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The Puppeteer: Part Twelve


by rachelindea

--------

Epilogue: Three Best Friends

When Kai opened his eyes again it was to bright morning sunshine. He groaned and closed them again, trying to roll over and hide his face, but his body felt strangely weak, and all he could do was flop back into his starting position. He lifted one wing and opened his eyes to slits, braving the light for a few seconds.

     Examining the bones in his wings, he could see the delicate membranes. But from the right angle he could see how thin he had become, could just see his transparent skin.

     "Ah, Master Puppeteer, you're awake."

     The voice was unfamiliar but kind, and Kai moved his head slightly to look. A white Acara stood by his bed, holding a tray of strange looking creams and medicines. He put the tray down and reached instead for a cup of water, which he handed to Kai and helped him sit up.

     "If you'll excuse me, I'll tell your friends you are awake." The Acara gave a deep bow, palms pressed together, then exited the room.

     Kai sat up further, sipping the water carefully. He was in a large chamber that was decorated with silk tapestries and thick rugs. The bed he was lying on was the largest one he had ever seen, and it was just sheer luck that he was close enough to one side that the doctor could hand him the glass. There was a window, but he couldn't see the view from where he was lying, and he did not feel inclined to stand up.

     There were loud voices, and the screen door was flung open. Ajuro strode in, with Shuva stumping after him. They both looked ecstatic as they saw him, and Ajuro seized his wings in his paws.

     "Thank the spirits you're awake!" he said. "We thought you would never wake up."

     Kai frowned at that. "Just how long have I been asleep?"

     "Almost a week," Shuva said. "I carried you all the way to the Capital and you've been lying here for two days."

     "A week?" Kai tried to get out of bed, but Ajuro's pressure on his wings suddenly made the move much less desirable so he stopped. "What happened?"

     They exchanged a long look, then Ajuro spoke.

     "After you humiliated Chang Tzu and pretty much every pet in his army, the battle ended. The Emperor remains on his throne, and you are officially a hero of the land. As is Shuva, all crimes pardoned."

     "And you?" Kai asked.

     "I'm too valuable a spy to be lauded about," Ajuro said loftily. "I have to keep a low profile. Besides, you two are much more interesting heroes. The Kamikaze and the Puppeteer."

     "You forget the most important bit, Ajuro," Shuva rumbled. He smiled. "It was decided that to avoid more bloodshed that every pet whose weapon you took would not be able to hold one again for a year. You invoked tarshu on us all. It was General Atunra's idea, but I think everyone has had enough of fighting for at least that time. The Emperor still has a few reserves of soldiers in the Capital, enough to help him govern for a year."

     "I'm glad to hear no one else got hurt." Kai leaned back against his pillows. "And what of Chang Tzu?"

     "He has been banished to one of the smaller villages to act out his penance, accompanied by his captains. They can't pick up arms for a year, so the Emperor has plenty of time to think of a suitable punishment." Ajuro released his wings and rummaged around in his robes, which Kai now realised were of a luxurious black silk edged in silver thread. They were heavy robes, and must have cost a fortune to make.

     Shuva, too was wearing unbelievably rich robes, deep crimson and gold that clashed with his many-coloured scales. Kai goggled at the sight of several rubies sewn into the sleeves. The Grarrl seemed to notice because he smiled sheepishly and then strode over to an ornate chair to the side of the room. Draped carefully over it was another pair of robes, the same design as the clothes he had worn into the battle, but much more elaborate, sparkling with rubies and garnets and threaded gold.

     "I've found it!" Ajuro announced triumphantly, holding his prize aloft. It was a simple glass bottle full of a clear purple liquid. The shadow Zafara leaned in close, holding it like it was the most precious thing in the world.

     "One of my colleagues acquired this in his travels outside of Shenkuu. He claims it's from a land that floats in the clouds, populated by strange beings that are made of magic. I don't know if that's true or not, but this potion is miraculous. It should keep you on your feet for at least today.

     "What's happening today?" Kai asked, puzzled.

     Ajuro smiled. "You get to meet the Emperor. We've been waiting until you woke to perform the official ceremony to thank everyone who was loyal. You should get dressed. It's not wise to keep the Emperor waiting."

