PUPPETEER

Prologue

"An icy shard from Mt. Brian, a cat frozen in frost, the soul or should I say the essence of a dragon, and a heart from an eagle," the cloaked monk chanted, dropping each item named into a cauldron.

The chanting continued, as the monk waved his arms over the boiling pot of unknown mixed fluids. The circular room darkened, as if a blanket of shadows draped across the whole area. Silence followed; the only thing that could be heard was the bubbling of the cauldron. Many moments passed, but the room remained still. Soon, the cool breeze gradually became thick and cold, as if the artic was gliding in and making its presences known. Then, it happened.

Fire exploded in the middle of the room from the cauldron, causing a searing pain of sudden light and blistering heat so quickly, the prisoners in the room could feel their frostbite from mere seconds ago, fall off and was replaced with heat blisters. Only one of the prisoners screamed, but they couldn't be heard over the roaring flames. A single light beamed from the middle of the cauldron; the blaze ascended passed the open skyline and into the heavens. A second explosion lit the night sky, causing a cone-shape field that surrounded the mountains below it.

The brown robes the monk wore began to bob and a faint chuckle came from underneath the drawn hood. Everything was almost going as planned. The only snare was that the four prisoners were supposed to be five, but that didn't matter to this mysterious monk. He was well aware that nothing was guaranteed and only improvisation could keep his mission from falling apart any further. A disturbance out of the corner of his eye brought the monk from his reverie and into the now.

"Ah, pretty boy. Do you have a question?" snickered the monk. The prisoner he referred to was chained to the wall wearing nothing but his skivvies. He was a fairly sized man with long blonde hair that was in disarray in his eyes and that cascaded down his shoulders.

"Magic? The statues are gone, the Goddesses are dead, and the Espers are no more. How can you use magic?" snapped the prisoner, shaking his head to deny what he just saw.

"That wasn't magic, my little pawn," the monk replied, slapping the prisoner softly twice and then cracking him with a sharp backhand.

The prisoner reacted to the cuff immediately, kicking one of his free legs out sideways. The unexpected strike caught the monk square in his chest, stealing the breath from his lungs. The monk doubled over to his knees, dazed and gasping for air. After a few coughs later, a growl escaped from underneath the monk's hood.

In one lightning quick move, the prisoner was face to hooded face with his captor, with the monk's left hand strangling his throat and the other, holding a bottle containing some type of bubbly, clear liquid. The monk brought the vial up to his lips, under his hood, and a pop sound could be heard. As hard as he could, the monk slammed the bottle on top of the prisoner's head. Something told the prisoner to remain perfectly still. Anything could be in the container and he had no plans on having it touch him.

"Acid my pawn," the monk whispered, gently releasing both the bottle and the prisoner's throat. "Move, even a little, and you will no longer be a pretty boy."

Trying to keep calm, he did what he was told. The pain of his blisters begged him to shiver, but he ignored it, knowing full well more pain will follow if he even sneezed. Knowing is captor as well, the wounds he already had would not be treated and would be both infected in time and will never heal fully. His vanity mattered not at this time. The permanent damage to his eyes was a thought he didn't enjoy thinking about.

The monk turned on his heels and left the mostly naked prisoners with their wounds. The idea of the acid melting away 'pretty boy's' face, made him laugh manically. As soon as the door slammed shut, the bald prisoner next to the prisoner with the predicament sprang into action. Pushing hard against the stone wall behind him, he tightened his arms and back muscles, locking them in place. Gingerly, he lifted his legs towards the bottle, carefully and dexterously, he wrapped his feet around the neck of the bottle. With a forceful flick, the bottle smashed into the floor, many yards away from them all.

With a nod, the blonde prisoner thanked his bald friend. The relief of the acid was short-lived, after his blisters continued to assault him with their sting. They should've known better, but it all didn't matter; they were all trapped, with no hope of escape.