Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Puppethead War #12: One Untangle, Two Untangle...

< < Issue 11
It’s me, Daiv.  We reached the Floating Village, but the puppetheads had already attacked and taken the bodies of several people.  Mr Sasket is their commander.  They took us below the surface, ready to be used as vessels to attack Yerz, but one of them let me go.  She said that not all of them support this “invasion”, and now I’m pretending to be her.  So play along and I’ll try to sort this out, just know that you can trust me.


‘You’re lying,’ Darrin Sasket said.  He had Yoh pinned against a wall and a scary, twisted blade pointed at his throat.  ‘I can’t call the others until I see everyone else.  You tell them to come out.  Tell them all to come out and defend our little town.’

The puppethead squad’s approach to the village had been less than stealthy - after all, the group and their montigers was a sight to be expected when they finally returned to Yerz.  The brothers Tanslan had been the only villagers standing outside the town hall, and had approached eagerly.

‘I’m telling you the truth,’ Yoh said.  ‘Why wouldn’t I?  No one else is here!’

Mr Sasket pushed harder and Yoh breathed out suddenly.  He watched the man’s sword lightly touch his neck.

‘Stop!’ Tean yelled.  ‘I can show you where they are, if you let him go.’

Daiv was standing very close to the younger Tanslan brother with the modified crossbow pointed at his gut.  Darrin ventured an aside glance at Tean and let out a cackle of a laugh.

‘You know I really couldn’t care about the two of you,’ he said.  Behind him, Evaraea and the puppethead whose body had been killed by Darrin appeared shocked.

‘I admit that we could do with the bodies,’ the old man continued.  ‘The army would be disappointed if I didn’t procure them.’

‘With respect, Commander, what are you going on about?’ asked Arak.  Darrin’s face became a bloodthirsty grimace.  As he turned back to Yoh, Daiv mimed biting onto something and passed a small piece of cloth to Tean.  Tean looked puzzled for a second but took it and shoved it into his mouth before Mr Sasket turned around.

‘It might have escaped your notice but I’m here for more than what the Queen gets out of this.  I chose all of you because I knew that you were loyal to me first and everyone else second.’

Fat chance, Daiv thought.

‘We are here to look for something very... important.  First, we will secure all of the villagers.  Then we can begin our search before the other soldiers arrive.’

He looked at Daiv.  ‘Leave that one here with us.  “Daiv” will escort Yoh to wherever they’re hiding.’

Tean’s eyes widened in fear but he couldn’t speak for the cloth in his mouth.  Daiv tried not to engage either of them, nodding over his shoulder to Durga.  He then waved his crossbow at Yoh and the man pointed east.

‘Go on then,’ the boy said.  With the montiger traipsing warily behind them they led away from the town hall.

‘The rest of you,’ Darrin said, ‘take down that ridiculous fence.’

Three of the puppetheads walked down to the lake front.  Tean thought that he recognised one of the floating village people, but he knew that they wouldn’t be any help.  Seizing the only chance he had, he ran.

‘Hey.’  One of them, who might have been Arak, chased him up the main road.

Darrin yelled at the other two who followed momentarily.  Tean zigzagged between the baker’s and another house, dodging around the corner.  Quickly, he unravelled the note, lucky not to have swallowed it.


Arak had a knife pointed at Tean, who raised his arms, the cloth clenched in one fist.

‘I surrender.’

Roran and the floating village man appeared behind Arak.

‘What have you got in your hand?’


‘Open it up,’ Arak said, brandishing the throwing knife.  ‘Show me!’

Tean dropped the note and tried to slide along the wall as the puppethead agent picked it up.  He began to read, out loud and hesitantly at first.

‘That boy is in big trouble,’ he said afterwards.  ‘Roran and Payke, or whatever your human name is, grab him.’

Roran looked at Payke and the two of them turned to Arak.

‘I think you’re the one in big trouble,’ said Roran.


Tean was still edging away.

‘Wait, you’re one of the humans too?’ Payke said.

