Chapter 1 – The Puppeteer’s Apprentice
Long, long ago, in a certain little village there lived a young boy. He was some thirteen years old. His name was Pedro.
Pedro was a small boy and not very strong, but his fingers were dexterous enough to astonish anyone. When he moved his whittling knife, wooden blocks would turn into birds and wonderful creatures as if by magic.
The boy spent his days with these crafts as his life.
One day, strange travelers came by the village. And old man with sharp eyes and a large man in black garb casually strolled into the general store whereupon their eyes were drawn to a wooden bird so cunningly carved that one could almost hear its wings beat the air. It was Pedro’s latest creation.
After inquiring with the owner of the general store, the old man and his escort came upon the little house where Pedro lived. And the first words they had for him were…
‘Prepare your things. We’re leaving for the city!’
Pedro eyes widened in shock at the order.
‘What is this?’ he cried. ‘Who are you people, any…’
His eyes fell on the large man in black. Pedro’s words caught in his throat.
The old man chuckled. ‘Hm. So you DID notice. I thought you would.’
From the old man’s fingers stretched transparent threads. He gestured and the black-garbed man bowed gracefully.
The immense man was a clockwork puppet.
‘He is the ‘Black Priest,’ the old man said. ‘y finest work.’ His wrinkled face creased further as he smiled slyly.
He as the famous master Capri Oratoria, a puppeteer known throughout Weltluna.
Oratoria fixed Pedro with a beady eye. ‘You could craft something even greater than this. Doesn’t the mere thought excite you?’
No more words were needed. Tossing his carving knife into a sack, Pedro fixed his cap on his head and greeted his new master by saying farewell to his old home.
Chapter 2 – The Blue Knight
The years passed swiftly for Pedro at Oratoria’s workshop on the outskirts of the capital. Under the tutelage of ‘Puppeteer Capri,’ he learned the techniques to build clockwork puppets and the skills to make them dance and perform.
After three years of training he completed his own masterpiece; a doll of noble bearing dressed in armor with a gleaming blue helm.
If Capri’s masterwork, the Black Priest, was a martial arts-type focused on maneuverability, then Pedro’s blue puppet was a well-balanced swordsman. Its counterattacks as it turned aside the Black Priest’s punches and kicks were the very image of a graceful knight.
‘What will you call it?’ Capri asked.
Pedro had no answer. He had been so focused in its creation that he hadn’t actually thought of one. Ultimately, it would come to be called the ‘Blue Knight’ before he could name it.
It was some time after Pedro constructed the Blue Knight that the king who ruled from the city would pass on from their world.
The king had been long been ill, so there was little shock, and the mourning period passed smoothly. And so, in accordance with the law, the king’s only daughter, Princess Tia, would ascend to the throne as queen.
Chapter 3 – On the Road Home
Pedro visited the city accompanied by the Blue Knight. With the crowning ceremony approaching, the streets were abuzz with excitement. As he strolled the city center, People passing by cast strange looks his way.
‘What a noble knight he must be.’
‘I’m sure he must be quite the famous hero.’
‘Do you suppose he’s attending the crowning ceremony?’
Trailing quietly behind the Blue Knight, Pedro could hardly keep himself from doing a little dance. It felt like a step towards Capri, who could control the Black Priest as if it was human itself. Of course, at the same time he found it annoying that others thought him the servant of his own creation.
It was on his way back to the workshop outside of town that Pedro’s humming was interrupted by a scream..
‘No… Please, stop!’ cried a voice from the woods.
‘Heh heh, no one’s gonna save you!’ a man growled. ‘Give up and give in!’
From the looks of things, some thuggish men had a girl cornered. Dainty and clad in a white dress, the girl’s searching eyes sought desperately for a way to flee from the danger.
Pedro squared his shoulders, and lowering his cap to shadow his eyes, he set his fingers in motion. The Blue Knight charged forward.
Chapter 4 – A Righteous Display
Upon seeing the Blue knight appear like a shadow from the heart of the forest, the men harassing the girl could only gape in amazement.
‘Leave the girl, and leave this place,’ the Blue Knight declared from the depths of its helmet.
This was the ventriloquism that the old master had drilled into his head as a secret of puppeteering.
