The room is cold, wide, empty, vast. Stone. It is a vault such
as they do not construct except to protect something very, very precious; or
to contain something very, very dangerous. There are a few windows, high above
stout columnar buttresses and faded tapestries, but they admit only second-hand
light, and that criss-crossed by the shadows of however many metal grates. And
so the light in this chamber is both dim and broken, fragmenting against shards
from priceless vases here and heaps of dully glinting currency there, its origin
unknown and its denominations unfamiliar. But the center is cleared, splashed
with illumination from a dirty skylight, its focus a small, nondescript wooden
cage in which an animal is imprisoned. A golden
bird, minute and nervous, shifting and opening and closing its precious beak.
A few querulous notes trill, then a cascade, more and more, a river of song.
Its eyes flicker like tossed coins, and its plumage shifts in the light like
"You there... you are the finder, the seeker of lost things? I am lost, lost I think or hidden or at least locked up, a denizen of cages. My suffering has been prolonged; you'd not believe it. I am caged, held and crushed, admired perhaps but I wouldn't know it. Not held or coddled, unflying for years. These wings are useless; I am made ornament. A body's what I want, a bird to be, no fragile thing. I dent on impact. Is it just the song you've come for? Free me, then. Unlatch the cage, and I will fly for you. There can be no dallying – a monster lives here, my master, and unless you free me it's another age before some hero comes. I've never seen the sky."