‘’fraid so,’ the montiger rider said.  ‘Fooled you pretty well, didn’t I?’

Arak dropped Daiv’s note and fumbled for the knife.  Before he could get his hands on it, Roran grabbed his arms and twisted them tight in several painful directions.

'Payke!  Stop this idiot!’

The floating village man twitched.

‘You know what?’ he said, picking up the knife and lazily twirled it around.  ‘It’s not that I never really liked you, Sawgei, but more about what the Commander said.  My real body is dead.  I’ve got no stake in that business, no more than this man here.’

He pointed the knife at Tean.  ‘Would you stop that?’  The Tanslan stood still and lowered his arms.

‘I reckon I’ll help these dumb saps,’ Payke continued.  

'Great, thanks,’ Roran said, still holding onto the struggling puppethead.  ‘Would you get on with your change of heart already?’

‘Shut up,’ Payke said.  ‘Gentlemen, we have a hostage.  Let’s find out what Darrin is looking for.’

When the Honch returned to the Hanged Bat shortly after his meeting with Nabbat Sing, the others were already waiting in the common room right of the main lobby.  As he rounded the corner, all three rose from their seats and stared at him.

Verden stood under the arched doorway and put his hands out, palms up.

‘How was the sight seeing?’

‘You should have told us who you were,’ Ferran said eventually.

The Honch seemed shocked.  ‘What?’

Leyh pointed at each of the fishermen.

‘Even I know that whatever’s going on, whoever is planning this, if we need help, the Keepers could drum up an army within weeks.’

Ferran continued.  ‘Settle down,’ he told her, ‘we promised we would let you in, but I think it’s best to wait until we see this Gelba fellow.’  He looked back at the Honch.  ‘What I don’t get is why you couldn’t be straight with me.  We’ve known each other for years and you didn’t even think to clue me in?’

A dark cloud had passed over Verden’s face.  He pointed an accusatory finger at Talon.  Despite his distaste for the man, the youth couldn’t bring himself to look away.


‘Don’t blame him,’ Ferran’s weathered eyes betrayed a fierceness within that Talon had never seen, ‘you would have done the same thing!’

Verden, his head hung low and large hat waving about, moved to step inside.

‘Stay right where you are until I’m done speechifying!’ Ferran spat.  ‘Trust.’

The Honch pleaded.  ‘Surely you understand that -’

‘Not finished, Verden.  Trust is all we have when we can’t tell who’s who.  Now I’m willing for you to earn it again, but you’d better have a damn good reason for staying with us.’

Leyh and Talon swapped exasperated glances, the trader occasionally looking through the front window over the youth’s shoulder.  Daylight hours were moving on around them.

‘Ferran, I spoke with the Most Sincere - he’s willing to -’

The Honch glanced behind him.  No one had come downstairs or in from the street.

‘He’s already going to help us,’ he said.  ‘Please, I just couldn’t have the town know.  You know that most of Yerz are just Freaks.’

Talon felt his stomach tighten and Leyh shot him a confused expression, mouthing, ‘freaks?’

Ferran waved at the sofa in front of the Keeper.  ‘I’m sorry, my friend.  I’ve stuck by you ever since you became Honch of the village, but your condition doesn’t excuse you from lying.’

The man bent over and leaned on the coffee table.

‘Have a seat.  We should be receiving notice from the de Postrem residence soon.  Meantime, I’m going for a walk.  And don’t even try to take this out on Talon.’

Ferran left the room, knowing that behind him a quiet death-stare would have begun.  He pushed through the hotel’s front door, startling a man who had been standing outside.

‘Uhh, sorry.’  The man was wearing a tubular scarf that covered the bottom half of his face and he carried a rolled up piece of paper.

‘Go on in,’ the fisherman said.  ‘I hope you’ve got some good news.’

The messenger man quickly nodded back.  ‘Yes, uh, I hope it is good.’  He turned around but hadn’t touched the door when Ferran called out.