‘Who the… Who the hell’re you? Get outta here before ya get hurt!’
With a jab from its clockwork fist, the Blue Knight knocked back the man holding the woman and pivoted swiftly to kick both men away.
‘Are you hurt, young lady?’
‘N-No, I am well.’
‘Good. ‘Twould be best if you stood back.’
At last, the Blue Knight drew its sword.
Swathed in black, a third man who seemed like the leader approached.
‘Not bad for a wanderer…’
Pedro eyed the new arrival. The black-garbed man’s stance suggested he knew something of roper swordsmanship.
‘Enough playing, though. Hand over the girl and I’ll see you rewarded.’
‘To ignore one’s duties is to be without courage. I fear I cannot do that,’ said the Blue Knight.
‘Well, then…DIE!’ screamed the black-garbed man and attacked.
Chapter 5 – The Girl With Sky Blue Eyes
The man in black attacked.
From the upper-right, he feinted as if to strike the shoulder, but twisted his wrist and changed to a slash across the body.
Pedro, having read the feint, pulled at his strings.
The Blue Knight stepped back a half step, dodging the horizontal slash, then smack the outstretched blade, knocking it from his foes hands.
The black-garbed man rubbed his numb hand and paled as the Blue Knight shifted slightly.
As if it was a sign, the thugs turned and scattered like baby spiders.
The girl gave a sigh of relief and curtsied.
‘Thank you very much…’
She was still a bit shaky, but her manner was that of a noble woman.
‘It is the duty of every knight to protect. Pay it no mind.’
‘Ah, are you from foreign lands, perhaps?’
Suddenly Pedro was struck with a moment of whimsy.
‘I am the touring knight, Pedro. The boy there is my servant,’ he made the puppet reply.
The girl finally seemed to notice him. She faced him with an expression of bewilderment.
Pedro was no less surprised. Indeed, his shock was many, many times greater than hers.
Cool, turquoise-blue eyes.
That familiar, achingly lovely form.
It was the same girl he had seen at ceremonies and from the balcony of the palace.
‘Y-Your Highness?’ he blurted.
The girl wrapped in pure white was the very girl who had just lost her father and was to be crowned in the capital.
It was Princess Tia.
Chapter 6 – The Melancholy of the Princess
‘Would you be willing to guard me for these two weeks until the crowing ceremony?’
In the royal throne room Princess Tia asked this question with a serious expression. Of course, she asked it not of Pedro, but of the Blue Knight.
‘Have you not a royal guard? Surely you would be far better off with them as your protectors.’
Unable to say that the Blue Knight was a puppet, Pedro followed as far as the throne room. He shivered, sensing even more trouble about to come.
‘The royal guard that protect the capital are… They obey the words of my uncle, Duke Gaston. Even before, they abandoned me and fled,’ Princess Tia said softly.
Duke Gaston was a man surrounded by bad rumors. It was an open secret that he took advantage of the previous king’s illness to line his own purse.
‘The man in black you confronted, Sir Pedro, I am sure that was my uncle’s second-in-command. All of it was planned…’
Princess Tia’s sky-blue eyes clouded.
At this point, the kindly Pedro could hardly refuse the role of escort.
‘Understood. I shall accept your request,’ he had the Blue Knight reply.
Princess Tia’s smile was like the sun breaking through the clouds. ‘Thank you, sir knight… Thank you so very much.’
She turned towards Pedro as well.
‘And you too, good servant. May I ask for your name?’
Pedro hid his eyes once more in the shadow of his cap.
‘I’m no one worthy of naming myself.’
Chapter 7 – Turbulent Days
Protecting the princess proved harder than predicted. After all, almost every day there were new ne’er-do-wells sent after her.
Eventually, partially due to their closeness in age, Princess Tia and Pedro, still playing the servant, came to speak very openly to each other.
While glad for the princess’s trust, he didn’t know what he would do if the truth of the Blue Knight came out.
Pedro was beside himself with worry.
On the other side of the city, a letter was delivered to a certain puppet workshop.
‘What is that boy doing…’
Guessing the circumstances from the very vague statements in Pedro’s letter, Capri sighed and gave a bitter smile.
‘However, perhaps this is a good chance,’ he mused.
