Puppeteer

By Allanasha Ke Kiri

Chapter 2 –

Close Call

Orion walked through the village, his pace smooth but quick. He disliked being here, around so many of Nico's puppets. But he had no doubt that the instant he and his guards attempted to leave, they would become part of Nico's family. He shuddered slightly at the thought. It was not something he'd wish on anyone.

His guards had protested his leaving their rooms alone, but he believed Nico would be more inclined to believe him (Or at least listen to him) if he spoke with him alone. Orion just hoped he wouldn't make a complete mess of things. He knew he was on a thin line. None of the puppets seemed to trust them (a fact that Nico constantly pointed out during their brief stay); just waiting for them to screw up so that they'd be added to their 'family'.

The puppets eyed him with the same blank look they always did, and that only made him walk faster. He'd always been very good at reading people; it was one of the reasons his father had sent him out here. It was a very rare thing when someone could lie to him and get away with it.

It's unnatural, he thought, catching sight of yet another puppet. There's nothing there.

Unless Nico was around, he amended. And even then it was only blind devotion and adoration.

He couldn't stay here. They couldn't stay here. But how could they leave with Nico's children constantly watching them, just waiting for them to slip up? That was easy, get the boy's permission. That, however, would be the difficult part. If he even made a tiny slip, then he and his guards would become puppets, something he wasn't looking forward to. Orion kept his pace smooth, and his head high; he really didn't want them to know how nervous they made him.

Could they even tell? Did they have any thoughts? Nico certainly talked to them often enough, but none of them ever seemed to respond. Not that he could hear anyway. Then again, why not? It was very powerful magic that had created him in the first place.

He spent a good half hour searching the village, careful not to go beyond the invisible boundary. Orion didn't want to give them any excuse to turn on them. Especially when he wasn't trying to escape … yet.

It wasn't until he reached the edge of the village that he found the dark haired puppeteer, along with more of the puppets. There were always several wherever he was, as if he had a magnetic pulse that drew them to him.

Orion stopped for a moment, silently watching the small figure as he leaned against a tree, reading. Three puppets sat near him, though still several feet away, none of them saying a word, while five or so more stood at a farther distance. He couldn't be bothered to actually count how many were there.

Suddenly, Nico glanced up, his expression puzzled. It cleared up the moment he laid eyes on Orion.

"My Pretty Prince!" he exclaimed, waving Orion over.

Orion couldn't help but wince, as he always did when called that, but silently approached the puppeteer.

"Nico," he said, with a nod of his head.

The raven-haired boy grinned and patted the ground beside him. Orion wasted no time lowering himself to the ground. They'd quickly learned that it was easier to talk with him when he was amiable.

"What are you reading?" he asked, glancing down at the book. He'd also found that Nico enjoyed answering questions. And keeping him happy was another way to insure that he and his guards were kept alive.

"My sisters," Nico answered, leaning back against the tree. "They trusted before, you know. And each time they did, they were betrayed. They warn me not to trust you. My children say you will only bring me harm. That you will betray me too."

Orion suddenly felt quite cold. He was asking a question without asking, demanding proof that Orion meant what he said. He knew he would have to play this just right, or they would be dead.

"Perhaps they are right," he said, with a light shrug. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Nico's confusion. "But have I done anything so far?"

Nico shook his head. "No, but neither did Father. In fact, Father always seemed quite pleased with Sister."

"…Father?" Orion asked, allowing his own confusion and curiosity to show through. The more he knew, the less likely he was to make a mistake.

He nodded, his dark hair falling into his face. "Father. He who made us." He bit his lip and flipped a few pages back in the book he held.

"… Father seems surprised, but perhaps that is a good thing. Am I better than he expected? I think so, because he has said we'll go directly to the Emperor. We know Father promised a weapon, and I believe I am to be that. After all, it took no time at all for me to bring my children to me. And think of how many more I can get with Restor's army. Father will be very pleased with me, I know."

Nico glanced up after he'd finished reading. "Father."

"Would that be Dezan?" Orion asked, warily.

His response was a solemn nod. "But we don't call him that. He has only ever been father, and the first to betray us."

"I see … and Mother?"

Nico blinked. "We don't know," he admitted. "She is the one that gives us breath, that keeps us returning, but we know not who it is."

"Then how do you know it's a she?"

"Because we have a father," he replied, as though it were obvious. "And a mother is needed for a child to be created."

"I … suppose." Though he didn't think that worked with creatures like Nico.

They fell into silence, Nico glancing through his book once again.

"My father will send someone to look for me soon," Orion said, surprised when the words just slipped out.

Nico glanced up at him, amethyst eyes sharp. "So?"

"Your … children," he hesitated to use the word 'puppet', "will not be safe if he finds me here."

Beside him, the puppeteer frowned, eyes narrowing. "You want to leave." His voice was dark.

There was danger in his voice; danger Orion recognized immediately.

"No. I do not wish to leave. I … wish to reassure my father that I am well, that there is no danger here, that you are no danger here."

"You want to leave," His voice was angry now.

As he started to rise, Orion found his hand shooting out, voluntarily touching the puppeteer for the first time. Nico froze, his eyes on the hand that held his wrist.

How long has it been Orion found himself wondering, since someone besides those puppets touched him?

Acting on instinct, Orion pulled the unresisting boy down and put a hand to his cheek, forcing their eyes too meet. Nico's were wide and surprised, and seemed to hold a longing within them.

"I do not wish to leave you," he said, voice soft, in what he hoped was pleasant tone; for all that it was a lie. Orion wanted nothing more than to leave this place, and Nico, far behind, but he couldn't exactly say that. "I … I want my father to meet you," he said. "I'm sure that he'd be quite happy to."