‘Hey, we haven’t met before, have we?  I swear I recognise you from somewhere.’

The man didn’t look back but brushed a hand down the door and went inside.  ‘Sorry, don’t think so.’

Several minutes after delivering the Captain’s message, the Trailer hurried out onto the street.  He adjusted the cold weather scarf around his face and thanked whoever was listening that he’d escaped unnoticed.

The Trailer had needed to do a few unkind things in order to get the job of delivering the summons.  There was the unconscious servant whose clothing he had taken, the drugged guards at the mansion’s gate, the old butler he’d tricked into accepting him at short notice - altogether rather messy.  It all paid off however, because now the Trailer had gotten a good look at the four travellers, or as he thought of them, the Troublemakers.

They had been making trouble for him since they left the coach back at Gaimswick.  Riding those extra miles in the pitch dark simply peeved him.  At the very least he’d made good time following them to the Overarchy dome and finding out what was up.

The Trailer considered whether their plan could succeed.  A letter on the back of a pigeon might have been in order, to find out what was happening up in the mountains since he'd left.

Nairé knocked on her ward’s bedroom door.

‘Won’t you come out, Irena?  You’re beginning to worry me.’

‘I won’t leave until they do,’ the girl said, muffled through the thick wood.

The southerner looked back across the hallway to the main chamber.

‘They only just arrived, sweetheart,’ she said.

‘Don’t call me that.’

Nairé couldn’t suppress a short giggle.  ‘Okay, I’ll admit that was a bit much.  But you’ve got to let me know why you don’t want to be with us downstairs.’

The door opened and Nairé stepped inside.  Irena was lying on her country-sized bed, arms crossed over her chest.

‘How did you -’ Nairé began.

‘I propped a book against the door and threw another one at it,’ Irena said.

‘Pretty smart,’ replied the guardian.  And a bit creepy, she didn’t say.

Irena sat up.  ‘I know, right?  I thought I could distract myself...’

‘From what?’  Nairé sat down on the bed beside her.

‘Hmm,’ the girl said.  She put her chin on her fist and faced the wall.  ‘First these nightmares I’ve been having, then this morning, what Gelba said -’

‘You shouldn’t have been listening,’ Nairé said, though she didn’t think it sounded forceful enough.

‘He said that I’m his granddaughter.’

There was a heavy silence in the room.

‘And not just that,’ Irena said.  ‘The other man mentioned a place called Yerz.  Then this afternoon we just happen to meet a whole group of people from the same place.’

Nairé sighed and wrapped an arm around her.

‘He,’ she paused, ‘he was probably speaking metaphorically.  You know how close the Captain and your Uncle are.’

‘I don’t know,’ said the girl.  She could feel that much more talking would bring on tears, and that was not going to happen if she could help it.  ‘It sounded like he needed,’ she choked, ‘needed me to do something.’

Her babysitter stroked back long strands of her hair and sighed again.

‘How about I go and listen to what’s happening,’ she said.  ‘We’ll sort this out, don’t you worry.’

Irena nodded slowly and hugged her friend.  After a second, Nairé got up and went downstairs.

‘Let me get this straight,’ the Captain was saying, ‘you’ve come all this way because we might - let me stress this, might - be invaded by a group of tentacle people, that no one has ever heard of, rising out of the lake near your village.’

‘This isn’t a "might",’ Ferran said.  The travellers paid no attention to the southerner as she entered the parlour.  ‘The creature was very aggressive.  For all we know, their entire society is made up of megalomaniacs like him.  They had already taken several people hostage, which means there could be spies out across the world by now.’

‘Also, we didn’t say they were tentacle people,’ said the Honch.

‘Yeah, although you’re right there,’ said Talon.  ‘Like giant spider-squids, not to mention the parrot-heads.’  He motioned the legs with his fingers.

Leyh wisely remained speechless, preferring to analyse her opulent surroundings.

