Puppeteer by Tarale Wolffe

Prologue

They started as an experiment. The wizard Dezan was a genius, known even in Restor for his achievements, and his experiments were always a success. That is why Emperor Ozaquil went to him.

The war with Restar was at a standstill, neither side gaining anything over the other. Dezan agreed to make a weapon, one so terrible nothing could stop it. He vowed that only two could ever control it, Dezan himself, and the emperor.

It took him months to get the formula right, but none of the objects he spelled caught. They fell apart within hours of the casting, before Dezan could even test it once. Each failure angered him, made him more determined to succeed, more obsessed with it.

Finally, he grew tired of his dark workroom, and left his home to wander the village he lived in. The fresh air would clear his head; give him another idea. It was the first time in almost a year that the villagers had seen Dezan, and they happily welcomed him as he walked.

He allowed his mind to wander as he walked, allowing it to go where it wanted. All of his best ideas came when he was not forcing them to.

It wasn't until the end of his walk that he caught sight of a group of young suitors surrounding the village beauty. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at them for several moments, his brain giving him idea after idea.

Before he knew it, he was back in his workroom, making plans. After another month of solitude, he was back amongst the villagers. This time, it was not to think, but to hunt. It took him the entire day before he found the perfect candidate. She was small and delicate. Her hair was a dark red, hanging past her shoulders, and her eyes were as blue as the sky. She was quite a beauty herself, but the young men never noticed because she was quiet and shy, intent on attracting as little attention to herself as was possible.

He believed her perfect. The spells would be unreliable when cast on a human person, and he figured that she would be controllable.

The village had always considered it an honor to assist Dezan, so her parents gave no complaint when he asked her to return with him, and she was quite happy to do so.

It took him three days to set it up and cast the spells. They stuck better than he'd ever hoped. She became something even Dezan feared.

Within an hour of her awakening, the entire village was destroyed, its people slaughtered. All but Dezan and Amari, the puppeteer.

As the wizard looked on in horror, the girl raised them up, gave them life once more, then turned to Dezan for his approval, like a young child proudly showing a parent their achievements. It was an approval he was unable to give.

Amari was insane from the beginning. It is said that it was the stress of the spells that sent her into it so quickly. And Dezan could only look on in horror as she talked with her puppets, conversing with them as if they could talk back. Dezan was horrified, but he took her to the emperor. He had, after all, promised him a weapon. The puppets faithfully followed Amari, who devotedly followed her 'father'.

The emperor, though also horrified at Dezan's creation, sent them immediately for the front lines. Every city, town, and village shied away from Dezan, Amari, and her puppets; her 'children'. By the time they reached the front lines, even Restor had heard of her.

The two armies camped within sight of each other, waiting. An hour after they arrived, Dezan pointed Amari towards the rival army (who had began to prepare the instant they arrived) and let her loose.

She was ecstatic and crazed as she set her puppets to work. Restor had no chance. Each time they would cut one down, it would simply rise again and continue fighting, tearing the men apart. Amari danced amongst them. The fallen soldiers would rise at her touch and move against their own people. Loyal then only to their puppeteer.

Five puppets were constantly at her side, allowing none to get at her. Within hours, Restor's army was gone, leaving Amari's puppets several times their original number. She spent time with them, speaking to her newest children before returning to Dezan, excited and happy.

She barely got halfway back before one of his spells hit her in the chest. Behind her, her puppets crumbled, their life fading as hers did. Dezan approached her, feeling it only appropriate that he remain by her side for her death, because he had been responsible for her life.

He knelt beside her, running a gentle hand over her red hair, now covered in blood. Amari stared up him, blue eyes full of betrayal. As the life began to fade, she said but one word. One soft word that echoed on the wind.

"Next."

The children hung on her every word. They stared at her with wide and fearful eyes, silently begging her to continue, to tell her that all was well.

"Seleen believed themselves free of the abomination they'd created," Kera continued, her aged voice easily spinning the words without hesitation, "and for a time it appeared they were correct. But 100 years, to the day, of Amari's death, another village suffered the same fate. Another puppeteer had been born to Seleen. Except this time there was no Dezan to betray her. And this one had lost the trust of any wizard.

"But, so it went, every hundred years after their death, another would rise to take her place. And they were all female. So it was for 500 years, but then, 200 years ago, it stopped."

"Why?" Dema asked, her voice barely a whisper. Her blue eyes were still wide.