Pedro was ever bright, and straight as an arrow, yet his thoughts were always of puppets. Partially due to living outside the city, he had no friends he could call close, and yet it hardly seemed as if he felt lonely for it.
While the role of escort to the princess was perhaps beyond his station, if it proved a chance to awaken more human feelings in his apprentice, Capri could only wish him the best with a parent’s heart.
Chapter 8 – What Makes the Darkness Shake
‘The girl has the devil’s own luck!’
In a dim room lit by flickering candle flames Duke Gaston cursed hatefully. He felt not a moment of sympathy or care for his niece.
‘At this rate she shall see the crowning ceremony!’ he snarled. ‘This knight, Pedro, can’t we handle him?’
‘He’s the first man so skilled that we’ve encountered. We fear that even if the royal guard attacked at once it might be difficult…’
Recalling the shame of having his sword knocked from his hands, Duke Gaston’s second-in-command bit his lip.
‘Still, we have nothing to fear,’ he said. ‘While a bit of an odd character, we have hired a skilled assassin to handle this, my lord.’
‘Odd? What sort of person is he?’
‘…Ahaha, did you call?’
The flames danced bewitchingly, then went out as one. As if something tremendously heavy had collapsed down onto it, the carpeted floor shook with a thud.
‘Wh-Who is it?’
Duke Gaston took a step back.
The shadow illuminated by the moon was tremendous… and inhuman.
‘My lord, fear not. This is our assassin, Harlequin. He will remove all that is in your way with his puppet.’
The assassin sketched a mocking bow.
‘Ahaha, I do love hunting. I don’t take jobs unless the prey’s lively.’
A sickening laugh shook the darkness, bringing a nasty smile to the duke’s face well.
‘Worry not. I am sure your hunt will be MOST enjoyable.’
And so did the night bathed in red by a crimson moon fade to dawn, melting like ice.
Chapter 9 – Afternoon in the Lesser Palace
Afternoon in the palace began with a tea party in the gardens. The princess, as always filled three cups with black tea from the pot.
‘Please, enjoy your tea.’
‘My thanks,’ the Blue Knight intoned.
‘Thank you very much,’ Pedro said.
Pedro moved the Blue Knight with his left hand as he sipped the tea made by the princess. It was the happiest moment in their otherwise busy days.
‘Good servant, you really seem to enjoy your tea. It makes it very worth the effort for the one who made it.’
‘Haha… You are too kind.’
Smiling bitterly, Pedro pulled his strings.
The Blue Knight, in one go, emptied the tea in the cup into the leather sack in his neck.
At this, Princess Tia could only sigh.
‘Whereas Sir Pedro here seems to hardly find it delicious at all. It makes it difficult to be motivated…’
‘Pardon me. I fear I am an impolite man.’
In his heart, Pedro felt a nervous edge, but the Blue Knight answered with an ever calm face.
There had been countless moments where it seemed as if everything would be revealed, but Princess Tia showed no signs of doubting the truth of the Blue Knight.
The princess smiled faintly, but her expression quickly turned somber.
‘I suppose it doesn’t matter. These fun afternoons will end tomorrow. After the crowning ceremony the following day, you shall both leave the city, after all…’
Chapter 10 – A Faint Pain
At the princess’ lonely words, Pedro’s heart beat fast as a drum.
‘I fear I am a man on the path of the warrior, so…my apologies,’ the Blue Knight said.
‘No, I should apologize. I shall hardly make much of a queen like this.’
The princess shook herself and smiled brightly.
Forgetting to control the puppet, Pedro ducked his head to hide the longing on his face. He would have loved to stay as her guard.
Though she might have been of noble birth, Princess Tia was a lonely girl who had lost her father.
However, she had been speaking not of the servant-like Pedro but of the Blue Knight. To the princess, Pedro was simply part of the package.
Thinking that made his chest hurt somehow. It was a pain such as he’d never felt when he was handling his puppets.
Ultimately, Pedro had chosen.
Even if it meant saddening the princess, to flee from this unbearable pain in his chest…
‘Ah, would you like a second cup?’
As if to clear the heavy atmosphere, the princess offered the pot with a smile.
‘Oooh, that DOES sound good, mind giving me a cup?’
With an unnerving laugh, a shadow leapt in.
