A note from HonourRae

Got another shout out for you all.

Caged Worlds: Breakout

Summary: In the foreign world he arrived, Ethan found that learning magic was fun, killing monsters was exciting, and progressing constantly was addictive. Even before discovering shocking truths of the universe, he would’ve done them all, but not with the same grit.

Arthur woke to the tinny chime of a card anchor alarm.

Groaning, he rolled over. Through bleary eyes, he saw a small light pulsing by his bed. His new alarm stone.

Horatio groaned from the next cot over. “I hate you.”

Arthur kind of hated himself, too.

He reached over and pressed one finger against the stone. It silenced immediately and Arthur had to fight the urge to close his eye and fall asleep.

From the deep, rhythmic breathing on the other side of the room, Horatio had already done it.

Arthur spared a moment to be intensely jealous of his roommate. But only a moment.

A half-open book slid away as he sat up. He had stayed up last night reading one of the math books Freyja had loaned him. It went into more complicated aspects of geometry than was normally taught in class as well as a basic introduction to calculus.

It had made as much sense as trying to learn a new language.

However, Arthur knew that all he had to do was keep working at it. Once he puzzled out the basics, his skill would kick in at level 3, giving him a boost to start on the rest.

For now, he didn’t have time to think about math. He had a much more difficult task ahead of him.

Arthur reached for the new long-sleeved shirt he had folded on top of the storage chest. Starched white with thick, durable fabric, it was on par with hive-quality clothing. A chef’s jacket.

He put it on and fastened the odd buttons on the side. The well-made fabric gave the illusion of broad shoulders… or perhaps he was growing at last. His birthday wasn’t too far away.

Arthur threw on a clean pair of pants and shuffled off to the bathroom. Only the bare hint of dawn cracked through the window.

Another benefit of waking up so early was that the bathroom was mostly free.

When Arthur made his way down to the orphanage kitchen, he was unsurprised to see it in a state of minor chaos. Upon hiring him as a morning kitchen manager, Freyja had warned him the kids had gone through the last few months without regular adult supervision. Her assistants had filled in to keep an eye on things, and none had been enthusiastic.

That explained why they were served bland oatmeal in the morning, every morning. Arthur had figured that was just how things were done.

As he walked in, he saw three of the kids in an intense squabble. No one had cleaned the deep pot they used for oatmeal. Now the food had practically calcified on the bottom overnight.

The bickering stopped as Arthur stepped in.

He stood only a little taller than the tallest of them, but the fact he was older and his white chef’s shirt spoke volumes.

“Who’re you?” one of the girls demanded.

“I’m Arthur and I’m the new morning kitchen manager.” He looked around at them all, counting nine kids in total. There were supposed to be ten. But just as he opened his mouth to ask where one had gone, a sleepy-eyed boy scurried in to join with the rest.

“All right,” Arthur said. “Tell me what you normally do in the morning. Who preps—“

Immediately, most of the kids began to speak over one another. The voices blended into nonsense. That developed into another squabble with one calling another a liar.

The tallest boy reached for a handful of flour as if to throw it.

“That’s enough,” Arthur said. “You, flour-thrower. What’s your name?”

“Neddy,” the boy said.

“Neddy, you’re in charge of cleaning the oatmeal pot.”

Neddy looked like he was considering throwing the flour at Arthur. “That’s not fair! No one filled up the wash buckets from the well yesterday, either. I can’t do everything.”

“You and you.” Arthur pointed to the next tallest two, a boy and a girl. “Fetch water from the well. Neddy, loosen what you can and as soon as the first bucket of water comes, pour it into the pot and set it on the stove to boil. That should get the worst of the gunk off the bottom. Hurry up. The faster we get this done, the sooner we can eat our own breakfast.”

The kids grumbled, but the ones Arthur picked out went to go do what they were told. The others went to their normal chores, which mostly included setting out the dishes on the table.

Breakfast at the orphanage was nothing as complicated as a dinner rush at the restaurant. The oats had been set to soak all night. All that needed to be done was to boil them, lay out the fixings, and make sure the dishes were washed.

Arthur thought that the task ought to take no more than three adults working together. With a shift of ten, he eventually planned to have pancakes, eggs, and toast well.

One thing at a time, though. Today, they just had to get through serving oatmeal without disaster.

Most of the kids were sullen but obeyed his orders easily enough. Their spirits lifted when Arthur promised them the first crack at the favored side-fixing including raisins and nuts if everything was done before the morning wake-up bell.

Once the big oatmeal pot drama was taken care of, Arthur watched the progress. He only stepped in when his expertise was needed… such as fixing the bland oatmeal.

“You’ll want to add salt to that,” he told the girl who was currently stirring the pot. “Three pinches should be enough.”

She looked at him like he were insane. “You don’t want to make oatmeal salty.” She made a gagging motion.

“Salt clarifies taste,” he said. “You don’t want to make it as salty as the bottom of the ocean.” That was one of Chef Barlow’s favorite sayings, “But a few pinches won’t hurt.”

