Chapter 182: Outside the Birdcage
That was what children were like. The female warrior lowered her gaze and poured the last wine into her throat. She rarely remembered that time anymore— Naive and stupid, she mistakenly thought that simple combat power could represent all ages.
She didn’t think much at the beginning, she glanced at the shabby and dilapidated daily necessities in the house and the dry straw in the corner, and subconsciously decided that this was the home of a refugee. She would take a few sips, and then saluted the empty room. Yes, as long as you add a little real warmth to your empty stomach, you really didn’t need to eat too much.
After the salute, Ann made a simple prayer and tremblingly picked up the heavy ladle.
The thick soup was stirred, and a corpse of a black flying insect floated to the top on the noodle soup. A feeling of nausea rushed to her throat again, and Ann forcefully pressed it down. The soup was boiling, and she squeezed the limited knowledge from her mind and told herself repeatedly— As long as the soup was boiling, there shouldn’t be any big problems if she ate it.
The soup tasted bad. It was thick and close to brown in the light of the fire, with a weird fishy smell, and it tasted almost salty. Something like a bean slid across Ann’s tongue, and she didn’t even dare to chew it, for fear that she would spit it out because she couldn’t stand the smell. It seemed as is there were plant tubers added to it as her throat felt it was about to be crushed to bits.
But Ann still resisted the discomfort and finished drinking a spoonful. Then she carefully put down the heavy metal soup spoon, and the emptiness and colic in her stomach disappeared, replaced by a slightly bitter satisfaction.
Ann didn’t know what time it was in the early hours of the morning. Most of the windows in the slums had been extinguished. Not far away came the crying of children, the screams of women and the curses of men. She had never been awake at this time, let alone exposed to such sounds. The young princess clung to her arms tightly, shaking like she was standing barefoot in the snow. She had to find a place, a place to take a nap— Ann could sense her abnormality, and the wound bitten by the insects must have worsened as the pain became unbearable. Her breathing was fast and rapid, and the temperature around her was incredibly cold.
She was probably suffering from a fever, Ann thought groggily.
Then another sense of numbness hit her.
Things in the field of vision began to appear unnaturally heavy, and the strength of her limbs was slowly sapping away. Ann hurriedly pinched herself violently. From her blurred vision, she could see blood dripping down as the skin she was pinching was inadvertently split open.
But she couldn’t feel the pain.
Something was wrong. Something was wrong, but the darkness couldn’t be denied as it engulfed her slowly and her thinking paused. Ann moved step by step to the straw pile and used the last of her strength to bury herself in it.
She didn’t know how long it was until she finally woke up again. The first thing she felt was rope on her wrists.
She was tied up.
Her eyes were blindfolded by a strip of cloth, and in the darkness, great fear hit her. Ann wanted to scream, but then found that her mouth had been gagged by a cloth and she could only make vague whines from her throat. All she knew was that she was cured up, and the skin on her left arm was touching a slightly curved border of her prison cell. It felt like wet wood.
The smell of alcohol and mildew burrowed into her nose together. If she didn’t make a mistake in judgment, this should be a wine barrel. She didn’t know who had tied her up firmly and stuffed her into this barrel. The barrel was bumping so she should be in a carriage that was moving at the moment.
Don’t panic. Don’t panic. The young princess desperately slowed down her breathing and strengthen her spirit so that she would not go into shock again because of fear. She still had a sense of smell and hearing, so she must figure out the current situation…
Because no one will come to save her.
There won’t be any Knights of Judgement to arrive on a white horse and cut down the wicked man. There were no servants to help her loosen the rough hemp rope, wipe the dirt off her face with a hot towel, and rub away her bruises. There weren’t any maids to prepare desserts cut into small pieces for her, warm goat milk, and give warm, soft hugs.
No one would come.
The conventional tracking spells were destroyed with confidence by Ann herself, and the clothes embroidered with the locating array and the marked jewelry were all thrown away into the woods next the church. No one knew she was here and even she didn’t know where she was.
Tears gushed out of her eyes uncontrollably and she couldn’t stop it. Remorse began to spread uncontrollably in her heart. The light and dry nightgown, the soft and fragrant bed, the thin feather quilt as light as a cloud. Why did she leave there?