A sudden gust tore through the garden, sending the tea set fling off the table. Crimson wings beat the air as an immense puppet in the form of a devil fell to the earth.
‘Sorry for interrupting your lovely tea party,’ tittered a voice. ‘Would you mind playing with me for a bit?’
On the devil’s left arm was a human figure. It was the masked puppeteer, Harlequin.
‘I’ll make sure it’s plenty of fun,’ he giggled.
Chapter 11 – The Devil’s Attack
‘Lady Tia, stand back!’
Pedro, shielding the princess behind him, sent the Blue Knight forward towards the crimson devil’s right arm. It was a blind spot for the masked puppeteer.
With a raid turn, the knight let loose a heavy strike. The tip of the sword was swallowed up in the base of the creature’s wing. The demon’s right arm flashed up. Blade and claw scraped, sending sparks in to the air.
Losing its balance, the Blue Knight took an unsteady step back. The demon gave a shiver, and a barbed tail thick as a log screamed through the air, striking forward.
Astonished by the technique, Pedro snapped the Blue Knight back, dodging the tail swipe.
‘Oh, you ARE good. I didn’t think you were in the same business.’
The masked puppeteer spoke not to the Blue Knight but to Pedro.
The Blue Knight, as if to interrupt these words, pointed its sword at the puppeteer.
‘What nonsense are you speaking! If you shall not come, than shall I strike first?’
Even now, Pedro tried to hide it.
Princess Tia, with a confused expression, gazed upon the proceeding events.
‘I seeeee. So that’s how it is…’
The masked puppeteer, as if suddenly realizing the situation, laughed softly.
‘My, my. Well, let no one call me rude. If you’d rather not share, I’ll stay quiet. But you know…’
The puppeteer’s voice dipped low and was tinged with a roiling darkness.
‘If you don’t even have that much guts, then even thinking you can win against my Calamity is NAIVEEEEEEEEE!!!’
Chapter 12 – The Crimson Demon
The demon doll ‘Calamity’ kicked the ground and launched itself into the air, closing the gap in an instant.
Pedro reacted just a moment too slow, so intent was he on not wanting the princess to notice. It was the tiniest of openings, but it was one that would prove fatal.
First, the sword was knocked from clockwork hands. Then, the claws continued to dig in, cutting through the blue armor like butter.
‘Oh, my, what’s wroooong?’
The tail whipped in, encircling the Blue Knight. With a twitch of the puppeteer’s fingers the tail tightened, crushing both the knight’s arms.
‘Khehe, caught youuuuuu.’
The claws grabbed the Blue Knight by its feathered helm and lifted it up off its feet.
The first puppet he’d made, that he’d put so much effort into, was being torn to pieces…
Pedro lost himself for a moment and ran forward.
‘You are so impatient. No need to worry, I was going to give him back.’
The crimson demon held the Blue Knight high and threw it down towards Pedro.
The Blue Knight crashed into Pedro and bowled him over. He lay in a crumpled hea upon the lawn under the body of the puppet.
The princess stepped between the fallen pair and the masked puppeteer, her arms spread wide.
‘I offer myself to you. In return, I command you to cease this senseless violence!’
Chapter 13 – Saying Goodbye
‘I offer myself to you. In return, I command you to cease this senseless violence!’
At Princess Tia’s bold words the puppeteer licked his lips loudly.
‘You’d offer yourself in place of your guard? Heh heh heh, why, you bring tears to my eyes, Princess.’
‘Y-You mustn’t, Lady Tia…’
Barely conscious, Pedro desperately tried to put words together. He had not the energy to use ventriloquism.
‘My master… Pedro is fine. Leave it to him… Hurry, run…’
‘Sir Pedro. Silence.’
At the princess’ angry words, Pedro managed to open his eyes fully, for those words were addressed most surely to he, still garbed and acting the servant. ‘You… You knew…?’
‘I’m sorry. I pretended not to notice.’
The princess smiled in a sad, lonely way then turned to the puppeteer again with a dignified expression.
‘Now, take me to my uncle.’
‘My, oh, my, what a princess you are. Ibet you would have made quite the queen, too.’
The demon slowly stretched out its right arm. When the princess stepped on, it began to beat its crimson wings.
‘Sir Pedro, thank you so much. This last week was very fun…’
These words of goodbye sunk into his brain.