Nico frowned, not looking entirely convinced. "Emperors have betrayed us before," he said. "I will not allow that to happen to me."

"I will be there with you," he said, "to make sure it doesn't."

"They say not to trust you. You will betray me to your king, and we will be back to where we started. Nothing can be done if we are dead!" the last was yelled angrily as he pulled away from Orion, rising to his feet.

Orion quickly followed. "What can't be done?" he asked, immediately changing the topic. It was never a good idea to reason with him when he was angry.

Nico glared at him, eyes blazing angrily. "No."

"No?"

"I wont tell you, and I don't want you to leave."

"Then I won't," Orion agreed, readily; anything to calm the puppeteer down. "I have already promised I wouldn't."

"But you talk of leaving," Nico said, voice harsh. "Of leaving and telling your father."

"Of introducing you to him," he replied, calmly. "Of proving to him that you are not bad, or dangerous; that you should be left alone."

"He wouldn't."

"He has always been curious about your sisters."

That got Nico's attention. "He has?" His voice was wary, but at least he was listening.

Orion nodded. That much, at least, was true. "He has. We have heard tales about them for many a year, but they've only ever appeared in Seleen. Father would be quite taken with you, I'm sure."

As a weapon, if nothing else.

"You will not be betrayed here," Orion told him, voice coaxing. "I will make sure you are not betrayed."

Slowly, Orion approached the now motionless boy. His gaze was somewhere else, thoughtfully blank. Carefully, his eyes on the puppets surrounding them, he wrapped his arms around the small young man. He tensed in surprise.

"I will protect you," he said. "And my father is not like the emperors. He will not betray you without just cause."

Nico tensed, and Orion realized he'd said the wrong thing.

"I meant," he amended, quickly. "That unless you betray him first, he will not betray you."

"We have never betrayed anyone," Nico growled.

"Of course not."

But Orion could not help but thing of the villagers they'd all slaughtered.

"Will you come?" Orion asked. "If you do not wish to, I will remain here, with you, as I'd promised."

With his arms still around the boy, he could feel him starting to relax.

"They say I shouldn't trust you."

Orion just stayed silent. Several long moments passed, neither of them saying a word. Gradually, he felt every one of Nico's muscles relax and the boy began to lean against him. Glancing down, he saw that the boy was staring off into the distance, but he couldn't make out the expression from his angle.

It hit him then, how easy it would be to do it. The puppets were far enough away that they'd never reach them in time. And all the stories pointed to the fact that they died when their puppeteer did. It would be so easy, and they'd be free.

Yet …

He felt himself sighing. Yet, he couldn't kill someone as innocent as Nico appeared to be. And he still clearly remembered the other one he'd seen. The sane one that was repulsed by what he'd done. He hadn't had any control over it, he'd said. And he hadn't killed them, despite having had plenty of opportunities to do so. Including that first day. Besides … he'd promised, hadn't he? And if there was one thing Orion was loath to do, it was break his promises.

So, he stood there, silently holding Nico as he thought.

"Alright," Nico said, almost too softly for Orion to hear.

"Alright?"

Nico nodded pulling back, and very childish gleam of glee in his eyes. "But I'll bring five with me," he said.

Orion blinked. "Five?"

"Of my children. I need at least that many, unless you want me to take another village."

"Ah, no, five is fine. I'd, um, expected you to want more."

Nico shook his head. "We've only got six horses, besides the four you'll need.

Orion nodded.

Two days later found them ready to go. Nico's escort included three men (one of whom had been the puppet to hold Janar), Ana, and an elderly woman.

"Why her?" Orion asked, nodding towards the elderly woman.

Nico blinked. "She's the only one saying I should trust you," he said. "And it's best to have both sides with me."

"So the others are against us?" Christof asked, hesitantly. It didn't exactly speak well for them if that was so.

Nico shrugged. "Dean is," he said, nodding towards the familiar male puppet. "He says we should just kill you now and take the risks later. Kij, doesn't care. And Ukan wants to keep an close eye on you."

"And, Ana?" Orion asked.

"She's here to take care of the horses," he grinned at the girl, who brightened under his attention.

Janar made to say something, but stopped when Orion shook his head, motioning him to be quiet.

"Have you got everything you need, Nico?"

The puppeteer nodded from his horse, grinning all the while.

They started off at a light pace, with Nico practically riding backwards, to wave goodbye to his puppets. It wasn't until he nearly fell off that he was convinced to stop.

Throughout the day, Nico kept up a running monologue, pausing occasionally to ask a question about this plant, or Orion's father, or the capital in general.

Orion had never seen anyone so enthusiastic about a journey as the puppeteer was.

"Have you ever been anywhere?" Mical asked, interrupting Nico.

Orion glanced over his shoulder, where Nico and Mical were riding together, in time to see the puppeteer shake his head.

"Never left the village before," he said. "Never even thought I would. There was no reason to leave. Why would I want to?"

"Then you're in for a real treat," Mical said as Orion turned back to the front.

Of them all, Mical was the one able to handle Nico the easiest. He was just as uncomfortable as the rest of them (he'd confessed this soon after they'd arrived at the village) but he was best able to keep it hidden. As such, Nico seemed to like him almost as he did Orion, his 'pretty prince'.


Well, here we are, Chapter 2. I put it up a little earlier than I'd planned for one reason. I got a review~ *does a little happy dance* It made my day~ Because that's how I know people are reading/enjoying my story. Plus, it helps my muse out. He likes it when people enjoy my stuff.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the chapter. I know things are moving pretty quickly, but writing about a week in the village with everyone ... nervous and careful would have been boring. There's not really anything to do in the village either, so I just skipped ahead to this. I hope you don't mind.

Allanasha Ke Kiri