When Eteri descended from the Zalethi’s chariot and she saw her leave for the chapel, a black fair gnawed at her chest right away. For all the terror she inspired and the despair she had pierced her with, the woman made of night was still the only one who could guide her in this new world – her castle, where everything was a sheer surface of either black crystal or polished marble.
She stammered, feeling completely out of place in that world of dignitaries, Loukomon and Daimon.
When one of the animated statues approached her, she got startled, her throat felt tight and even as it came closer with the same serene smile on its face, she did not feel at all reassured.
“It can be a bit overwhelming,” said a wheezing voice next to her. Eteri turned to find Velathri’s Loukomon smile softly at her. “It was the same for me the first time I met her. Please follow the Daimon and keep faith, it will guide you to the Birdcage. She does mean well, the tidings just got her unprepared.”
Eteri nodded, feeling like she could have done anything but nod at that moment, and took the Daimon’s smooth hand. It was much colder than the Zalethi’s, but not nearly as chilly as touching glass was. A weird in-between that left her uneasy.
Behind her the Loukomon turned to meet the others.
“Twelve know by this she should know better, ah… she has the heart of a child, still.”
Eteri was not sure what he was talking about. At any rate, she just followed the Daimon inside the castle, through spinning hallways and empty halls. She briefly wondered how long they would have to walk, as the size of the place was beyond discernment. The ceilings seemed to disappear into an intricate spiderweb of cracked reflections. Light from the outside dimmed as a series of glowing lamps took the sun’s place.
They did not waver nor crackle, and these weird torches hang from the walls in long lines, their golden light emitting a soft hum that to Eteri sounded almost like a prayer. Perhaps it was. Everything here looked and felt like a dream. Air prickled against her skin.
The Daimon did not speak – she did not expect it to.
She had heard the Zalethi call it a ‘she’ for some reason. Maybe she just grew attached to her constructs, and that was it. The walking statue did not seem to have what you could call a functioning mind, after all.
“Where are you taking me?” She asked, but no answer came.
At this point she did not expect one to.
The world had slipped outside of her control – utterly. The one solace she could hold on in that hour of darkness was that her sister would be safe from now on.
The parade was over, so she was probably already home, either with their parents or with Barnabas. They would be talking about her.
But they had to go on – she was now a thing, she was a slavegirl.
Her hands reached for her stomach, where she felt a dull ache pierce her with every breath. She followed the Daimon towards a glass platform that stood up slightly from the floor – and she winced in fear as it began to move on its own, like the carriage outside.
It floated up and away, moving through hidden airways she had not seen from below, shifting with lazy turns as it carried the two of them higher and higher. Towards what, she had no idea. What would this Birdcage be? She imagined it like a small square room with a lonesome window up to the ceiling and bars everywhere. She would come out and back inside at the Zalethi’s call.
And she would come out only to serve her pleasure… which made another kind of anxiety rise up her spine. How would she deal with that?
She had no experience, she had yet to share her first kiss, in fact. She had no way to show herself as anything but a useless bundle of nerves.
Eteri bit her lip. She had to find a way to make herself useful. Especially when it came to things like… like those.
The glass platform kept rising for a while still, though it slowed down and at last turned right, entering through a tight passage that gave way to a completely new layer, one covered in the same black glass and decorated not by marble this time but by wood.
The ceiling and walls, the arches and the passageways and even the windows looking towards the last few rays of the dying afternoon were all carved from some kind of dark wood she did not recognize. Sometimes they used wood as decoration or to hold plates up, but she was far from an expert. It was not oak and it was not beech. Maybe it came from the forest beyond the hills, where the shadows are strange.
The platform reached the end of the layer, where an immense door, carved from the same wood, waited for her.
The Daimon did not step down, it just pointed at the door.
“That’s the Birdcage? Do I have to get in?”
Did she really need one?
“How would I go back? Is the Zalethi going to come to meet me? Please say something?”
Eteri’s foot touched the floor.
The platform rose in the air again and it wheezed through the hallway, leaving her utterly alone.
“Oh, Twelve.” She looked around, hoping for someone, even another Daimon, to be there and help her, but nobody and nothing came.
Only the door remained, with its inscrutable mass looming over her.
Each step on the wooden floor felt like a toll. She approached the door – after all, where else could she go? Her hand reached the wooden surface. It has been carved into the tiniest details by hands so proficient that the wood felt as smooth as marble, but so much warmer and more welcoming.
Her eyes traced the flowers, plants and animals that decorated it, and she did not recognize most of them. It seemed to go on forever up to the high ceiling and she could have been ten times as tall and not reach halfway through to it.
It bore the signature of the Zalethi. She had made this.
Eteri recognized an artisan’s craft when she met it. Their ruler, a woodcarver? The image did not mesh well-
Then the door shuddered and with a dusty click it opened, parting just enough for her to step through.
From the outside came a rushing light, reflected from a thousand glassy surfaces.
Eteri bit her lips, thought of her family and whispering Tatia’s name she stepped through the door into the Birdcage.
Author’s Notes: I always liked this passage describing the doors to the Birdcage. I am trying, in this online rewriting, to keep descriptions moderately simple. I hope you liked it.
As always, thanks for reading.