To Set A Black Rabbit Loose
While that one phrase about a frying pan and fire suddenly came to mind, Alicia realized she was someone who skipped the pan altogether. She supposed it came from her father’s side…but then again it was her mother who had always been the one to fight first and ask questions later. Her parents had obviously done a marvelous job raising her, given that she was now being dragged with black chains around her wrists. Luckily for her, the female guards had given her a matching set for her ankles as well, so that she didn’t commit a further crime in fashion with the rags she was dressed in.
They stopped short, appearing to have reached her jail cell. A barred window lay high above and the dim sunlight displayed web-like cracks in the bricks, while in the darkest corner, a small wooden bed sat covered in a sheet, strands of hay visible. The guard on her left opened the door, the one on the right gripping her arm harder than necessary before shoving her.
“Ow!” she growled, her head connecting with the floor. The one who had pushed her scoffed before turning on her heel as her partner locked the cell door. She blew a blonde strand of hair out of her face as the second guard strode away, the captive attempted to sit up and cross her legs. After three or four tries (her “accessories” were so damn heavy), she succeeded. Well today had been much more eventful than she had originally planned.
“So this is where you ended up? Maybe you should stop with the whole truth and justice thing, if it’s only going to make you look like a criminal…”
Her eyes widened at the sound of the voice. It was the same one that gotten her in this stinkin’ cell in the first place. Looking over her shoulder, lying in her bed was a boy no younger than herself. He wore khaki pants and an open white button shirt, his green eyes seeming to twinkle with mischief thanks to his flaming hair.
“‘Stop with the whole truth and justice thing…?’ It was at your words that I believed that man to be innocent and rushed to stop his execution! How do I even know what you said was true?” she hissed at him, her voice raspy from her earlier protests as she had been surrounded for her intrusion of affairs.
At her words the boy stood up, stalking over to her side only to sit by her with his legs crossed. He placed a canteen full of water in her lap, pulling out a shiny red apple and biting into before he spoke.
“I told you the truth. If it is one thing these lips of mine won’t do, it is lie to a lady. He was just leaving to visit family across the country.”
“The weapon that had been brought before her Majesty and the blood that he had so foolishly forgotten to clean off before going into the marketplace was from him killing one of his sheep and cleaning it for a week’s food for his travels—not from ‘murdering’ his family. I witnessed the whole affair whilst helping out around their house.” There was silence after he had reaffirmed the man’s innocence.
“Well, if you hadn’t said anything I wouldn’t be in this mess right now. Just who are you and why are you here in the dungeon? Did you get captured as well?” she questioned, moments later.
The boy answered her with a harsh laugh.
“Me, get caught?” He crossed his arms, lifting his head high with a brilliant and confident smile. “No one can catch the great Chester Katrix! I came because I felt like it.” His arms dropped to his side after he said that. He then looked to her, his smile now holding something sad and his eyes full of a pain that she didn’t quite understand.
“For some odd reason you seem so familiar to me but I don’t know why.” Chester laid his head in the girl’s lap. The chain around her wrist rattled, as she began running a hand through his hair. The girl was just about to reply when he raised his head slightly and coughed. Then his eyes suddenly became wide and alert! Standing up in a flash, he kissed her hand with a bow.
“I’m sorry Alice, but I have to take my leave. I smell a robin in the air and something else—something not human.”
“It’s Alicia, Chester, not Alice. And what are you talking about?” The teenager blinked at the strange yet polite action only to find that the boy had all but vanished without a trace. “Chester?” She asked the empty space, looking about her small bearings. But before she could wonder where he had disappeared to, let alone how, Alicia remembered his words: “I smell a robin in the air and something else—something not human…”
Her eyes widened in fear, expecting something horrible to have found its way down to her cell. Too her surprise—and immense relief—it was only a two more guards. The number two on their jackets gave Alicia a gauge of their rank. But why were they here? She didn’t need to be watched. As if she could just stand up and walk away free. The auburn one crossed her arms, looking between her partner and the girl trapped behind bars.