But now she didn’t even dare to cry loudly.
"…Are we really going to do this?" Outside the wine barrel, a man with a thin voice spoke. "To be honest, man, I still think it’s better to hand this chick in directly. Everyone in Doru city is going crazy! If it weren’t for our brother who had already arranged the gatekeeper and got out in time, we probably be held down by the Knights of Judgement right now. They are serious. Listen, serious!"
"That’s why I said you’re brainless, dumbass." Another hoarse voice refuted. "Fine, what are you going to do huh? Run to the emperor, kneel down and say, ‘Your Majesty, I’m a human trafficker in the slums and I accidentally picked up your lovely little daughter. Can you reward me with a bag of gold coins?’…He’ll give you gold one second and your head will roll on the floor the next."
"I— We’ll just tell him the truth. At any rate, it’s a meritorious service. It is the princess after all. If we slip away quietly like this, in case someone finds out…"
"Uh-huh. Tell him the beautiful truth. Tell him that we just want to use that pot of soup to catch a few little rats in the slums, wash them, and sell them. The princess just accidentally broke in and drank it herself. Thanks to that damn pot of soup, His Majesty will be very please and appreciative of our cause— You think that’ll be the case? Buying and selling little rats is a capital crime if you’re not careful. Do you have no memory in that head of yours?"
"Didn’t we talk about this? It’s a chance given by Zenni! The idiot guarding the door probably thought we’re just making regular ‘deliveries’ and no one could imagine that what we have was the princess. The usual rule is to give it back to the ‘old skunk’. Someone must be willing to buy her. A decent person to buy her will claim the credit, or simply sell her to another— We take the money and wipe our hands clean of this mess. Even if we get less, it’s better to give that responsibility to someone else than take the credit ourselves. If she changes hands a few too many times and they want to trouble us, we’ll already be long gone— I think Willard is a good place to go."
"Will the old skunk believe it? That old bastard is more suspicious than a fox."
"I’ve seen it. The one on that chick’s left arm is indeed a royal emblem. We don’t have the ability to forge that thing. And she’s so delicate. How can there be such a coincidence in this world? The old skunk is paranoid, but he’s not stupid."
"What if the buyer doesn’t take credit and use her for something else? The big boys in Willard would be happy to have a toy with the last name of Alastair, which is a bit…"
"What does that have to do with us? Who knows who’s hand she’ll fall into as long as they are willing to stuff enough gold to the old skunk."
"Oh, you’re more of a scum than me! Tsk, tsk. It seems that I still have something to learn, but keep your voice down, in case she hears you…"
"Oh, oh, oh. I made that soup. She’s just a chick so it’s enough to knock her out for four days and night. Don’t worry. If you shove her under the old skunk’s nose, she may not even wake up."
Although the lingua franca of the two had strong accents, Ann understood most of what they were saying.
……She must escape.
These two people sound like repeat offenders of child trafficking in the slums. They weren’t refugees who were emboldened by a moment of evil. Her body was gradually weakening, and Ann didn’t think they would be kind enough to keep her in a state full of strength. Right now, the other party wasn’t expecting her to wake up early so she only had one chance, the young princess trembled and thought.
There was only one fact in her favor— It was estimated that they didn’t want her to die halfway due to the wound infection. Those insect bites and abrasions seemed to have been treated, and the fever-like lethargy no longer filled her head.
Her magic was definitely stronger than these two, but they were two adults who had full advantage in physical strength. On the other hand, Ann didn’t know if they had a portable magic array on them. Once she failed to escape, the vigilance of those two would assuredly increase.
To make matters worse, there may be more than two enemies.
Ann’s hands and feet were cold, and her heart had never jumped so fast. She desperately suppressed her sobbing voice and listened carefully to the movement outside.
There were sounds of scraping, panting, and horse hooves hitting the dirt. She could do this. Ann caught a glimmer of clarity in the endless panic and fear. This wasn’t her. She wasn’t here. It was just a dream; an adventure story told by her brother.
She must believe so.
The trembling gradually stopped, and the heartbeat that seemed to shatter her eardrum calmed down a little, then the sound became clearer…
There were indeed two enemies.
