The Bird and The Cage Chapter 4

Cullen didn’t feel anything: not the weight of his limbs as he tried to move them nor the brushing of the wind against his skin. It was like he was weightless, floating in a river, but without the familiar feeling of the water rushing against his back. He tried to glance down at his body, but he couldn’t tilt his head, and it felt pointless anyway as he could only see blackness. He didn’t know if his eyes were closed or if the area he was in was simply pitch black, but, oddly, he felt no fear. If he could describe it himself, he would say it was almost peaceful. It was tranquil to be floating like this, like it was rocking him slowly like a mother does to her child. The blackness didn’t bother him either–he hadn’t been scared much of the dark anyway.

He could imagine himself smiling at this lack of sensation, like all bodily and worldly worries have faded from existence. However, the feeling of floating suddenly disappeared and he could feel his back laid against something soft, and, despite the pleasure he had gotten from the weightlessness, he was equally satisfied with the softness of whatever he laid on; he could’ve given a sigh of satisfaction if his mouth would obey him. If he could move his body, he would curl up into it, but, as he was now, he felt content.

Thinking about it now, he could slowly feel his body once more: the weight of his arms and legs returning as he laid down. With the return of this feeling, however, he could now feel a flare of pain coming from his shoulders, a fiery ache that caused him to grimace. He tried to ignore it and focus once more on the blackness and soft bed he was in, but the ache is his shoulders began to grow worse and worse, and he felt a groan escape from his lips. His body began to fidget, his arms shifting up and down and his legs kicking out weakly.

The burning feeling was growing more and more uncomfortable, worming its way down his shoulders and into his upper arm, and he could begin to feel a wetness begin to swell up on his shoulders. He wanted to relieve it–to see what was causing the painful sensation–and to wipe away the annoying wetness, but his eyes refused to budge and his body still wouldn’t obey his commands. He was about to resign himself to this pain when he felt a dry, coarse object run itself over his shoulders and the burning pain began to subside.

The coarse thing kept running itself repeatedly over his shoulder until the once burning pain was gradually turned into a dull pain, and then into almost nothing at all. He could still feel it, but it was more manageable, and the sticky wetness was also gone. His other shoulder stilled burned, but he began to feel the same thing running up and down over his other shoulder. The pain began to go away and he sighed in relief; he wanted to thank his unseen savior. Slowly, he could feel the weight around his eyes fade away and they began to open.

The light was dim when he opened them, but it was an improvement over the blackness from before, and he could now see a light brown shoulder moving up and down in front of his face. His mind felt clouded as he looked at this object and he continued to look at it absentmindedly. He could still feel whatever coarse object the person in front of him was using to alleviate his shoulder, and he felt the urge to call out and thank the person for helping him. He didn’t know what he had done in-between going to the barn from his house, but he was relieved to think that someone was looking after him.

“Thank…you,” Cullen said, moving his fingers a bit to make sure he was in control of his body once more.

The figure stopped at the sound of his voice, and the shoulder in front of him began to move back, allowing him to prop himself onto his elbows and look at the one who had been helping him. His mouth dropped open in shock at the sight before him: his savior wasn’t human. It had human-like shoulder that led into a normal upper arm, but the lower extremity wasn’t human, but a wing covered a dark brown feathers that tapered off and turned white at the tips. Even now, though the wings were folded at her side, he could tell that they easily dwarfed him if they were to be stretched to their full length. The rest of its lithe body was coated in a thick layer of white and a lighter color of brown features arranged tightly that it looked akin to fur; it’s legs covered in snow-white feathers and ended in sharp, black talons that he noted were tinged with faint traces of blood on the tips.

His face flushed red when he noticed this creature wasn’t wearing any clothing, his gaze lingering on the small breasts that hung out freely in front of him. He shifted his gaze away from its chest, self-conscious about its nudity, and to its legs, which he noticed in further discomfort were straddled tightly around his waist and also unclothed. His eyes quickly trailed up from its nakedness up to a thick mane of feathers that wrapped around the thing’s neck, before his eyes finally met face to face with the creature. His breathing hitched as he saw how human-like the creature’s face was and he felt his heartbeat slow a bit as he took in her features. She had short brown hair that came down the side of her head and covered her ears and stunning hazel eyes that radiated a comforting warmth, his panic dying as he stared into those glowing brown orbs. Looking at her face, he couldn’t help but note a certain cuteness about her features despite her monstrous appearance. He saw a smile tugging at the creature’s lips, but, when his eyes were drawn to this, his heart-rate increased as he saw they were stained red and the illusion vanished as quickly as it had come upon him.  