“I don’t see why we should help her. Give me one reason why I should pick the lock and set her free?” Wait what?
The strawberry blonde companion rolled her eyes with a sigh, placing her hands on her hips. “If you were in her position, would you not want someone to come and release you, Petricia?”
“Considering that I’ll never be in her position, not really.”
Alicia watch as the two argue, stunned that they even considered helping her. It was then that the pink-haired guard did something strange with her face, causing her partner to cringe slightly.
“Fine, Surrie, I’ll do it. Keep a lookout.”
Surrie smiled, looking over her shoulder as she slid a golden bag into view from underneath her cloak. The girl with twin piercings on both sides of her bottom lip, Petricia, went for her belt, unlatching and flipping a fancy dagger into a hand. She stuck out her tongue as she started to wiggle the blade inside the lock.
“Um,” Alicia started as she shifted closer to the door.
“You’re wondering who we are?” Alicia’s mouth tightened, as the blonde girl answered her question without as much as a glance. “Well the time for questions and answers is later. For now let us help you escape and—Aha! Found it! I do believe that this belongs to you.”
A tiny trinket, an earring, was dropped off into her hand. With little difficulty, Alicia slid on the glinting, silver accessory. The lock on the cell popped at that second—only to have another guard just within earshot from the top of the stairs. “Wait, I think I heard something. Stay here in case I need back up.”
The one holding the daggers cursed under her breath, grabbing her companion’s hand.
“Well, it looks like we hafta go.” The duo disappeared, leaving Alicia blinking and dumbfounded as a new guard appear before her cell. The number eight in red was pinned to her jacket as she looked about the hall. The pin then started to blink, indicating that a message was to be received by all. Alicia’s green eyes widened, as the new order wished for her to be brought before the Queen herself. This new guard smirked, unlocking the prisoner’s cell, before yanking her outside and pushing the blonde girl before her.
“Let go of me! At least, you don’t have to be so rough!” Alicia called as she shuffled up the stairs, the guard snickering at her response. They started towards the royal hall, servants and other guards rushing around in preparation of something big. “Honestly though, just because I’m considered a criminal doesn’t mean I don’t deserve some respect.”
This time she was met with silence as they continued walking, before two different gloved hands grabbed onto each of her arms. Alicia looked to her new company, surprised to see the two from who had tried to set free at her side.
“We took care of the one from earlier,” the one named Surrie replied softly. “They are safely locked up in a nearby closet.” How the hell does she keep doing that?
“It’s best not to question how she does that, Blondie. As for why we’re still headed for the grand hall? I wanna know what Queen is really like. I’ve heard stories, but this is a once in a lifetime chance! Besides imagine her face when we reveal our disguises and then bust out of here? It’ll be great.” Alicia could almost feel this girl’s excitement, meaning she was clearly not wrapped tight and believed this to be one big game. How wonderful.
“Bring in the defiant brat!” A booming voice could be heard from beyond to giant oak doors, signifying that they had reached their destination. The heavy wooden doors creaked inwards, opening up to a grand space, the red and white wall length banners cascading downwards. Several knights stood in place alongside the wall, two standing on either side of the black haired queen’s throne. Her Ace stood by her side, a sneer visible on her face even from the doorway. They halted several meters before the throne. Her newfound allies suddenly got very still, playing the role of an obedient soldier well enough.
“You’ve been brought before me, the Queen of Dekarea, to plead your case and tell me why you interrupted the death of a criminal. You should be glad that I am just to all sisters, regardless of age and actions. Had you been a man, you’d be dead long before now. Speak now and tell me the reason for going against my will!”