‘I can see that this is an important matter,’ the Captain said, ‘but you’re going to need proof.  The Overarchy are less likely than me to believe any of this.’

‘The Keepers are the proof,’ said Verden, carefully phrasing his point as to appear neutral.  ‘They know that the Quandomen will return, and that one of the signs points to this mind swapping business.’

‘Wait just a minute,’ Captain Gelba said.  ‘These puppetheads are the Quandomen?  Come to do whatever they left undone when they were driven away the first time?’

Before the Honch could open his mouth again, the butler walked in with a tray of sweet biscuits and drinks.

‘Shall I draw tea?’ he said.  He glanced reproachfully at the visitors.  ‘I have begun preparations for dinner.’

‘Good grief, my man,’ the Captain said.  ‘Is it getting that late?’  He waited until the butler had left the room again.  ‘Normally I would invite you to have dinner, but the kitchen won’t be ready until Monday.  Wulmer is a good chap but cooking isn’t his strong suit.’

‘We won’t take up any more of your time then, Captain.’  Ferran rose from his chair and extended a hand.  ‘I hope that you will choose to support us before the Overarchy convenes again.’

The Captain shook Ferran’s hand amiably.  ‘You'll have my answer before sundown tomorrow.’

Even though they hadn’t eaten yet, Talon felt just about ready to climb into bed for the night.  Horseback riding took a lot more out of you than sitting in the front of a coach.  They made their way down the hill, and saw that the owner of the hotel had been kind enough to leave a lamp on.  The street was still very busy with store owners packing up and groups of young, rich people heading from evening parties to nighttime after-parties.  When they rounded the corner though, everything seemed to fade away.

There was a large shadow under the lamp.  Ogard sat on a bench outside the hotel, head resting on his balalyre.  There was a dark streak on the fat end.

‘Oh no,’ Leyh said.  She ran to him and held his face, waving to the others to come over.

‘The coach was attacked,’ she said.  Ogard stood up and raised the instrument for them to see.  ‘I thought there was a chance, but I didn’t know for sure that anyone was following us.’

Talon looked to Ferran for help.  ‘Are there puppetheads trying to stop us from telling the Lords and Ladies?’

The battered but unbroken musical instrument in his right hand, Ogard raised a torn piece of clothing in his left.

‘Not ordinary attackers,’ Leyh said.  ‘Looks like someone hired Dirty Fighters to catch us.  Luckily, they underestimated Oge here.’

‘Let’s get inside,’ Ferran said.

‘Right,’ Leyh agreed.  ‘We might have to change hotels to give ourselves a chance if they’ve tracked us down.’

Second floor.  Gelba's study.  Right now, the Captain was giving Wulmer a lesson in what "al dente" meant for pasta, so she had at least fifteen minutes.  Irena tiptoed along the dark hallway despite Nairé's chastising.  The girl respected the southerner, and even loved her as a friend, but Nairé was not in control as much as she should have been.  The woman was concerned that any disruption in the house before Irena's parents returned would change their opinion of her.  It also helped that she was as curious as the girl about the Captain's real motives, though she did not let her ward know that.

Strangely, the door was open.  Perhaps, as it really was the most out of the way room, Gelba had no need to appear secretive.  No one had set foot in the house since Friday without his permission, so no one unwanted would have read whatever secrets his papers held.

Irena was unsure about what she'd expected to see, maybe a letter to her uncle about her lineage or even a birth certificate.  Instead there was a map, a photograph and a sketch with hastily scrawled notes.

'The Ceeyn Cache,' she read aloud, 'often called the Quandu treasure.  Can be opened two ways, by a Union or the code lock.'

The photograph was of a gigantic tree in the forest.  Directly in front of it was a stone inlaid with metal.  The sketch depicted the stone as a set of dashes and shapes.

'Code makes no sense!' was one of the scrawls.  'Irena shows no signs.  Writing is nonsense.  Focus on other caches for the time being.'

The girl felt a prickle on the back of her neck but there was no one in the room.  She took the map and folded it up.

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