As he watched the scarlet shadow be swallowed into the blue sky, Pedro’s consciousness slowly faded into darkness.
Chapter 14 – The Cost of Deceit
The next morning when Pedro opened his eyes, he found himself in his room at the doll workshop.
Safe on his familiar, firm bed, he felt a rush of relief. It had all been a dream.
Capri called out from the workshop.
‘Ohhh, how are you feeling?’
Pedro craned his neck.
On the workbench in the back he glimpsed disassembled blue parts spread out across the wood.
He leaped up, panicked.
‘It…wasn’t a dream…’
It seemed Capri had used the Black Priest to bring Pedro and the broken form of the Blue Knight back from the castle.
‘It’s my fault…’
Pedro’s eyes trailed over his former masterpiece, now reduced to junk.
His memory then trailed back over cool, turquoise-blue eyes, a warm smile like a ray of sunlight, and fine fingers pouring black tea.
Pedro ground his lip between his teeth.
‘The Blue Knight wasn’t good enough. If I had any talent as a puppeteer, I would’ve been able to protect Princess Tia…!’
‘It seems you still don’t understand,’ Capri muttered.
His face took on a rare expression of severity.
‘What you lack is here!’
In a forceful motion, he jabbed his finger against Pedro’s chest. Pedro could only blink in shock.
Chapter 15 – A Little Decision
‘Her Highness knew the truth of the Blue Knight. And yet, she chose to pretend not to. Do you really not understand why?’
Unexpectedly, in the depths of his mind, he had a flash of insight.
‘Sir Pedro. Silence,’ she had said. And then, ‘I pretended not to notice.’
He recalled the sad, lonely smile she gave him when she revealed it.
Something hot boiled up inside his chest.
Pedro raised his head and fixed Capri with an intense gaze.
‘Master, I beg of you! Help me repair the Blue Knight!’
The old man studied his face.
‘The masked puppeteer you fought is a man reared like a demon in our trade. A half-baked man can’t hope to match him. Do you understand?’
‘Even so, I will… For the person who believed in me!’
When he said this, Capri smiled broadly, as if something grand had just fallen in his lap.
It was the day before the crowning ceremony. At the palace, the princess’ absence had been noticed and the royal keep fell into uproar from top to bottom.
Chapter 16 – The Duke’s Private Manor
On the outskirts of the capital in Duke Gaston’s manor, Princess Tia sat in a lush room carpeted in deep crimson.
‘It’s perfect for you, Princess.’
With a satisfied expression, Duke Gaston glared at his bound prisoner.
‘What do you intend to do about the crowning ceremony today?’ Princess Tia asked in a quiet voice.
The duke shrunk a bit under her icy gaze.
‘I am afraid you will be absent. And so the throne and staff will be offered to me, the second in line.’
‘Do you believe the people will accept you?’
‘To change the subject, Tia, I have found someone willing to accept you as a bride.’
Seeing the sky-colored eyes waver for a moment, the duke smiled with renewed confidence.
‘He is the second imperial son and QUITE the connection.’
The duke’s smile widened.
‘While you learn the joys of womanhood in a new land you can leave the rest to me.’
It was a cowardly plan.
Certainly, it wasn’t a scenario that would be accepted for the duke to take the throne in place of the first heir. However, it was different if the princess were to marry. I f that were to pass, anyone could see that Duke Gaston’s ascent to the throne was all but a done deal.
‘My lord, it is about time.’
At his second-in-command’s comment, the duke stood.
‘I am sure you are quite tired from the daily attacks. Take the chance to rest and recover.’
The duke gave a chuckle at this own shamelessness and left the room.
At the moment…
‘That won’t be happening!’
There was a tremendous crash, and a glass window exploded into glittering powder.
Chapter 17 – And So the Boy Become a Man
Like a graceful leopard, a tall knight clad in blue armor leapt through the window. Following behind him was a small boy wearing a cap.
‘Princess Tia, I’m sorry. I know I’m a bit late,’ he said.
‘So you did come, after all.’
A tremulous smile floated onto the princess’ face.
Somewhat embarrassed, the boy returned the smile. Their eyes locked and words unsaid passed between them.
‘Hey! There is a time and place for things!’