It took almost everything she had not to roll her eyes at the harping royalty, especially one who had such a loud voice. “Your Majesty, please, think about my words. That man you accused of committing a crime was clearly innocent. Did you not see the look of fear in his eyes? Did you not see the look of sadness in the woman who was trying to be by his side in what would have been his final moments had I not intervened? The tears coming from her face and her cries were real. You cannot—”
Alicia hadn’t even blinked before the Queen was cupping her chin with a hand, a cordial yet twisted smile on her face.
“What is a child doing telling a Ruler how do her job?” There was a subtle threat in her whisper as she then raised her voice, causing to Alicia cringe. “Who are you that you are so bold enough to command me of all people? Heather, darling, could you come here?” The Queen’s Ace was beside her in a moment, holding out a parchment and opening it for her leader. Images of countless criminals and runaways appeared, the Queen using her free hand to scroll through them.
“Aha! Well isn’t this a grand surprise.” The Queen smiled, or rather smirked, the smugness rich in her voice. She looked at the almost see-through parchment a little closer, it displaying a full body view of the girl who kneeled before her. The two were practically identical, if it weren’t for her prisoner looking so worse for wear, so the best way to make sure was to identify any for outstanding features. “Could you check the back of her neck for me, please?”
Alicia rolled her eyes as she mumbled under her breath “At least you’re polite when you’re barking orders—” She felt Surrie’s hand move her hair out of the way, curly locks swinging into her eyesight. Alicia huffed in annoyance to blow her strands out of her eyes, her face feigning irritation before shifting to confusion at the brunette’s airy “Oh.” Wait. What did that mean? What was so awe-inducing about a birthmark—?
“Shaped like a rabbit, marked black, is it not? A single ear bent to the side? Oh what a great payday this is.” With her hair in her face, Alicia couldn’t exactly see the Queen’s reaction but the glee in her voice was unmistakable. Her two would be liberators responded with a resounding yes. This caused the Queen to give a little laugh, her Majesty turning on her heels and starting to skip about the room. The trio watched all a little miffed by the sudden shift of personality. The tension that had hung in the air had seemed to have vanished.
“Are you sure this is the deranged, self-centered anti-men sociopath you told me so much about, Petricia?” Surrie questioned, a giggle laced into her whisper. Her companion didn’t even bother catching her entertained face, but merely clicked her tongue, clearly not amused herself.
“Hush up, ya! This woman is our current commander and we shall show her the respect she deserves.” Alicia snorted at the clearly sarcastic comment, practically hearing Petricia roll her eyes, when she felt at hand shove her head forward close to the ground and a weight of a knee on her back.
“And ya! Ya coulda mentioned that ya had a bounty on your head, let alone one that sends Magistrates into a wondrous twirling dance. It woulda saved me from wearing this ridiculous outfit!” The brunette whispered in her ear.
Alicia swung her head back at that moment, catching Petricia’s unaware at her strength, and would have attempted to bite the hand closest to her had someone not coughed rather intrusively.
Both girls had thrown each other split second glances before focusing their attention on the throne, where the Queen was now once again seated. Her Ace watched them with the slightest smirk curving on her Highness’s right hand woman. Rubbing the back of her neck with her free-hand, Petricia quickly straightened up her stance. “I apologize for my actions, my liege; it would seem that this one’s a biter.”
The Queen gave a nod at this, crossing a pudgy leg over another. “I would hope so. They do tend to raise the women feisty where you’re from, Princess Alicia Marie Blackhart of Wunderscion?”
Alicia’s slanted green eyes narrowed, as Petricia gave a low whistle. “Ooooh. So you’re a princess! No wonder the price is so high.”
The Queen’s face darkened a moment later, her blue eyes icing over: “I would have figured you knew that seeing as you’re trying to set her free.” Petricia’s face flat-lined and Surrie’s eyes widened. Well crap.
In an instant, the Ace was upon them and they were encircled by the guards. The second the taller woman moved, Petricia had sidestepped in front of Alicia, daggers at the ready. To anyone watching on the outside, they’d be surprised to see Alicia stand up the second trouble started, her restraints falling to her feet. Taking a moment to roll out her wrist, she watched the chaos unfold before from the epicenter.
