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Forgotten Riches

This short story was December 2015’s Short Story of the Month! If you enjoy it, and would like to support more, please consider throwing me a buck here.

This story follows the characters of my novella, Strings, a fairytalesque story of puppets, princes, and political intrigue. You don’t need to know anything about the novella to enjoy the story, but hopefully it’ll add an interesting perspective to the characters.

“With this sword, I can defeat the witch once and for all!” Black yelled, holding up the little toy sword. All the children cheered for the little dog puppet as he struck a heroic stance, his face a big, toothy grin. Black rushed off the right side of the puppet stage, to go fight the witch. The children all murmured in excitement, wanting to see the final fight.

White, wearing witch robes and smiling a soft, painted smile, entered from the left. A cauldron was set next to the rabbit puppet to set the mood. “I cannot believe my trolls did not stop him from getting the sword!” she said, throwing a little fit. “But surely the enchantments in my keep will stop him! And then the Princess will be all mine!”

There was a bustle of sound effects off-stage, and Black burst back on from Stage Right, swinging the sword. “How did you get in here!” White cried.

“With my magic sword and courage in my heart, nothin’ can stop me, witch!” Black yelled. Black loved this part. He got to beat up a witch! Also, White always complained about having to play an evil witch, so it was always great to rub it in her face. “Your evil shall be no more!”

“I didn’t want to have to do this, but you leave me no choice!” White called out, and made spellcasting motions. Black started shaking, acting like he was steeling himself against a strong wind. “My magic hurricane will blow you away!”

Black flailed his sword about. “My sword can’t cut wind! What am I to do?”

The children in the audience started yelling suggestions at Black. Most of them were decidedly unhelpful, but enthusiastic. Behind the stage, Strings smiled, as she always did when her audience was so into the show.

Finally, one of the children remembered the magic feather, and told Black to use it. “That’s it!” Black cried. “The magic feather I got from the sick crow! It’ll make a wind that’ll fight back against this gale!” Black pulled the little feather from his pocket, and threw it into the air.

White suddenly acted like she was being pushed back. “W-what is this? Why is this more powerful than my magic!”

“Because that’s the power of love for your fellow creatures!” Black said, and rushed forward.

There was a long sword duel between Black and White, with White wielding a broom to block Black’s attacks, but Black eventually bopped White hard on the head, and she fell down.

“I did it!” Black yelled, and all the children yelled with him. White sighed, staying quiet so the children, and hopefully Strings, would not hear.

After the show, Strings walked out from behind the puppet theater. The children seemed wary of her. She was a giant woman, and cut an intimidating figure, even when that was not her intention. But when she pulled out two marionette controls from her apron, and White, having changed into a less witch-like dress, and Black joined her, the children warmed up quickly.

“Are you a real witch?” a girl asked White.

“Oh, no… I’m just an actress…” White said. “But I take it I was convincing?”

“You were so scary!”

“Wonderful,” White said, trying to hide her frustration.

“…and then I told that Dragon, ‘You better be stoppin’ with all that fire!’ and bopped him in the face!” Black said, and several kids were super excited.

“You’re such a hero!” one said.

“Yeah, I’m pretty impressive,” Black said.

“You didn’t do any of those things!” White complained.

“What do you know?” Black said.

“That’s just another show that we… Owwwww!” White held her head as Black bopped her to stop her from talking.

“Another show… based on my many adventures, yeah!” Black said.

Strings looked up as she heard some of the children who were trying to get closer quiet. Two men in rough clothes who hadn’t shaved in a while were approaching. One had many cheap rings on his fingers. The other wore a nearly-destroyed hat, the kind you wore purely for sentimental value, as opposed to style. They noticed Strings looking, and the one with the rings smiled.

“Hey there, Miss Puppeteer,” the man said. “Got a question for you.”

“Later,” Strings said, and turned back to the children.

“No, I think we’ll talk now,” the man said, pushing a kid out of the way to get close. He fell over onto the ground and started crying.

“Children, I think, perhaps, you should go home now…” White said. “Let’s get going. We’ll have another show before dusk, you can come back then.”