Cullen remained rooted to the spot, unable to tear his gaze away from the blood around the creature’s lips. It had to be a dream–that’s it, he must’ve still been dreaming. This wasn’t real, none of it, why would this fantastical creature be before him? It had to have been the exhaustion from the hard work over the past few days, and he was just having a very bad nightmare. He shut his eyes and lightly slapped his face with his hand, hoping to awaken from this nightmare into the comfort of his own bed. But once he opened them, he could only see the same monster before him, it’s eyes filled with confusion.

His body began to shake, “Y-You…” The creature turned its head to the side as he spoke up again, his voice shaking. “H-Harpy…”

The harpy began to chitter at him excitedly, bouncing it’s head and down as if agreeing with him, though he had no clue if she could actually understand what he was saying. She looked down at his shoulder and chirruped; his gaze followed her, and his fear only grew as he saw thick tears into his tunic exposing his skin underneath, blood oozing out from a deep cut; a similar cut was on his other shoulder, but this one was oddly not bleeding and appeared to have been cleaned by something. The harpy seemed interested in his bloody shoulder and began to lean her head closer to him once more, causing his heart to lurch.

“S-Stay back!” He yelled, pushing the monster back and dragging himself across the ground once she was off of him, ignoring the flaming pain in his shoulders that protested under the effort.

The harpy steadied herself on her feet from the shove, and watched him drag himself, her head cocking again before a sudden light appeared in her eyes and she began to give chase to him. He yelled at her again, but it did little to deter her and she let out a happy chirp as she got closer and closer to him. Soon, he felt something cold against his back and he turned his head to see a looming gray wall, stopping him from backing away. His heart as he saw her get closer and closer, hopping on her clawed feet towards him, but he could see just behind her an entrance to this cave; he just needed to get around her.

He attempted to rise to his feet, but as he began to rise, the pain in his shoulder flared up once more as he was pushing himself to his feet. He let out a hiss, and fell back down–he looked briefly at both of his shoulders and saw the one that hadn’t been bleeding was now opened again, fresh blood flowing out. He shook his head: this was no time to worry about some minor pain, and he began to push himself once more to his feet. However, the harpy had grown close enough that she was only a few feet in front of him, and seeing what he was attempting to do once more, let out another chirp before she flung her wings open in front of him, the surprise from the sudden action flooring Cullen.

He had been correct in estimating that the wingspan was much bigger than him and he couldn’t even see around her now that they were opened wide. He stared in awe at the awesome sight–his mouth hung open- of her wings spread to their full-length, taken aback by the odd beauty of the sight. The way they lit up the dark cave and the way the brown and white in her feathers blended together in a pattern made the harpy, if for a moment, look beautiful to him. The harpy seemed to know that he was admiring her wings, a smug expression on her face as she folded them back and crouched down in front of him, letting out a soft cooing sound once they were face to face.

She leaned her face forward and sniffed at his bleeding shoulder, a rumbling coming from her throat before bringing her face closer and opening her mouth, allowing him to see the sharp teeth within. He made to move, but the harpy hissed and he could feel his legs wrapped tight, a sharp talon pressing into his calf. He doubt he could try to move without her talons piercing his calf, and if he injured his leg, it would be near impossible to escape. Instead, Cullen turned away and shut his eyes tight, tensing up as fear gripped his chest. He awaited the sharp pain that was sure to come, but was surprised when he felt not pain, but a familiar coarse object being run up his shoulder, a soothing sensation coming over the burning pain.

Curious, he opened his eyes and turned back, his face growing red at what the harpy was doing. The coarse sensation was not some object that she was running up and down her shoulders, but that of her tongue licking away at the bloody wound on his shoulder. He couldn’t help but give a small groan of pleasure as the burning pain faded–his face growing redder at the sound, but he couldn’t help how oddly gratifying the sensation felt; he just hoped she didn’t hear.

She lapped at the blood until it was gone before leaning back and facing him again, her lips coated in a fresh coating of red, cooing once more as if she was trying to tell him to not panic–that he was safe; that she was only trying to help him. A deep purr began to resonate in her throat, mesmerizing him as he latched onto her peaceful hazel eyes, losing himself within them. He felt the pressure on his leg go away and she once more leaned her head down to his other shoulder, the same soothing feeling spreading through it as she lapped at it.

