Puppeteer Chapter 2

The Photograph

“We have done our side of the deal. When do we get paid?” asked the tall man with a foot high Mohawk.

The monk lifted his head, showing only a chin under the hood. The man who addressed him was bare-chested, wearing only a pair of brown leather pants. All along his chest and arms, he wore passed battle scars from wars with old tribes, hunting wild animals, and many cruel monsters on the Veldt. Each scar he wore with pride. The native man was a survivor, living off the land; only working for this monk was the only way he could make enough money to help feed his tribe during the Great Drought on the Veldt.

“Soon... my civilized barbarian friend. Once I have all the Returners in my hands will you get you get paid,” the monk replied in kind, bowing low to the seven foot native man.

The Indian thought deeply upon this. He’s been away from his homeland for two weeks and was hoping to be gone from this place, with a million gold pieces and as much food as he could carry with him. His tribe survived the Veldt longer than anyone could remember, so they may not be worse off if he stayed longer than he intended. On the other hand, he wanted to help his tribe as soon as possible and to carve his name into history.

The tall native nodded and left the monk, coming to his final conclusion. If he didn’t get paid by the month’s end, he would return home empty-handed. The conflict with his employer and the group known as the Returners meant absolutely nothing compared to the survival of his people. So the deal was set. Once all the Returners were under the monk’s thumb, he would get paid and return home. A simple task. The only Returner that gave him trouble was a strong blonde who left a nasty, deep wound on his chest. The wound will be another scar, another memory of a worthy battle.

“He can’t be trusted. Qaletaqa will leave before the job is completed,” came a voice from the shadows.

“It is not his loyalty I question,” replied the monk coolly.

From the shadows in the corner, stepped a woman wrapped in a white ninja gi, covering her form from head to toe. Only her sky blue eyes could be seen from the hood and mask on her face. Coldness emanated from her, powerful, skillful, and merciless. She glided across the room until she was standing beside the monk. Though she was silent, the ninja’s aura could be felt and the monk didn’t need to hear her to know where she was.

“I agree with him on this one. We better get paid,” she whispered, sounding almost like a threat.

“Throne, you and Qaletaqa will get your money once all the Returners are mine. Not before,” the monk stated, walking away from the deadly assassin. How she wanted to throw a shuriken right between his shoulders.

* * *

A day’s voyage from Mobliz to Narshe was quiet for the trio of Returners. Shadow seemed to have disappeared on the small vessel, making both Celes and Terra believe they left him back at the dock. A few signs from the ninja, like some rations kept coming up missing in the mess hall during their travel and a presence that seemed to have brought a sense of dark security to the crew, told the two otherwise. Once on shore, the ninja leapt off the boat and made a straight shot to the north.

The next day’s travel by foot to the mountains, were equally quiet. Even though it was the middle of July, the icy chill from the mountains and glaciers from the north kept the region covered in a field of frost and causing the temperatures to reach into the highs in the thirties on a good day. Today was not a good day. The temperature was almost ten degrees with the winds blowing down on the three to decrease the temperature further. Arriving at six, the trio entered the first house of the city, which has become the home of their moogle friend, Mog.

“Took you guys long enough, kupo?” the moogle finished, noticing only a few Returners at his door than he expected. Noticing their discomfort, he shrugged away his previous thoughts and invited his old comrades in to share his warm fire.

Shadow handed the moogle the letter and brought him up to speed. Celes and Terra remained by the fire throughout their conversation. Even though the heat was comforting, they knew it was going to be short-lived. They were here for only a few reasons. They needed information about the terrain in the north and to have a guide through the Narshe mountain range.

“What!? You want me to guide you through the mountains but not help get our friends out of this mess?” yelled the moogle.

Celes and Terra looked back in surprise at their ninja friend. Surely they could benefit from the moogle and his yeti companion’s strength and unique skills. Shadow only nodded to concur with what Mog just said. As he tried to step around the moogle, the little critter blocked him every step he took. With a sigh, Shadow knew his little comrade would not let him pass without further reasons.

“It’ll be easier to sneak up to the enemy in a small group. This is, first and foremost, a rescue mission. We’re not going there to fight, only sneak in, get the prisoners, and get out. It would run smoother with three than five.”

“Fine, kupo. Umaro and I will take you to the edge of North Peak. If you don’t come back in a week, kupo, we are coming after you,” Mog replied determinately.

Shadow extended his hand, offering the moogle to lead the way. Celes and Terra nodded and looked on to their furry little friend. With a snap, a sound of a stampede came from the stairs and down came a large, eight foot tall yeti. With a few commands, Umaro went to the closet and retrieved three heavy cloaks for the humans. Then, they were off.