“Go on, get home, we’ll be seein’ you later,” Black said.

The children, reluctantly, started to leave the square as Strings scowled at the man. “Why?” she said.

“Why what?”

“Why’d you push him, dummy!” Black called.

“He was in my way,” said the man, smiling.

“I’m not talking to someone who’d do that,” Strings said, and turned to walk back to her stage and start packing up.

The man grabbed Strings’ shoulder. “No, I think you will.”

“We recognize you,” said the man with the hat. “Different hair, but clearly you. You used to hook up with that thief.”

“Probably still do,” said the man with the rings.

Strings frowned, but said nothing.

“Where is he?” said the man with the hat.

“Gentlemen, I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” White said. “Perhaps we could go sit down and discuss this in a less confrontational way?”

The man with the rings looked down at the little rabbit puppet, smirking. “What kind of game are you playing?”

“It’s not a game, I just think you’re going about this the wrong way,” White said. “We should sit down and have some tea and discuss this.”

The man with the rings turned back to Strings, “Talk to us directly. Tell us where he is. Now.”

Strings just glared.

“Maybe she doesn’t remember who we’re talking about?” said the man in the hat. “I heard she gets around, that one… would have to, to hook up with him.”

“Tell us where he is, now,” said the man with the rings.

“We’re past polite now!” White complained. “Who taught you two to talk to a lady?”

“Shut up!” the man with the rings said, and kicked White. She cried out, and bounced along the ground a little ways in a clatter of wood.

Strings dropped the marionette controls and punched the man with the rings right in the face. His nose made a crunching sound as he fell over onto the ground.

“Why you…” said the man in the hat, drawing a knife.

“Black, check on White,” Strings said.

“But he’s…” Black said, his voice seething with anger.

“Now.”

“R-right…” Black said, and started heading to where White lay.

“You’ll be wishing you just talked when I’m done with you…” the man in the hat said as he stared Strings down. There were a few moments of tension before he thrust forward with the knife.

Strings stepped to one side, the knife catching a bit of the fabric of her apron and dress, as well as a little skin. It didn’t stop her for a moment as she slammed her fist into the man with the hat’s chest, knocking all the air out of him. She then grabbed his wrist and squeezed hard, until he cried out, dropping the knife.

“Leggo!” he whined.

“Why do you want to find him?” Strings asked.

“None of your buin…ahhhh!” He yelled as Strings twisted his arm at an awkward, painful angle. “W-we want to find the Deifel Score! H-he hid it and disappeared and we want to find it!”

Strings pushed him and he landed with a thud, face down. “Don’t look up or follow us or I will do worse,” she said.

She picked up the knife, turned, and headed towards Black and White. White looked alright, and was standing again, trying to get the dirt off of her dress. She looked up to Strings. “These stains might be hard to get out, but I am otherwise fine.”

Strings let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding.

Black was staring at the men. “Let me turn them to ash.”

“No,” Strings said.

“Strings, I have to do this,” Black said.

“No,” Strings said again.

Black spat a tongue of flame in frustration. “This is goin’ to come back to hurt us. Let me fix this.”

Strings said nothing.

Black growled and pawed angrily at the ground.

“Don’t make a scene. We need to leave,” White said.

Black growled still, but stopped.

Strings hurriedly closed the windows and things on the stage, turning it back into her trunk, and hefted it onto her back before looking to the men once more. The man with the hat had not looked up. The man with the rings was either playing dead, or was unconscious. That was good enough for her. She left.

Strings still remembered the first night she had met him. Back then, she was still in uniform, and was assigned to the night watch. There was normally very little to do. She would keep an eye out for trouble, of course, but she’d spend most of her nights whittling pieces of wood, or sewing small outfits with scraps of cloth. It was something to do, and that night was no different than any other in that regard. She was slowly carving a head out of a piece of wood, with rabbit ears, this time. Strings was about to start on the second ear when someone climbed into her tower.