The duke, having been completely ignored, was sputtering in anger.
As the duke seethed, his second-in-command was stealthily sneaking up on the still bound princess. He reached out his hand for the princess’s shoulder.
The Blue Knight leapt forward like a bolt from a crossbow.
The pitiable second-in-command, having taken a direct punch from the Blue Knight, collapsed against the wall, unconscious.
‘Th-That’s a bit much…’
Duke Gaston, now white as a sheet, fled the room in a stumbling lurch.
‘Princess Tia, let us hurry! Your crowning ceremony begins soon!’ Pedro said.
Escaping the manse, the two were pursued by the duke and his guard.
However, as if to obstruct their path, a scarlet shadow fell down, shaking the ground.
‘Sorry, but I’m gonna have to get in your way. I’m afraid thoroughness is the number one part of being a puppeteer, after all. Hehehe.’
The way he spoke make it hard to believe it was just a job.
It was the masked puppeteer, Harlequin, and the crimson demon doll, Calamity.
Chapter 18 – The Duel Between Red and Blue
White blade met deadly claw. Blue and red twisted about in blinding fashion. The cover to the fight had been cleaved off.
‘Ohhhh, you’re moving better,’ Harlequin exclaimed.
Surprisingly, the Blue Knight’s movements were just a litle bit faster than that of the crimson devil puppet, Calamity.
‘I boke it aaall to pieces, too, but to fix it back up in just one day… Looks like the old man found himself a good apprentice.’
‘You know my master?’
Harlequin twirled his fingers and Calamity fluttered its wings and slowly lifted into the sky.
‘We have a bit of a history, yes.’ He giggled. ‘But forget about that. What’ll you do about THIS?!’
As he howled these words, the red puppet swooped down. Pedro pulled his strings back and the Blue Knight narrowly avoided the grasping claws.
Smooth as flowing water, Calamity sent out its log-like tail to swipe at the knight.
Pedro’s threads flowed down and to the right. DDropping its center of gravity, the Blue Knight shifted its sword to a slant and redirected the force of the tail upwards.
Calamity swung its horned head around and charged straight for the Blue Knight’s torso.
Pedro snapped his threads upwards and to his left this time. The Blue Knight, who had left itself fall slightly back, now slashed its sword down in a blur of light.
With a small, pleasant cracking sound, the crimson wing on the right side of the puppet was hewn straight off.
Chapter 19 – Red Hot Roar
slightly panicked, the masked puppeteer wrenched back on the strings and put space between himself and the Blue Knight.
‘Hey, how about we call it a draw here?’
Knowing it was hopeless, Pedro still offered.
As he expected, a happy voice called back.
‘Now, don’t make bad jokes like that. It’s been too long since I’ve had this much fun, after all!’
Seemingly drunk on warped joy, Harlequin twisted his hands about in a complex motion. It looked almost as if he were drawing magic circles in the air.
‘I didn’t think I’d end up using this…’ he giggled.
Calamity crossed both arms across its body, as if holding itself.
Slowly, a burning scent filled the air. A cod chill ran down Pedro’s spine. He set to moving the Blue Knight, but realized the princess was behind it.
‘You can regret it in your next liiifffeee!’ Harlequin screamed.
The crimson demon took an imposing stance. Its massive jaw creaked. There was a rushing of air, and then a ball of brilliant flame sewed forth.
The area was engulfed in a violent pillar of swirling fire. The Blue Knight, Pedro, and the princess were all swallowed by the inferno.
‘Tch, so that’s it, is it… Guess it was kind of a pity to end it there, huh?’
Gazing at the roaring flames, Harlequin muttered regretfully. However, his eyes soon narrowed, puzzled. No scent of meat roasting or metal melting reached his nose.
The crimson maelstrom began to swirl faster, and the center suddenly parted as if blown apart from the inside. From the middle rose a blue twister.
Chapter 20 – The Whereabouts of the Deathmatch
From within the flame, the Blue Knight arose. Across its shoulders, Pedro and Princess Tia could be seen clinging, hale and hearty.
What had blown away the raging flames was its tremendous two-handed sword. Spinning the enormous blade like a whirlwind, a butterfly made of flame danced above the Blue Knight’s head. It was a fantastical scene.