Soon, the wound was clean and she drew back, bobbing her head at him a bit before backing up and turning around, squawking loudly. The sudden noise startled Cullen, breaking him from his trance, his eyes settling on the mess that the harpy was upset with: a few pelts and a wool blanket were thrown about as if they had been dragged out and just left there by somebody. His brow furrowed at the sight, but the harpy gave a glance back filled with disapproval, much like the look his mother would give him when he was younger and hadn’t made his bed. Grumbling, the harpy began to hop around and gather the scattered materials, leaning down and gripping them in her mouth before dragging them closer together. He watched as she arranged the pelts and blanket into a makeshift bed, using the pelts as a thin mattress before covering them with the softer blanket.

Nodding her head at her handiwork, the harpy let out a little chirp before turning back to him, letting out a soft squawk. He looked at her but made no motion, confused on what she wanted him to do. Squawking once more, she motioned with her wing like she wanted him to come closer and admire the bed. Unsure of what to think, but the past fear gone as she hadn’t tried to kill him yet, Cullen rose to his feet slowly and walked closer to the excited harpy, who, once he was by her side, turned towards the little bed and pointed at it.

“Uh…yeah, it’s a nice bed.” Cullen said, scratching the back of his neck.

The harpy shook her head and pointed at it again, letting out a terse chirp. Cullen cocked his head to the side and shook his head, not knowing what she wanted him to do. She let out a annoyed hiss before she hopped around the bed and stopping in front of a similar bed he hadn’t noticed before. Stopping, she began to lower herself onto the blankets before laying down completely, resting her head on her wing before raising it again and looking up at him expectantly.

He looked down at the bed at his feet before he realized what she wanted him to do. “You want me to lay down?” He said, pointing down at the bed.

She let out a chirp as if she agreed, her eyes resting on him as she waited for him to do something. He pursed his lips and began to lower himself down onto the makeshift bed, watching her eyes as they glowed in approval and she nodded her head. She rested her head back down on her outstretched wing, her eyes lingering on him until he mimicked her and laid himself down.

The bed wasn’t particularly comfortable, Cullen thought, but he supposed it was better than laying on the cold stone floor. Comfort, however, was the least of the worries on his mind as he laid his head back and gazed up at the ceiling, listening to the gentle purring of the harpy, her eyes still locked on him even as he avoided them. He was still nervous about her, reflecting on the tales he heard from the merchants of men disappearing never to be seen again, presumably eaten by their abductors, but, so far anyway, the harpy hasn’t shown any desire to eat him. If anything, he was more confused about the fact that she had a bed–a simple one, but a bed nonetheless–prepared for him. It was almost like she had planned this whole abduction for awhile.

His blood ran cold at the thought–maybe she had been planning this? He thought back to that day on the river-bank a few days ago, those odd tracks and the feeling of being watched. His gaze shifted down to her feet, and looking at them now, they certainly could be the same to the track he had observed. And he thought even further back to his other forays into the woods and the unrelenting feeling that he was being observed by something. Back then he believed it had just been simple nerves on being out by himself, but could it have been something else? Could she have been watching him this whole time?

Cullen shook his head, clearing those undesirable thoughts from his head. There was no point in reflecting on them now considering the situation he was in now; he had to think about how to get out of it. She has been peaceful so for, not attempting to hurt him, outside of the marks on his shoulders that he figured were from his abduction, but he didn’t want to test how long this relative peace would last. He had to escape this place and get back home to his family, his heart growing heavy at the thought of them when they woke up and couldn’t find him. The fear in their hearts at his disappearance–he didn’t even want to imagine the face Isabel would have when she learned her brother wasn’t coming home. And his mother? She had already lost a husband, he wanted to make sure she didn’t have to lose a son either. He knew Silas would try his best to hold the family together, he trusted his friend in that regard-even if he did occasionally act irresponsible–but he wanted to get home as soon as possible to assuage their distressed hearts.

Sighing, Cullen turned to the opposite wall away from the harpy, resting his head on his bicep. First, he would have to find a way out of this place, and he figured the harpy wouldn’t allow him to leave so easily if his suspicions of her stalking him for a while were founded. He would have to attempt it while she was away for whatever reason, and he had to plan out how exactly he was going to get out of this place, which he presumed to this point was a cave. There was that large entrance, and tomorrow he figured he’d try there first to see if there was any way back home; he hoped that wherever the harpy had taken him wasn’t far from his home. He assumed that the harpy lived nearby to his town if she was watching him for many days, or that’s what he had to wish for at least.

Yawning, Cullen began to close his eyes, his spirit emboldened to get back home to his family. But first, he would need all the rest he can get if he was to scout the situation out, and if the harpy has no desire to harm him right now, then he figured he might as well get as much rest as he could. The exhaustion from the earlier excitement with the harpy washed over him. The gentle purring of the harpy echoing in his head as darkness enveloped him.

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