He was doing his best to be quiet, of course, and was doing quite a good job of it. His hair was in waves, and his face scarred from many fights. He had a heavy satchel thrown across him, and one arm was covered in a large tattoo, showing a dog with huge, spiraled horns breathing fire, which covered everything like a sleeve of dangerous heat. It took him a moment to realize Strings was there.

“Hello,” he whispered, grinning. “Didn’t think I was goin’ to meet anyone up here. You’re not the normal soldier.”

“He’s sick,” Strings said.

“Well, that is my luck, isn’t it? He’s normally off sneakin’ a drink around now.” He smiled. “Don’t tell nobody though.”

“What are you doing?” Strings asked, putting down the carving but keeping the knife, just in case.

“Ah, you know… gettin’ home. I like takin’ the high road. Scenic.”

Strings pointed at the bag.

“Hm? Oh, this? It’s nothing.” The man looked over the side of the tower, down below. Strings followed his view, and saw two people down there, looking for something or someone. He turned back to Strings, and smiled. “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

“You stole something,” Strings said.

The man shrugged. “They deserved it.”

They stared at each other for awhile. The people below moved on.

“What do they call you?” the man finally said.

Strings pointed to the patch on her uniform with her name on it.

“No, I mean, what do they call you?” he said, grinning. “Names are boring.”

Strings thought for a moment, and finally said, “Strings.”

“Tell you what, Strings, you let me go tonight, and I’ll come turn myself in next time you’re on duty, hm? When’s that?”

“Tomorrow night.”

“Then I’ll come back tomorrow night, and you can take me to prison. Okay?”

“Why?” Strings asked.

“Because then I’d get to see you again,” the man said, grinning. Strings was taken aback, but more so as he leaned in and stole a kiss. “They call me Hellhound,” he said. “I will see you tomorrow.” And with that, he vaulted out of the watchtower. Strings watched him roll on a nearby roof, and run off. She sat down, at a loss.

She was even more at a loss when he actually came back the next day.

Strings was attempting to scrub the blood out of her dress. The cut from the man with the hat was not particularly bad, but she did not have a lot of clothes to spare. The cut in the fabric she could mend easily. The stain was the real issue. She couldn’t let the children see her with blood on her.

White stood by a small cooking fire, preparing tea, while Black sat on the trunk, trying to keep a lookout. Black was fidgeting with greater intensity than he normally did, and White was doing her best to ignore him. Black sniffed the air over and over again, feeling at any moment, he might catch the scent of those who had approached them in the center of town, but there was nothing. They had ran out of town as fast as they could, and the sun was now slowly setting, but Black doubted it was far enough.

“Strings?” White called. “I have everything ready, if you want to pour…” White could try to pour from the kettle set on the fire, but being that close to fire and working an object that heavy didn’t make her odds for success seem high.

Strings looked the dress over once more. She’d gotten out as much as she could, though it was still apparent something happened. Well, at least most of it would be covered by her apron. She set the dress down on a rock to dry, and walked back over to the fire.

“You really should redress,” White said as Strings poured the tea. “It’s only proper.”

Strings, in her underthings, shrugged.

“Well, let’s just hope nobody comes by, then…” White said, looking down into her little teacup and taking a pantomime sip to soothe her nerves.

The three of them sat for a while as Strings drank the tea and ate some bread and jerky. White finally broke the silence. “It was a tactical error to come back here.”

“Everythin’ would have been fine if I’d been handlin’ it…” Black said, still looking into the distance.

“It would be better if there was nothing to handle at all,” White said. “That’s just good strategy.”

“Not how I do things,” Black said.

“Well, yes, obviously. You’re nothing but trouble,” White responded, taking another sip.

“It still exists,” Strings said.

Black and White turned towards her. “Of course,” Black said. “It was hidden well.”

“It’s still making trouble for people,” said Strings.

Black stuck his paws in his pockets, turning his gaze to the ground. “It’s yours, you know. We could just get to gettin’ it, and solve the whole problem.”

“You do understand we were attacked today over that box?” White said. “It would be dangerous.”

“I’ll handle it,” Black said.

“You’ll set the whole town on fire,” White scoffed.