Surrie moved rapidly, her strange martial art skills she used to incapacitate her opponents making it look as if she was dancing. The pink-haired girl seemed to pounce from one opponent to another. With a final “My apologizes.” and a bow to the unconscious that lie before her, Surrie gave a tired sigh. Surveying what she had done to the 10 or so women, her eyes fell upon Alicia who was admiring her handiwork.
“Know that it brings me no such pride to bring ill upon others.” Alicia blinked as they stared at one another for a second, reading the sadness etched on her face. The girl wasn’t a fighter, not by nature anyway.
“She’s fast with her hands, that one.” Alicia transitioned the conversation. The moment they had gotten their hands on her, Petricia had been picking the locks on her wrist shackles. By the time they were before the Queen, Alicia hands were free. The skilled girl had kneed her in the back so that way her “unoccupied” hand went unnoticed as she unlocked the ankles. Surrie gave a proud smile and a small nod.
“She has to be, given her craft.”
“As much as I love getting praise for my obviously marvelous talents and find yer little bonding moment sickeningly adorable, I would like to remind ya lot that this lady ain’t the Ace for nothin’!” Petricia interrupted with a yell. The sound of metal grinding then caught their attention, twin blades blocking the Ace’s rapier in an X formation.
Alicia wasted no time bounding to their comrade, fingers sliding her hair back and barely touching her earring. The jewel piece grew in size, transforming into a silver long staff.
Gripping the lower tip of the familiar cool metal with both hands, she called out “Tuck and roll!” and with a surprising act of instantaneous synchronization, Petricia ducked into a ball and pushed off into a backwards somersault as Alicia jumped and swung down her weapon.
The Ace blocked the high attack with her quick reflexes, pushing Alicia away from her only to have to parry a jab from Petricia. The sound of footsteps could be heard rushing towards the hall, as the duo kept their opponent at bay. “Now would be a fine time to pull something out of that magical bag of yers, Surrie!”
Rummaging through the back, Surrie distractedly kicked a new guard who had shown up in the chest, the person soaring through the air and barreling into the ones now coming to the entrance. “How many times do I have to tell you? It’s not a magical bag—”
“—less details, more results. Please and thank you!”
“—and would it kill you to not be so impatient?! Spirits!” Spinning into a sweep kick and then turning a roundhouse, Surrie cried in frustration.
Petricia chuckled, also taking it as a personal achievement to have gotten under her skin; it took a lot on her part to find the right buttons to push—“So before we take our leave, I was wonderin’ somethin’. How exactly did ya know we were in disguise?” Not expecting an answer, Petricia’s grin simmered at the overconfident tone she was responded with.
“No one makes it into the ranks without getting past me. I personally select the number and quadrant a person is placed in based on their different fighting skills. Any other talents determine color choice. Those of your number cower under a single look from me. Neither of you so much as flinched at my presence; it takes a strong will to not to do so.”
Alicia was impressed at how intricate the process was. If she had to guess, Hearts were the medics, Clubs were probably close-ranged fighters, Spades were distance fighters, and Diamonds were probably mages. Meanwhile Petricia was tickled to be inadvertently called fearless. They locked weapons once more before Surrie called out “I found it! Petricia, fireworks!”
Alicia wasn’t sure what happen next: one moment she was facing the Ace and then she was on the ground. She had shut her eyes closed in anticipation as Petricia yanked her down to the floor and had her cover her ears. There was a slight ringing in her ears as she opened her eyes, to find everyone else on the ground clutching their ears in pain.
“What was that?” She asked the girl next to her, a lighter-shaped device in Surrie’s hand.
Petricia stood up, brushing off imaginary dust.