The girl did, though she looked doubtful. Arthur caught her sneaking a taste a few minutes later. Her doubt vanished.

When the work was almost done, Arthur broke out the supply of raisins which were sweet enough to be treated like candy. He quickly learned he had to watch the bowl or else the kids would steal from the top. It was only a few here and there, but with ten people it added up quickly.

Finally, with the oatmeal ready, the fixings dished out to the separate tables, and the dishes more or less organized, Arthur considered it a job well done. They had ten minutes before the morning bell was to be struck — an honor he gave to Neddy, as the boy had washed out the giant pot to his satisfaction.

As the kids under his watch served themselves, Arthur was granted two additional skills:

New skill gained: Basic Teaching (Leadership Class)

Due to your card’s bonus traits, you automatically start this skill at level 3.



New skill gained: Kitchen Management (Cooking/Leadership Class)

Due to your card’s bonus traits, you automatically start this skill at level 3.

He waited a moment, but there was no additional offer to consolidate his skills into a Cooking class.

Not a big surprise. It was his first day and they’d only made oatmeal. Two additional skills would be useful.

He put the Kitchen Management skill to use right away. As the early morning shift cleared out, the mid-morning shift came in. These were the youngest kids in the orphanage and could only be trusted with washing dishes and putting them away. They would be served breakfast after the older kids were finished and then go to their classes.

Arthur reserved some of the prized raisins for the ones who did well.

Freyja stepped into the kitchen as the dishwashing crew was finishing up. She stood next to Arthur and watched in silent observation then nodded.

“I must say that was some of the best oatmeal I’ve had in some months. Did you finally teach them to add seasoning?”

Her casual question surprised him. For the first time, an adult had just addressed him as if he were a part of their team. A near equal.

He nodded. “Added some salt and a dash of other spices, but we’re almost out of everything, except more oats.”

“Another delivery from the hive should be arriving soon. Later this week, you and I will work together to plan out a budget for your morning shift. Eventually, I’ll expect you to take over it entirely.”

Though Arthur’s new duties only lasted a few hours a day, it was a lot of responsibility for not much money. Freyja and Arthur had worked out a deal that his morning kitchen management would pay for his room and meals plus two coppers every two weeks. The orphanage couldn’t afford to pay him card shards.

But he knew this opportunity would make him rich in new skills.

Arthur nodded and stepped forward to help towel the last of the dishes dry before he sent the final kids off to their classes.

Freyja waited for him, and as he was done she asked, “Are you ready?”

He let out a breath. “Yes.”

For the second time in a week, he was led to Freyja’s office. True to her organizational skills, the papers he needed were already set out on a second, smaller desk, ready for Arthur to pick up and work.

Freyja took a seat on her own and pulled out an hourglass filled with sand.

“You will have two hours to complete the test. Do you have any questions?”

“No, ma’am.”

She turned it. “Then begin.”

This was the exam Arthur was required to take to be graduated from classes early. The test he had been anxious about for the last few days since Freyja had first told him about it.

He turned over the papers to look at the first question and nearly sighed in relief.

It was a basic multiplication question. He could have simply written the answer down but spared a moment to show his work.

Then he started on the next question.

Forty-five minutes later, Arthur finished a required written paragraph detailing what he planned for the next five years of his life. He concocted a tale of using his talents to help the hive and city with such a flourish he was surprised he didn’t earn another level in Acting.

Freyja looked up as he set his quill down.

“Do you have a question?”

“I’m done.”

She looked at the hourglass. “Are you certain you don’t want to take any time to double-check your answers?”

Arthur hesitated, but all of the questions had been so easy that it would be a waste of time.

“I’m sure.”

Freyja held out her hand for the papers. Then, to his surprise, she started looking them over on the spot.

Suddenly Arthur wasn’t so certain of his answers.

He stood in awkward silence as she checked a few of his numbers and made a few remarks.

“You pass,” she declared, after what felt like an age. “With an almost perfect score.”


She tapped one line of his paragraphed answer. “You used the word ‘can’t’ when ‘cannot’ is more acceptable. This is formal writing, Arthur. Not a letter to a friend.

Arthur huffed and opened his mouth to complain. But Freyja continued.

“I thought you weren’t interested in attention from the Scholarly Guilds?”

That made him pause. Then after a moment, he nodded. Perhaps achieving a perfect score wouldn’t be for the best.

The important thing was that he passed.

A slow grin spread over his face. He wouldn’t have to go to mandatory classes again. Now, any additional learning would be the subjects he wanted to pursue, like the math books.

Freyja smiled back at him. “You never gave me an answer of what you planned to do now you’re at liberty from classes. Will you work for Barlow full-time?”

Arthur shook his head. Barlow wouldn’t be happy, but he’d still help out for the evening shift. “I want to see what else there is for me.”

After all, cooking was just one set of skills. There may be other masters looking for a part-time apprentice.

He wanted to see what life was like in the hive, and what skills he could earn there.

A note from HonourRae

Want more? We're up to chapter 54 on my Patreon. Hey, look at that! I'm a poet. ;)

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