“Well, that’ll handle it!” Black said, frustrated. “What’s it matter to you?”

“It’s important to keep a low profile,” White said.

“We should get it,” Strings said.

Black turned to her. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s about time.”

White sighed. “Well, I suppose I can’t deny we could use the coin…” She took another sip from her teacup. “I’ll think on it.”

“You don’t know how to be gettin’ around here,” Black said, hopping down from the top of the trunk. “I’ll think on it.”

“You couldn’t plan something if your life depended on it, dog. No, I’ll Owwwwww…” White rubbed her head from Black’s bop.

“I’ll handle it!” Black spat, angry.

Strings reached over and picked up Black, setting him on her lap and looking into his painted eyes. “It’ll be okay,” she said.

“I… yeah…” Black said, at a loss.

“We’ll go tonight,” Strings said.

“That doesn’t give us time for reconnaissance or planning,” White pointed out.

“If they’re harassing me, they’re probably harassing other people,” Strings said.

“Yeah, maybe…” said Black.

“Well, if you’re sure…” White said.

Strings nodded.

The orphanage was a depressing sight. Strings used to visit regularly, in her past life, and slowly work on her puppeteering skills as she entertained the kids. Back then the walls were painted, and things seemed to be in alright shape. By the light of the moon, though, it did not seem that way anymore. Strings knew it was still in use, though, as a group of children had come from the building for her performance earlier in the day. Then she hadn’t paid much attention. Now, though, she saw the holes in the walls and cracks in the paint.

Strings walked to the back door as quietly as she could and set her trunk down, letting Black and White out. She then tried the door. It was locked.

“This is why we plan,” White whispered, annoyed.

“This is nothin’,” said Black.

“What, are you going to burn the door down?” White said.

“Sure.”

“No! You’ll set the building on fire! There are children in there!”

As White and Black continued to bicker, Strings looked closer at the door. There was a small gap at the top, where the frame was too big for the door itself. She grabbed the handle and door as best she could, pushed with her knee to angle the door slightly, and with a soft grunt, lifted the whole thing. It slid right out of the cheap hinges, and she set the door down against the wall.

“So we’ll clearly have to…” White was saying as she turned back towards the door. “Oh. Well, good work.”

Strings set her trunk inside, out of view, and the three of them entered the orphanage. They were in the kitchen, with nothing to greet them but silence.

Strings and White looked to Black, who shook his head. He couldn’t hear anyone moving. They creeped along, checking doors as quietly as they could, until they found the one that lead to the cellar. Black hurried down the stairs as fast as he could, though each one of the fairly tall stairs was a difficult descent for one of his size. White shook her head, and Strings picked her up and put her on her shoulder as she started down the staircase after him.

Only a thin sliver of light from the door illuminated the cellar. There was some food stored, as you’d expect, but this also seemed to be a graveyard for broken furniture, perhaps at one point planned to be fixed, but now covered in dust. Black reached the bottom and looked around, sniffing at the air.

Strings and White were not going to be nearly as able to maneuver in the dark as Black, so Strings held at the bottom of the stairs until there was a plan. “Well?” White said from Strings’ shoulders.

“I’ll find it,” Black said.

“Maybe it’s already been taken,” White suggested.

“I’ll find it!” Black repeated, moving quicker.

Strings and White waited and listened while Black shuffled and looked through the cellar. Finally, they heard him call out, “Here it is.” Strings carefully and slowly maneuvered towards the sound of his voice, mostly I told you so’s towards White, who was pretending that she couldn’t care less.

“It’s that one,” Black said, tapping a stone that was part of the wall of the cellar with his paw. Strings got down and gave it a tug, and it slid free. If there was light, the hole created would be fairly unremarkable. It went a little ways and then ended in dirt. But Strings reached in anyway, and then bent her hand up, into a little tunnel you’d be unlikely to visually spot. She felt metal.

“I have somethin’ to tell you,” he said. They were in Strings’ room, in Strings’ bed, a year after they’d met. He often snuck in on random nights. Strings didn’t mind, nor what tended to happen after he made an appearance.

But having something to tell her was completely new.