“Concussion grenade,” She said without a blink of an eye, cracking her neck and tucking her weapons away in their holders. “Couldn’t ya find a smoke bomb or something else? Ya know that gives me hella headache later tonight!” Surrie shook her head as she turned to her comrades as they walked over to her. The question now was how to get out of the castle. If they tried the front door, they would have to go through an army of soldiers—
“So the castle’s surrounded by water, right?” Petrica squinted at the windows.
“Petricia. NO.” Surrie recognized that look on her face. This was not happening.
“And isn’t there a forest a little bit of swim away?” Alicia slid on her earring, also looking at the window. This caused Surrie to groan.
“Alicia, please do not enable her impulsive acts of foolishness.” Would no one listen to reason?
“The effects of the grenade will probably only last a few more minutes.”
“We are not doing this!”
“Then what are we waiting for?
“What part of “no” do you two not understand?!”
Without warning they each grabbed one of Surrie’s forearms and ran towards the closest window! The glass exploded upon contact, twinkling in the air and reflecting the afternoon sunlight. They hit the water with a giant splash, surfacing moments later. Surrie pounded the water in speechless anger as the other two shook droplets out of their faces before starting to swim to the closest shore.
Once they were on the semi-solid ground of a beach, Surrie glared at them, both feigning innocence as they attempted to dry out their hair. The soaking wet voice of reason among them took in a deep breath, but before she could rant, a hand was put up to stop her.
“Save the speech. I know ya have an unholy evasion of water, but now ain’t the time to harp about it. We need to cover some ground or we might hafta face an entire army.”
Surrie puffed out her cheeks in a pout, knowing what Petricia had said was logically sound. They needed to put a good distance between them and the kingdom otherwise they’d be hanging from the gallows. Where was that side of her during life and death situations like earlier though?
Without waiting another second to dry off, the trio entered the thicket of massive trees. They stopped only once the sky’s color had shifted. After running nonstop for what seemed to be the longest time, they found a clearing deep within. Alicia gathered several large stones and formed a fire pit as the other girls stood a little ways off to change.
“Did ya remember to stash clothes?” Petricia asked as she pulled a silver undershirt over her head, revealing her upper chest to be covered in white bandages. Surrie had quickly stripped to reveal her black undergarments, scoffing.
“Of course, I did. We all cannot be as forgetful as you.” Placing down a large piece of wood in-between her structure, Alicia paused to see Surrie pull out two full outfits from the tiny pouch by her feet.
Petricia first put on the black tank top and light green jacket, next her black combat boots, then her dark green knee-length cargo shorts with she put on crisscrossed black belts where she clipped her dagger holders too, and finally white fingerless gloves. She stalked over to the fire pit, starting to run her blades together to see if she could cause a spark.
“Don’t forget to give the little princess her outfit so she doesn’t have to wear those rags.”
Alicia had wandered over to Surrie, who was dressed in white baggy pleated pants, red sleeveless tunic, and a yellow scarf going diagonal along her top from her shoulder to her waist.
“Little? I’m taller than you!” The tips of Petricia’s ears flushed red, Surrie giggling at the cry of indignation. Maybe she hadn’t been so wrong in her decision after all.
“Do not feel so insulted, Petricia, for even you can reach great heights.” Surrie cooed, eyes inspecting the ground. Alicia laughed, for this caused their object of amusement to create a spark from how hard she was grinding her blades together due to indignation. Surrie pulled out cleaner version of what Alicia was wearing: red and white Argyle button down shirt, black skirt, and white stockings. Spinning in place to get a feel for the clothes, Alicia couldn’t help but feel as if she had forgotten something. That is, until a black messenger bag was thrown at her from Petricia’s direction.
“Nabbed it while we were lookin’ for ya,” She called, poking the flames, “Thought those little capsule things might come in handy but judgin’ by the initials on the front of the bag, it’s yers, right?”
“Yes, thank you,” A wave of her hand was all she got, to say ‘No problem,’ Surrie sat down, Alicia copying her, the girl’s eyes lingering on the bag. Alicia nodded to it, “Curious?”