‘Kh… You think that’ll work?!’
Harlequin began gesturing again. It seemed he intended to launch another fireball.
‘I won’t let you!’ Pedro cried.
Splitting through the wall of flames, the Blue Knight forced its way forward. In the next moment, Calamity’s horned head was cleaved perfectly in two.
‘Ahaha… Absolutely… wonderful…’
The fireball, moments from release, puffed up within the crimson puppet and caused a small explosion.
Flung by the shockwave, the Blue Knight was tossed into the air. Pedro braced both legs and managed to catch it.
‘Sir Pedro, are you all right?!’
‘I’m fine, yeah… But, I don’t think there’s any saving him.’
Though Harlequin may have been a foe, his was still a life that had been taken. Pedro felt the guilt of such a deed strike him. Princess Tia, seeing Pedro so troubled, enveloped him in her arms.
‘…I’d appreciate it if ya wouldn’t kill me off so easily,’ said a whispering voice from inside the pillar of flames. The voice seemed somehow satisfied.
‘I applaud your efforts, young man. I’ll back down nicely this time. Looking forward to when we next meet. Ahaha…’
The ground shook and a red and black shadow launched skyward and disappeared from sight.
Pedro and the princess looked a tone another and burst into relieved laughter.
Chapter 21 – The Dollmaster’s Purpose
The boy, the girl, and one puppet left for the capital on light feet while the masked puppeteer fled into the deep forest riding his scorched creation.
Stopping suddenly, the masked puppeteer spoke to the shadows in the trees.
‘You’re there, aren’t you, old man?’
‘Hmph. Noticed me, did you…’
Pedro’s master, Capri, stepped out from the cover of the trees. As always, the Black Priest was with him, but it was a curious sight, for the puppet had no arms.
‘As I thought, you fixed the blue puppet’s arms with parts from the Black Priest. No wonder it moved so well.’
‘Well, the gap between you and Pedro was a bit too much, after all. I took it upon myself to give him a helping ‘hand’.’
Harlequin’s shoulders sunk in response to the words of the old puppet master.
‘Well, I don’t mind, since I had fun. But… If and when the Thirteen Factories find out about this, I don’t think Pedro will have it too easy either, do you?’
The Thirteen Factories.
The moment he heard those disturbing words, Capri’s expression darkened.
‘Ahaha. Well, then…see you soon.’
Leaving behind a suppressed laugh, the masked puppeteer disappeared into the deep forest.
‘It is a road all puppeteers must pass…’ the old puppet master muttered in a quiet voice, almost as if he was telling it to himself.
Final Chapter – A Moment’s Rest
Afternoon in the palace began with a tea arty in the gardens. The princess, as always, filled three cups with black tea from the pot.
‘Please, enjoy your tea.’
‘Thank you very much,’ Pedro said.
Behind the boy sipping tea stood a knight armored in blue. However, he had not a word to say.
‘What happened to the duke in the end?’
On the night of the crowing ceremony, Duke Gaston had disappeared with his vassals. After all, his pan had been foiled and the queen successfully crowned before countless countrymen.
The royal guard, whose allegiance had been questionable before the coronation, fell to their knees in contrition and swore their loyalty to the new queen. The duke, before he could he held for the crime of abducting the princess, understandably chose to flee the country.
‘My uncle has chosen to entrust himself to the Empire. Apparently he’s sought protection from the imperial prince that he had arranged as a a husband for me.’
The queen smiled slightly.
‘However…it seems as if they consider him something of a pest. I feel a bit sorry for him.’
Pedro was amazed.
‘They do not deserve your sympathy!’
In truth, Pedro did not think Duke Gaston would back down easily. And what of the machinations of that foul masked puppeteer, Harlequin? Capri, Pedro’s teacher, seemed to know the jester, but simply dodged any questions about him with frustrating vagueness. Regardless, Pedro knew another battle would come…and soon. He would have to upgrade the Blue Knight if he hoped to emerge victorious.
A slightly irritated, yet comforting, voice snapped Pedro from his reverie.
‘Do you wish for your tea to grow cold?’
The clear blue eyes which met his own carried their own message: ‘It will be all right.’
Pedro, a little embarrassed, took his tea and drank deeply. It was enough to simply have this moment…with her.