Strings sat up, and turned to him.“Somethin’ might happen to me,” he said. Strings frowned, and he laughed. “I know, it sounds impossible! But it might. And…” He looked away, out the window. “And, well, you’re important. To me.”

“I feel the same,” Strings said.

He turned around and grinned. “Then you’ll understand why I took some… precautions. For you.”

“You don’t have to do anything for me,” Strings said, still frowning.

“I know. But listen. I have hidden somethin’ for you. In case somethin’ happens.”

“Nothing will happen.”

“But if it does, and you have an emergency…”

“I can take care of myself.”

He let out a breath, and ran his hand through his hair. The flames of his tattoo stood out in the moonlight. “I know. But I’ve been… worried. This is so I can stop worryin’ and do my thing.” He reached over to the side of the bed, where his clothes were, and rummaged around until he found an envelope. He held it out to Strings. “So here. If you’re in trouble, you just follow what this says.”

“I don’t want your stolen money,” Strings said.

He grinned. “Just puttin’ it to better use than they would, you know that.”

“I don’t want your stole money,” Strings repeated.

“Then don’t read it. But if you need it… if I’m gone I can still help… so… at least take the directions, okay?” Strings kept looking on disapprovingly. “Strings, please…”

“You’re not usually this emotional,” Strings said.

“I try to keep it down. But it’s hard, when you’re lovin’ so much, you know?”

After a final moment of hesitation, Strings took the letter, and set it on the bedside table.

“Thank you,” he said, and smiled a big grin. “Thanks.”

“I won’t use it,” Strings said as he moved in and kissed at her neck.

“I know.”

“You should return it,” Strings said, trying to keep her breath as the kisses moved lower.

“I know,” he said.

And the rest could not be said in words.

Strings, Black, and White looked in the small metal box Strings had pulled from the hole. It was full of rings. Even in the near dark of the cellar, they seemed to sparkle. Strings took and let out a deep breath, and closed the box.

Black turned suddenly as he heard a creak on the stairs to the cellar. “Someone’s comin’,” he whispered.

Strings looked to him and nodded. Black quietly moved into the darkness of the room. Strings then squinted into the darkness. There were two figures on the stairs. One had a hat.

“We know you’re down here, Miss Puppeteer!” called a voice that sounded like the man with the rings. His voice sounded a little strained. Perhaps it was his broken nose. “Hand over what you found, and we’ll let you go.”

“We got more people outside,” said the man with the hat. “So don’t try anything.”

“Surely that’s a bluff…” White considered. “I can’t see men like them gathering an army, especially when it’d mean a smaller cut.” Strings set White down on the ground. “Be careful,” White whispered, and snuck into the dark herself.

“Get the damn candle, I can’t see anything,” the man with the hat complained. The man with the rings grumbled, but headed back up the stairs.

As soon as his shape was out of sight, Strings stood up. She put the box into her apron, and pulled out her knife. She then smacked the knife handle onto a piece of a nearby broken bed to make a noise.

“I heard you!” The man with the hat called. “Come out!”

“No,” Strings said.

The man with the hat grumbled, and started trying to slowly move through the cluttered cellar. Strings just watched as he made his excruciatingly slow approach, cursing under his breath all the while.

The man with the rings appeared at the top of the stairs, holding a lit candle. His face, and his disfigured nose, was illuminated in the light. “Where are you going?” he called.

“She’s back there!” said the man with the hat.

The man with the rings grumbled, and started down the stairs.

“Lthxnmgn!” White shouted, and exhaled. A cloud of bubbles burst forth from near the stairs, and up at the man with the rings. The bubbles popped in his face, and the man with the rings screamed, clawing as his face as it burned and stung. As he thrashed about, he lost his footing, and tumbled down the stairs with several strong thumps, ending up a crumpled pile on the floor, candle nearby.

The man with the hat spun around, shocked. “What happened!”

Strings started to approach, pushing a chair out of the way. The man with the hat spun back around again. “I’m ready this time,” he growled.

“No,” Strings said.

