathedral, the rest of the city was too quiet. He didn’t mobilize the guards or his personal army to search for her, and that bragger didn’t look worried in the slightest.”

“…So, he doesn’t consider her that valuable?”

“No, in that case he wouldn’t have come all the way here. Also, he forced her to go home with violence. You know better than me who gets treated like that, don’t you?”

He used violence to bend her to his will.
Despite not being a slave, she acted in the very same way, and that meant that there was a reason she had to be like that.

“Now, how could he find us? A simple estimation of the path we were going to take wouldn’t be accurate, and he said that we were good friends with her… Almost like…”

He then stopped his finger.

“I see… that’s why that was written.”

“You mean that personal request…?”

“Yeah. It was only one sentence.”

A few days before, they received a letter.
There weren’t details of any sort in it, so they had to blindly search for information, but the only thing they found was a sentence that looked like a request of help:
The caged birdie will never be allowed to chirp freely.
Takumi kept thinking about what that could mean.

“…This isn’t an easy request.”

“Indeed… It’s the archbishop we’re talking about. Contrary to slaves or ordinary people, we can’t just kidnap her, and she can’t run away by herself either. Anyone who would help her would be considered a traitor from the country and executed.”

Being the archbishop meant having a certain authority, and also be subjected to some very strict rules.
Even running away for a short time would be difficult, since the Fortesea’s shadows might appear at any time, instilling a growing fear in the evader every day.

“She really is in a cage of steel.”

“And there’s more, right?”

“Yeah. They’re earning quite the profit from her.”

Saying that, Takumi smiled amused, and the others looked at him and did the same.

“Is it doable, Master?”

“Of course. I wondered why she acted in such a roundabout way, but now that I’ve understood it, we can act whenever we want.”

Turning on his heels, Takumi took the way back the slums while tapping on his temple.

“Karin, once we’re home, reorganize the information we’ve gathered. Kunon, you come with me. I’ll let you vent a bit.”

“…Will you let me kill that guy?”

“Something like that.”

“Really?! Yaaay! Takumi finally told me I can kill someone!”

“You know how messy things will become if you kill the capital’s top authority?”

Seeing Kunon drawing her swords and slashing the air happily, he grabbed her from her nape.

“Owww… but I wanna squash him so haaard…”

“I already told you that killing will only put an end to someone. Killing for revenge makes you fill better at first, but deep down, your heart will always search for forgiveness…”

As he scolded her, his lips bent again.

“But I’ll never forgive Kiad. I won’t have mercy. Every single cell in his body must scream in agony and be forgotten in the darkest pit of loneliness, otherwise I won’t feel at ease.”

Lise’s aching face as she walked away flashed in front of Takumi’s pitch-black eyes again, and the words she couldn’t say out loud resounded in his ears.
I had fun.
With her image still burned into his sight, Takumi faced the others.

“It’s been a while since we got something to do in our territory. Let’s go.”

“Recently, we only had to work as a major company… I’m glad you didn’t forget about our main activity.”

“I’m perfectly fine with destroying everything!”

“Feel free to do that in the match. This time we must tell Mirta what’s going on. We need to define some details, and she knows how to do that very well.”

“Roger. How should I tell her?”

“I guess telling her directly will work just fine.”

Another smile appeared on his face.

“Let’s go save Lise Crest.”

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