Ann subconsciously wanted to burn the rope with lightning but was afraid that the smell of burning hemp rope and smoke of fire would be noticed by the two men in front of the carriage, so she took another action; one she had heard Abbas spoke about…
Ann put her wrist close to her mouth, put her thumb into the cloth that was gagging it, and pulled it out hard. With unremitting efforts, the cloth strip slid down her chin and landed on her neck.
Then there was the hemp rope on her wrist. She sent the rope to her mouth and bit hard. As the hemp rope was bitten away strand by strand, Ann twisted her wrist fiercely. Her skin was scratched and the blood soak the hemp rope, but she still struggled mechanically.
This pain wasn’t hers. These tears didn’t belong to her. These were all hallucinations.
To prevent necrosis of her hands, the hemp rope wasn’t strong. After a long struggle, her hands were finally free. Ann quickly untied the rope on her ankle, then adjusted her posture, patiently waited for the right opportunity amidst the sharp pain.
She wasn’t here. Don’t think about failure. This was just an escape game. A test.
She wasn’t here so she should pretend this was all fake.
"I’m going to take a nap in the back," the man with the thin voice said. "I’m so sleepy. Call me when the sun rises, and we’ll change shifts at that time."
"Alright, you can sleep first."
Something rubbed over. Ann held her breath as she struggled to pick the most destructive spell from her brain.
"Ugh, these last two days have been a fucking joke…" the man muttered from a short distance away. His clothes made a rustling sound. Within ten minutes, Ann could hear the sound of snoring.
The lightning split the barrel and slashed straight at the sleeping man. The advanced spell of the Alban Royal Family was amazingly powerful. Although an eleven-year-old girl couldn’t exert all its effects, it directly splits the man lying on the carriage into two pieces and roasted him into a crisp…
Along with the carriage.
The horses neighed in shock, and the carriage, which wasn’t strong suddenly fell apart. Ann fell to the ground fiercely along with the broken barrel, which almost knocked her unconscious. The pain in her back was so severe that she wanted to stay still and just pass out— But no.
Ann staggered to her feet and forced herself to look at another enemy. The man with a low voice had dodged quickly and only one of his arms was hurt. The man’s left arm was hanging limply on his shoulder.
This opponent was extremely tall, and Ann couldn’t help but take a few steps back. Trembling, she stepped over the charred corpse of her other enemy and instinctively ran.
Unfortunately, before she ran a few steps, a spell hit her back causing the slender girl to be knocked down.
"Fuck, fuck!" The man picked up Ann like a chicken and dragged her closer. He cursed shrilly and raised his hand to deliver an unforgiving slap.
Ann was hit directly in the eye causing her ears to buzz and warm liquid oozed down her nose. Her left tooth was loosened, and her mouth tasted blood as the left side of her face swelled.
Tears kept flowing despite her eyes were dry and in pain.
Seeing that Ann hadn’t lost consciousness, the man kicked her in the abdomen again causing her to curl up into a shrimp on the ground. She closed her eyes tightly and spit out a little thin liquid in her mouth.
Did she lose?
…But she can’t lose.
It may be because he was afraid that kicking the slender little girl directly would create serious injury, so he stopped, cursed a few more times, and leaned down to lift her up.
In severe pain and dizziness, Ann drained the last of her strength and bit at the man’s throat. She gritted her teeth numbly and tore off a large piece of flesh causing warm blood to spray all over her face.
The man didn’t seem to react for a while. He screamed as he touched the wound on his neck with his movable right hand. Ann faintly grabbed the man’s ankle, and lightning lit up again. Unfortunately, the last blow almost exhausted her strength, and the faint lightning only paralyzed her enemy for a moment.
But a moment was enough.
She didn’t bother to pick up stones or a broken branch. Ann buried her head without hesitation and continued to bite the man’s neck. Blood continued to splatter out as the man’s limbs twitched, and finally he stopped struggling.
It was the first time in her life that she killed someone.
The princess of Alban stood alone in the wilderness in the early hours of the morning. Her teeth were stuffed with disgusting pieces of flesh and the pain burned her nerves. The linen robe was soaked in blood became cold. She finally dared to open her throat and cry loudly.