They stood there for a while, close, watching and waiting to act. The man with the hat felt shy about moving first, remembering how much he paid for it earlier that day. Strings was in no hurry, because she knew what was coming.

Just as the man with the hat decided he couldn’t stare her down any longer, and had to act, there was a shout behind him. “Hthhlgmn!” Black shouted, and the man with the hat cried out as a now large, dark figure, as big as a person, with eyes on fire, pounced on him, and slammed him into the ground by way of some stray pieces of table. The wooden dog growled, the fire in his eyes accentuating his horns and spiked teeth. The man with the hat kept yelling, terrified, trying to get away, but Black held him down with pointed claws.

“He’s going to wake up the children!” White complained from the other side of the room.

“I’ll handle it!” Black growled, and took a big breath.

“No!” White and Strings both called out. But it was too late. The room was alight with a breath of flame that engulfed the man in the hat. A distinct smell filled the room. But that was not the worst part.

The pieces of table had caught fire. As well as the chair behind it. And pretty soon, a pile of blankets would be caught alight as well.

“You… you frustrating mutt!” White shouted as she saw the cellar start, slowly, to catch on fire.

Black leaped over some pieces of furniture and landed beside the little wooden rabbit, still growling. When he spoke, little flashes of flame came out of his mouth. “I shut him up! I did what you said!”

“The whole orphanage is going to burn now!” White cried. “Why can’t you… you… mmmph!”

As they yelled, Strings was trying to edge her way around things back to the stairs. She kept having to edge closer to the building fire. Smoke filled more and more of the air, and she started coughing hard.

The sound snapped the puppets out of their argument. “Strings!” they both yelled. White fidgeted, unsure what to do, but Black started throwing his body into furniture, slowly trying to make a little path.

“Could you carry her like that?” White asked, scared.

“Maybe?” Black growled, trying to get a cupboard with broken doors out of the way. “Get climbin’, don’t catch on fire too!”

White started trying to scale the, she now realized, wooden stairs, as Strings finally stumbled to the small clearing near the door, coughing harder still. She was on all fours, trying to get some air into her lungs.

“Climb on my back, I’ll drag you up the stairs!” Black growled in desperation.

Strings weakly wrapped her arms around Black’s neck, and he hurried up the stairs as fast as he dared, not wanting to drag Strings too harshly on the steep stairs. White was at the top, whispering, uselessly, for Black to hurry.

Strings fell to the floor coughing gasping for breath. Black and White looked over her nervously. “Maybe I should…” White started.

Strings shook her head, pushing herself slowly to her feet. “The children…”

White put a paw to her painted mouth, gasping as she remembered. “The children!”

“Should I stay like this? I can get to carryin’ them too,” Black growled.

“You’ll scare them to death!” White said.

“Better scared than dead!” Black bellowed.

“He’ll carry some,” Strings said, putting an end to that. She picked up White and put the puppet on her shoulder. White wrapped her arms around Strings’ neck as she raced from the door to the cellar to see who she could find. The stairs were already ablaze. There wasn’t much time.

Mister Mord was a hard worker. Most thought him an annoyance and a beggar, but he did not mind. He always did what needed to be done for the children. Money was tight, as it always had been, but he did what he needed to to get more to keep the children fed, healthy and, hopefully, happy. He was not as good at that last part. There was only one of him, and, at the moment, ten children under his care. There was only so much attention one could give while also trying to make sure there was food on the table. But Mister Mord tried. He tried all day, every day, and then slept hard, a well earned, if too short rest.

He was not prepared to be woken by a large woman, terrifying in the darkness, kicking his door open. He jumped, full of fear, as he looked to the shadowy figure. “W-we have nothing! This is an orphanage!” he called.

“The building is on fire! We need to get the kids out now!” came a voice that seemed much too light for the large figure before him.

“On fire?!” Mister Mord said, and looked up, noticing the smoke building near the ceiling. “On fire!” He threw the covers off and, just in his underthings, raced towards the door, forcing his way around Strings. He didn’t even notice Black, who was trying to keep a low profile by pointing his head at the wall so the fire in his eyes wouldn’t draw attention. Black and Strings exchanged glances, and they followed the terrified old man.