“I’d assume that it’s something similar to my-”
“Magical bag?” Surrie chucked a nearby stick at her friend’s head, Petricia catching it without looking and tossing it into the flames.
“-pouch in that the capsules are a type of storage system?”
“I’ll tell you my secrets if you tell me yours.” Alicia winked, nudging the other girl with her elbow.
“Those terms, I think, are easily acceptable. Many objects produced within my clan, like this pouch, are blessed by the magi and given them various attributes. This is why Petricia persist to address it as a ‘magical bag’—”
“Hey, I call’em as I see’em.”
“—and this specific pouch has an enchantment that makes it much larger on the inside. It has seemingly endless space—though I haven’t exactly had the time to explore its set limitations. And yours?” Alicia pushed her hair back, taking off her earring and tapping it so that way it would change its shape.
“Everything I carry has been shrunk into a capsule for convenience, through a fusion of science and magic. Voice recognition nanobots surround the object of my choosing and then are enveloped in a shape-shifting and shrinking spell with only a password able to break the spell. If it’s an object that I’ve had for an extended period of time, such as my staff for instance, then the bots have evolved to respond to my touch. Say if its food, the bots keep it at the appropriate temperature and freshness levels for months.”
“Well, now that the two of ya have gotten all nice and cozy about how each other gizmos work,” Petricia said finally, standing up and turning to them. “I think some introductions are in order! I am the pick-pocket mistress supreme, Petricia Panellè!” With that she gave an extravagant, gentlemanly bow by extending an arm out and holding the other close to her heart. She grinned as she stood up, folding her arms over her head, “And you lovely ladies are?”
“Alicia Marie Blackhart, Princess of Wunderscion at your service,” Alicia said with a curtsy.
“Sūraja Prakāśa of the Eastern Mountains, but please refer to me as Surrie if that is what makes you comfortable,” She clapped her hands together and did a tiny bow. The three of them sat down before the fire, Alicia and Sūraja gathering food stock to cook over the open flame.
“I was wondering,” Alicia started, as she pulled resized various fruits and meats, “Why exactly did you two save me to begin with?” It was here that Petricia stood up again and stretched with a large yawn.
“Before that, Surrie release your concealin’ spell. Who’s she gonna tell? The trees? I’ll let her tell ya why we helped ya out. Meanwhile, I’m gonna go get some firewood.”
Sūraja stopped what she was digging for, looking at her hands for a second.
“Oh, right! I forgot. Mē’āpuhc Ārahēc Ārēt,” Her short pink colored hair and peach-colored skin inked away to reveal flowing brown-black hair and a caramel complexion. Her eyes shifted from a pale green to a hazelnut brown, and her ears…were rounded off and seemed to be a little furry? Alicia’s scrambled backwards, giving a yelp, as Surrie unsheathed long, sharp claws from her fingertips as she turned over her hand.
“A fayri, yes. Puma, if you’re curious about my blood. That won’t be a problem will it?”
Fayri were animal-human hybrids. Legend said that all fayri were descendants of Guardian Animal Spirits that watched over humans. If their charge were to die an unjust death, these Spirits would then enter their body and give them a sort of second chance at living by inhabiting their body. This process would then alter the body’s physical features, outwardly reflecting the spirit that had taken over.
The fayri were both a feared and admired race, naturally stronger and have a longer lifespan than humans. And, as with anything that is different than them, the humans made sure they did not rise to power.
“Seeing as you are royalty, you were raised by one of my kind, correct?” Alicia whispered a yes, focusing on how she Sūraja’s cat-like eyes reflected the light from the fire. It was not uncommon for those higher in society to have adult fayri to be guardians, nursemaids, and teachers to their children. Many of the fayri’s own offspring grew close to their parent’s human charges and forming lifelong friendships.
“You wanted to know how we came across you, yes? Well it was a coincidence, actually...”