The horses of the carriage had already ran out of sight, leaving only two corpses in place. Ann tried hard not to look at the two hideous-looking male corpse. She staggered to the ruins of the carriage and began to rummage for food and usable tools, maintaining a blank state in her mind.
She wanted to go home. It was time for this wayward escape to end. She wanted to go home.
If she was thirsty, she would use a condensation spell to get some water to drink. If she was hungry, she would eat some grass roots. If she was lucky, she could use the lightning spell to kill some mice, rabbits, or fish. She followed the road in the wilderness and hid in the grass when she saw people passing by. After seven days and nights, Ann finally touched a vibrant town again.
Now, she was thinner and dirtier. People would only think she was a little beggar from nowhere and no one would be interested in giving her a second glance.
There was a branch of the Mercenary Guild here. As long as she walked in and revealed the royal emblem on her left arm, she could go home…
All this would finally come to an end.
She no longer needed to chew on the half-baked internal organs of mice, and the grass roots that would get stuck between her teeth with every bite. The wounds were still faintly painful, but she didn’t have to worry about them anymore. She could finally…
"Funeral? Hasn’t the princess been found yet? Why are they having a funeral?" Two mercenaries were chatting at the door. Ann instinctively hid herself behind a few sacks of garbage and listened carefully.
"Hey, maybe the Laddism Church found her. It’s not like those guys would report to us. It’s said that Her Highness Andrea was seriously ill when she was found and died within two days. Poor Her Highness, what will the other nightingale do—"
But she was right here. Ann’s eyes widened in shock.
"New job." A third mercenary joined them. The wolf’s head on the white tin badge gleamed. "See for yourself. This is a secret job. The emperor directly designed our mercenary group, the Steel Wolf, to pick up the dirty work this time."
"I was just talking about it just now…" Putting the parchment roll in his hand, the mercenary’s voice trembled a little.
"Well, that’s what it says."
"That’s because she’s not found."
"But no matter what, it’s still his own…"
"Let me put it this way. It’s okay to if it’s just three or four days, but any more than seven is enough to do a lot of things. Undetectable mind control, or undetectable surveillance spells. That could be done within seven days. I personally think it may be… for this consideration. In case the child is taken away and given such thing, and then sent back to the palace, they can’t deal with it at this stage."
"Even if Willard has been restless, this is too…"
"So the emperor, uh— I mean that lord didn’t ask the Knights of Judgement, but asked us to do this. Just do what’s asked from above. You know, even without one, there’s still one left."
"The funeral has been officially held, and the rest are imposters. Once she is found again, she’s to be killed on the spot. No further report is needed. The Knights of Judgement don’t have times for such ‘frivolous thing’, so they left it to us to defend the ‘family reputation’. Ugh…"
"I hope that little girl is really dead. It’s easier to die."
Since that day, her life had turned into a nightmare— A nightmare initiated by her and completed by her father.
That was the third time Ann was disappointed, or rather desperate, with her father.
Now that she thought about it, it was nothing more than giving up an insignificant little girl for the security of the royal family information. She didn’t hate her father from the bottom of her heart. What made her truly desperate was that her biological father wasn’t even willing to try a little harder.
There were many solutions. She could be brought back and raised alone until a countermeasure was found. Even if she was locked up in another city until she grew up with no contacts with important people… but now it seemed that the emperor who managed everything day by day was too lazy to bother about it.
The Alastair family didn’t need a princess without "value", and her father didn’t need a disobedient daughter.
After that, Ann did two things.
She stole a knife and got a bottle of liquor. She abruptly cut off a piece of flesh from her left arm and dug out the exquisite and beautiful emblem. Then, in order to save her life from all the chaos, she cut herself in the face and created an ugly scar.
If this life hadn’t been hard enough, Ann would’ve died at the age of eleven. Since that day, the young princess no longer trusted others. She lived like a wild cat in the corner of the town, making a living by stealing and hunting small animals.
But winter was coming soon.
Fortunately, before that, she found a great target— A stupid nun in her thirties.