Mister Mord threw open the door to a room filled with beds. “Children,” he yelled. “We have to get out of here! Fire! Lim, grab Thoron, and… oh my… and then…”

Strings pushed past him as he was flustered, picking up under each arm a smaller child, who was crying in shock at being woken up so quickly so late at night, and putting them on Black’s back.

“What are you… ah… ahhh…” Mister Mord said as he spotted Black’s painted visage.

“Go,” she said, and Black turned and moved as fast as he could.

“He’s with us,” White said. “Let’s get moving, there’s no time!”

“I… a-alright…” Mister Mord said. He and Strings both grabbed children by the hand, and in almost a chain, hurried outside. The smoke was thick, and everyone was coughing as they got out the door.

Strings watched as Black rushed back in past them. The inside of the orphanage was glowing. It was a goner.

“What are you doing!” White exclaimed as the dog disappeared into the flames and smoke. Strings put a comforting hand around her.

“Everybody okay? Everybody?” Mister Mord said, frantically taking count of the children. It seemed like everyone was out.

Strings turned as Black came out one last time, pushing Strings’ huge trunk with all his strength. Strings rushed over to move it herself, and Black shrunk, turning back to his normal puppet self. Strings looked him over. He seemed unhurt, though his shorts were singed and stained from smoke, and would have to be replaced.

“Couldn’t be forgettin’ that…” he said.

“You could have burnt up! You’re made of wood!” White said.

“Aww, you worryin’ about me?” Black said.

White looked away, frustrated. “Fine, get burnt up and make Strings sad, see if I care. Filthy mutt.”

Strings picked Black up and put him on her other shoulder. “You should be careful,” she said.

Black fidgeted for a moment, and then finally said, “I’m sorry.”

Mister Mord approached them, looking nervous as ever. “I thought I recognized you… you were the puppeteer from earlier today…”

Strings nodded.

“I… don’t know why you were here, and… and I saw some… strange things… demons… but… we’re safe… and… thank you,” he got out.

Strings nodded again.

“Were the demons real…?” he asked.

“Demons are in everyday things,” Strings said.

Mister Mord ran his hand over his bald head. “I suppose so…” He turned, watching his orphanage burn. Children were crying, or sad. A crowd was building, some with water, but it was much too late to do anything but keep the fire from spreading to other buildings. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now… without the building, I don’t know how I can take care of them… and I certainly can’t afford another…”

Strings put her hand on his shoulder. “You’ve always done well here.”

“I’ve tried…” was all he said.

Strings reached into her apron, and pulled out the small box, offering it to Mister Mord.

“You’ve… thank you, but you’ve done enough… we’re here…” he said.

Strings didn’t put the box away. Mister Mord sighed, and took it. “Thank you. Maybe… maybe it’s not hopeless.”

Strings nodded, and headed to her trunk. She put Black and White back inside, lifted it onto her back, and walked off. Mister Mord opened the little box, and nearly fainted when he saw all that glittered and shone in the light of the moon and the heat of the fire.

Strings feet made rhythmic time against the road. She felt lucky the moon was full. She could get some distance from the city. She was exhausted from everything, an exhaustion that ate into the very core of her, but she had to walk. She could not explain what happened to anyone who would ask, and so she could not be there.

“Do you think handing the box over was wise?” White said from the trunk, thinking. “Others could still come after it.”

“Our burnt friends will be sendin’ a clear message about that,” Black said. “And it’s not like he’ll hold onto them.”

“Perhaps… to be honest, we could have easily kept a ring or two. Now, since we missed a show, we’re pretty short on coin…” White said.

“Strings can be doin’ what she wants,” Black said.

“She can. You can’t. You ruin everything, you know that right?”

“Maybe…” Black said softly.

“No,” Strings said, making out their muffled voices from the trunk.

And that was the end of that.

Thank you very much for reading my story! If you liked it, please share it with your friends and stuff. That would mean a lot to me. There’s plenty more stories and things coming, so I hope to entertain you again soon!

Published inShort Stories