"No one knows. Perhaps the gods decided Seleen had paid enough for their mistake, and took the matter into their own hands. Or perhaps, there was no other people with the evil necessary for such a creature."

"But, that's not right," Nico said, frowning. Every eye went to him, and he reddened, bowing his head. He did, however, let them in on his thoughts, though his voice was significantly softer as he continued. "Y-you said that Amari was quiet and shy. That … that's not evil, is it?" his young voice was worried now, for he, himself was rather quiet and shy.

Kera could only imagine what it took for the child to speak up as he did.

"No, Nico," she told him gently, giving him a calming smile. "That is not an evil thing, you are right. No one knows why the puppeteers vanished, just that they have. Now, off to bed, all of you. We've a long day in the morrow."

The many children scurried off to do as they were told. All but Nico, he stood and approached her, eyes still worried.

"Yes, Nico?"

The child silently chewed on his bottom lip, something she found to be quite cute in one his age. The boy was barely 8 years old. Even now, she could tell that he would grow to be quite a handsome young man with his midnight black hair, and his amethyst eyes.

"Why did the puppeteers kill?" he asked, drawing Kera's attention back to the matter at hand.

She shrugged. "It is how Dezan made the original," she said. "She was meant to be a weapon, and weapons kill, eventually. It is believed that those she or hers killed became a part of her, which is why she could raise them up once they'd died."

"Oh …"

"Go to bed, Nico," she said, voice still gentle. "And worry not about puppeteer and the like. There is nothing to fear in our village.”

 

(10 years later)

Whispers.

It's time.

Yes, time.

Search.

Where?

Must find. Find the perfect one.

Where?

No, not there. Too weak, too slow.

Not there, not there.

Must find

There.

Perfect, She thinks, gazing at the sleeping youth. It has been so long since one walked, too long, but none had been right. None had drawn her as this one did. And this one was perfect. And male. It was time for a male to walk the way.

Yes, She thinks, invisibly drawing closer. Perfect.

Small, compact, but powerful. She could feel the power, the potential, in him, sleeping. It would wake, with time, if left on it's own, but She needed it awake now. Would awaken it now.

Yes, She thought, brushing over the sleeping boy. Needed to be whole and working to accept.

As the boy slept, She gently pushed in. The boy's face scrunched up in discomfort, and a small whimper escaped his lips. Yes, it would hurt. The poor dear would probably scream. She paused a moment, soothing the boy, easing his pain, his discomfort, settling him asleep once more before continuing in.

She continued like this for some time, each time he grew pained, She would stop and sooth him back asleep, easing the pain, and continuing on once again. Finally, She reached the block on the boy; they all had one, to protect these fragile bodies. She broke it, shattered it to pieces, and held on tight as the boy's eyes flew open and he screamed, arching up off the bed.

The boy's amethyst eyes filled with tears as he collapsed back onto the bed, his hands scrambling to grab something, perhaps in an attempt to stop the pain. She soothed him as best She could, even as She knew the pain would overwhelm anything else he was feeling.

A door slammed open, catching her attention. A big man stood in the doorway, eyes worried as he stared at the boy. She watched curiously as he seemed frozen in place.

"Nico?" he called, voice trembling. "Nico, what is it? What's-"

Another scream from the boy interrupted the man, and She comforted him as best She could.

"Nico!" A woman, smaller than the man, pushed passed him and rushed towards the bed; towards the boy, Her boy. She threw up a barrier, watching in amusement as the small woman crashed into it and fell back. Ignoring them, she turned back to the boy, taking note of his shaky shallow breaths, and glazed eyes, staring up at the ceiling. He was separating himself from the pain, or trying to.

Interesting, She thought. None of the others had even tried to do that.

Gently, She soothed him again, reaching in once more, this time adding to what he had. His body arched again, a pained whimper leaving his lips. Confusion and pain mixed in his eyes. Fear as well, She noted, and did Her best to ease it away.

Finally, She finished, pulling out. He lay on the bed, shaking. Tears stained his skin, and his breathing jumped with the effort it took to keep from sobbing. This one was strong, She thought, proudly, perhaps the strongest of them all.

As She pulled completely away, She left a final thought in his head.

Send them for the journals.

They would help. They always did, and they would keep him from making any deadly errors. She glanced once more at the big man in the doorway, and the woman still on the floor, and vanished, still unseen. The barrier stayed up, protecting the child before he could completely awake.