* * *

The monk stood over the dissolved rock that once was the floor and the shattered glass of his bottle of acid. His eyes rose to his bald prisoner. He, as well as the other prisoners, remained passive and mute, but the monk knew what must have happened. With chalk in hand, the monk marked the north, west, and south ends of the circular room. Clapping his hands twice, the monk waited for his ninja.

“Throne, I need you to put up some new shackles where I marked and have Qaletaqa move the prisoners. Their strength lies in each other. SEPARATE THEM!” the monk commanded before storming off.

Throne immediately went to work on the stone wall and metal chains in her hands. Even though the four prisoners were weak and malnourished, she knew better than to give these men any chance of escape by giving them weak chains. When the monk was gone, the four began to stir and show life once again. She knew what they had planned before they even spoke and she wasn’t going to fall for it.

“Hey beautiful, what brings you into these neck of the mountains?” asked the shaggy blonde prisoner. Throne replied with five jabs to his gut, three hooks to his face, and two kicks to his throat.

“Hey! If you want to fight someone, fight me!” barked another blonde prisoner.

“Fight? To fight, their needs to be an exchange of blows,” she paused, kicking the shaggy blonde in the nose, breaking it on impact. “Punching bags don’t strike back. For each word any of you say, I will strike him.”

Each prisoner kept their mouths shut, except the one with the busted nose, who could only whimper. The ninja glared over her shoulder and even his sobs decreased in volume. When all was quiet, she returned to work.

* * *

The night was crisp and freezing, the sky was clear and bright. Celes recommended that they rest for a few hours before continuing their journey. When asked why they should turn in early, the ex-general simply explained that it was quickly coming to the hour of eleven. During the summer days, the sun refused to set this far north. Few traveled past Narshe and none wanted to settle in the land of the Ever Rising Sun.

In a cave nearby, the trio camped with a small fire close to the mouth of the cave. Both ladies began eating some food before turning in when Shadow jumped to attention. The three crept up to the edge of the cave, waiting for whatever was coming to enter into the closed quarters. All of the Returners ducked as a large fowl entered.

The white, flat faced bird hooted a few times and circled the three. It dropped a piece of paper from its talons and flew back out from which it came. Terra swung her sword to intercept the fowl to no avail. Shadow pondered if he should kill the white spotted owl, but decided to let it fly free. The ninja watched the bird for a few moments before turning to his companions. A gasp came from Celes.

“N-no, it can’t be,” she gasped again, dropping the paper from her shaking hands.

Terra bent over and retrieved the paper. No, not paper. The fabric was smooth and shiny, with an image of a naked man, shackled to a wall. He was bald from head to toe and appeared to have been through much torture, with bruises throughout his entire body. His face was unrecognizable, for his lip was half swollen, his left eye was crushed shut, and one cheek seemed larger than the other.

The half-Esper didn’t understand why Celes was so upset. Taking a closer look at the picture, she noticed something she overlooked on the man. Between his right shoulder and neck was a dark brown birthmark that seemed like a wing. Only one man could have that birthmark exactly in that place and only a handful of people he willing shown it to.

“Locke,” she stammered at the realization of her friend.

“Seems this ‘Puppeteer’ has taken precautions to keeping his prisoners where they are. It’s called the Depilachase technique. Once a prisoner is captured, he is then shaved all over and then they search every crevice of his body for any tools that could help them escape. Thieves’ picks for example,” Shadow finished, noticing Celes throwing on her heavy cloak and sheathing her powerful sword, Illumina.

“We should stay here and rest before continuing,” the ninja began, but the former general ignored him and started out of the cave.

“Celes, Shadow is right. We should conserve our energy.”

“Locke and the others are in danger! The longer we wait, the more time they can torture them… or worse.”

“But…” Terra started, but was interrupted by an outstretched black arm.

“Let her go, Terra. She’s thinking with her heart,” he paused, watching Celes nod and began her descent down the ravine. “Not her head. Else, she would know she’s going in the wrong direction.”

Freezing in her tracks, the ex-general glanced over her shoulder, not expecting her shrouded friend to clarify. The icy wind barreled at her, with the wind trapped between the two mountains. It was a cold bite, but she remained unaware of the chill. Gazing back where she was heading, she wanted desperately to help her friends, but she also understood the ninja’s sound judgment. Most likely, their captor sent the picture so she would get angry enough to not think logically on her actions.

“Damn you Puppeteer,” she cursed, gazing up to the heavens as she finished, “Locke, we’re on our way.”

Chapter 3

All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition

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