     *

     An hour later Kai appeared in front of the Emperor and the royal court. He wore the traditional Hissi robes, but left out the mask. It was dishonest to hide one's true face from the Emperor. He felt nervous. Very few common pets met the ruler of the kingdom, and he knew what an honour it was. The robes made him feel ostentatious, and for once he felt like revealing his true self to the world.

     Many pets stood in the crowd watching. Not just the nobles, but also the soldiers and magicians who had fought in the war. There were also a large number of commoners, who had been allowed into the Palace for the occasion. He saw Chiroki waving frantically at him from the front of the crowd. She wore flowing purple robes, Atunra's colours. The eyrie general had taken the Kacheek under her wing, and was teaching her how to protect herself. Shuva was not pleased at that, but he was proud.

     Alongside him were other pets who had won the honour to be presented to the Emperor. General Atunra and Master Shengai had met their ruler before, but they were still wearing their finest robes. Most of the magicians who had been targeted in the final battle had regained full use of their powers, but a number were still having difficulties.

     Yanh was also one of the honoured pets, and he bounced up and down excitedly, attaching himself to Kai's side as soon as he spotted him. The red and gold of Shenkuu he wore was, if possible, a worse combination with his electric blue fur than with Shuva's scales. Having been the pet who had helped in the decisive moment, crippling Tzu's magicians and soldiers, he was already being inducted as a palace magician. Kai could feel Ajuro's interest in the young Cybunny and almost felt protective towards him.

     One by one the chosen pets approached the Emperor, and the royal Gnorbu gave them each his blessing and thanks, and announced their reward. If Kai's face could show any expression he would have showed utter surprise as the Emperor announced the amount of gold he would receive. He managed to keep his voice steady as he thanked his liege, pressing his wings together and bowing so that his forehead touched the floor. Then the ceremony was over, and the true celebrations began.

     *

     It was in a lull in the celebrations that Kai finally met up with Shuva and Ajuro alone. The three friends embraced and raised a toast to their Emperor and their years together. Shuva was adamant never to touch a weapon again. His katana was displayed in the entrance hall of the palace, and there it would stay.

     Ajuro was making plans to visit other lands, to find other miraculous things such as the healing potion that had made Kai feel so much better. By doing so he would be greatly helping his land. As far as Kai could tell the Zafara's ranking amongst the Emperor's spies had greatly increased, and he was using it to his advantage. He invited Kai to come along with him, and the Hissi agreed to think on it.

     But mostly they chatted about their childhood, reminiscing about the times when they had been unaware of the troubles in the world. It was long after the celebrations were over that they finally went to bed.

     ~*~

     "Not much is known about what the Puppeteer did after that. Some say he joined Shuva in seclusion, away from pets who sought to use their extraordinary abilities for ill. But the rumour I believe is that he went looking for his mentor Samih, to apologise for what had happened all those years before, and to ask for forgiveness. This statue was created to honour his memory.

     "What you have to remember about this story is that the Puppeteer was not alone. He had others to help him. Without his friends he would not have remembered his heritage, would never have been found. The victory was his, but without General Atunra to organise the troops or Yanh's invisibility spell he never would have succeeded.

     "Of course now we have an explanation for what happened to him. He was the first transparent pet in the history of Neopia, but no-one knew it at the time. It was a hundred years before the magic was rediscovered and placed into a paint brush. If only he had known at the time, perhaps he would not have felt so alienated. But then the story would have had a very different ending."

     The child looks at the storyteller with wide eyes. "Is that story really true?" he asks.

     The crone smiles down at him, an expression at odds with the deep frown lines on her face. "Every word. A hero is never alone. They cannot succeed without the actions of others to help them."

     She grasps her cane and uses it to heave herself up, turning to the statue of the Hissi and clasping its wing. After a moment she hobbles away down the slope, and the boy is left alone with the statue, staring up at the cold stone and the empty expanse of its eyes.

The End

 
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Other Episodes


» The Puppeteer: Part One
» The Puppeteer: Part Two
» The Puppeteer: Part Three
» The Puppeteer: Part Four
» The Puppeteer: Part Five
» The Puppeteer: Part Six
» The Puppeteer: Part Seven
» The Puppeteer: Part Eight
» The Puppeteer: Part Nine
» The Puppeteer: Part Ten
» The Puppeteer: Part Eleven



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