She had no name, so people simply call her "sister". Ann heard the neighbors talking about the silly-looking woman. The nun didn’t come from any regular church. At most, she was a folk practitioner. Even her clothes were sewn by herself. Although she had a slight intellectual defect, the nun’s baking skills were first class.
She used this skill to earn herself a substantial amount of money. She didn’t marry, but cheerfully picked up dozens of abandoned children to raise. Every day she would put cookies that weren’t perfect in shape in the yard, and when the children were tired of playing, they would eat them as snacks.
Those cookies became an excellent target.
As the weather got colder, she could only catch fewer animals and take more cookies. She wasn’t sure if she was hallucinating, but the number of cookies the nun put out was also increasing. She even put down a few fruits on occasion. In the end, there was even shabby thick dress hung in the yard, as if the nun had seemingly forgotten it.
And when Ann carefully grabbed that dress in the middle of the night, the door in the backyard suddenly opened.
"Come in and warm up." The nun had a childish smile on her face as if she had succeeded in a prank. "It’s snowing too much outside, little girl."
She should run away, Ann thought, but she didn’t move. The children in the nun’s yard hadn’t changed. Ann had been observing. She knew that the children were doing well, but…
"Don’t be afraid." The nun stretched out a hand and didn’t approach her rashly. "Look at you. Your clothes are frozen… At least come in and take a hot bath. What’s your name?"
"Do you have a last name? If you are separated from your parents, I can contact them. Oh, other relatives are okay. Do you have any other relatives, little girl?"
"…There is no last name, only Ann."
"Poor little one. Come in and get some warmth."
Ann approached cautiously as electric light flashed between her fingers. The nun moved closer and hugged her fiercely, not caring about the icy mud or dirt at all. The woman’s body was clean and warm, with the sweetness of milk and butter.
"Why are you out there alone on a cold day, ugh."
Ann thought of many reasons. It involved war, the royal family, pride and folly, conspiracy and death, but in the end, she trembled and spit out a simple sentence that belonged to a child.
"…My parents…" Her lips trembled. "They don’t want me anymore."
That was the last time she shed tears wantonly.
"Then I’ll give you a name." The nun rubbed her dirty hair. "You look like a little savage… just Savage. Ann Savage. Would you like to stay here?"
The rest of the story was simple. The children raised by the nuns were all undocumented refugees. They were lucky enough to have a home, but they were unable to get a decent job when they grew up. They weren’t allowed to do formal business, and places that were more formal wouldn’t hire refugees. Those that did, offered salaries that was pitiful.
They couldn’t always relied on the kindness of the nuns to survive, but after leaving, they were destined to be displaced again.
"I will teach you spells." Ann made up her mind and announced to her fellow residents. "Let’s go take the Black Chapter test. It’s a little more dangerous, but we can earn a lot. All we have to do is pass the test and then do the easier task! So many children pass every year, and I have investigated their strength. As long as we’re careful, we’ll definitely be fine."
That was the second fatal mistake she made.
Waiting for her was the Seymour Worm and the result of being the lone survivor.
Ann Savage became a Black Chapter, but never returned to that warm little courtyard. She knew that the nun was waiting for them— Waiting for the return of the children she had raised. But she couldn’t bring anyone back, so she didn’t dare go back.
More than 20 years later, Ann would ask people to find out how the nun was doing and would send large sum of money to the nun when the seasons changed. The money allowed her to raise more displaced children, and to live a carefree life, doing what she loved to do, without overworking.
Now it was time to send money again.
Ann put down the empty wine glass again and grabbed the gray parrot in front of her. "Let’s go."
"We’re finally going back to the team? Ouch, I’ll die—"
"Nn." Ann tugged the corners of her mouth. "But I have to send some money first. After all, I’m about to lose my pension."
"What money? To whom? What’s the matter? Is this a transfer of property? Are you going to betray us?"
"…Oh, you got me." Ann flicked the parrot’s head.
"It’s not the first day you met me. Don’t you know how bad I am?"
The author has something to say：
Ann participated in the Black Chapter test. See Chapter 12 for details and pulled out a long-standing flag XD.
This is the past of the big sister!
The next step is to go back to Nemo and Ollie (*/ωω*)
Why is everyone past so painful.