Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 128,455,649 Issue: 262 | 20th day of Collecting, Y8
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Dark Fate: Part One

by yatomiyuka


Sunlight, soft and golden, brightened my window early this morning. A thin beam fell across my face, making me squint. Blearily, I stumbled out of bed and let my paws hit the hard wood floor.

     I hadn't slept at all; my sleep was filled with nightmarish visions and guilt consumed my every waking moment. Who was I, to become so entwined in foolish ideas that I would abandon my family? Why had I done this? When it got right down to it... I didn't know. I think I was searching for something, a thing that could be found only through travel and experience.

     I wanted excitement; I needed a change, something different and new to inspire me. I wasn't going to find it in my hometown, in the house I'd shared since the day I was born, nor in the familiar surroundings of the forest, with the same old faces bearing down on me, day after day. It was a selfish thing, this feeling, but it wasn't something I could help.

     And so, three days ago, I had a choice to make.

     I chose the evening meal to make my announcement. Celia, the eldest of our little trio, had spent most of the day preparing steak and asparagus stew with carrot vinegar sauce. As such, our small kitchen was humid despite the snow gathering outside, and the air was full of delicious, homely smells.

     "Cara," I said carefully, looking sideways at my youngest sister. Her long, pink Aisha ears were tied loosely in a bow. "Do you think Celia could take care of this place on her own now?"

     "Why do you say that?" she quizzed, eyes suddenly narrow and suspicious. I shrugged.

     "No reason. I just think she's grown up a lot since... well, you know." At that moment, Celia strode over carrying three plates of stew.

     "Dinner's ready!" she chimed, placing a plate before each of us with infinite care and grace. We were all too hungry to talk again until the meal was finished. I knew I couldn't keep putting it off. It was today or never and never was not an option; I had made my decision, and would stick to it.

     "That was delicious," Cara said. "One of your best ever, Celia."

     "Yeah, it was great. Thanks." A lull of silence fell over the room momentarily. "Actually, I have something to say to the two of you."

     "Is it important?" Celia asked, her exhaustion showing in her voice. "I need to get these dishes done."

     "Kind of, yeah. You see, the thing is... I'm planning to leave the village for a bit. There's a lot out there that I still want to see, and to be honest... I feel trapped." By the time I finished, both of my sisters were staring at me--Cara in horror, Celia in a mixture of pain and understanding. The fading light cast her long, pearly white Wocky fur into shades of grey.

     "Why are you doing this? Why are you leaving us, Fyr?" There was no accusation in her tone, only hurt. Her crystalline blue eyes were glazed, inscrutable. She sighed softly.

     "I'm sorry," I said. "I've been thinking about this for a long time now. I really don't want to leave you here alone, but there's so much to do that can't be done from here. I won't be gone forever; you know that, don't you?"

     "Well... yes, of course I do." She smiled weakly. "I'm going to miss you, but it's for the best. You have to follow your heart, Fyr - seize the moment. You might only get one chance; plenty more don't even get that." I recognized truth in her words, and my resolve stiffened.

     "But... but," Cara broke in, tears forming in her eyes, "I thought you'd be here forever! Just the three of us, working together to survive. I thought you liked it here. I thought you liked us." Despite the light of the candles hanging from the ceiling, the kitchen seemed darker and more threatening than ever before.

          "I do," I said, struggling to explain in a way she would understand. "I love it here; really... it's just that... well..." I trailed off. "You'll understand one day." Tears tracked through her fur, leaving salty stains. Head bowed, she turned and ran upstairs. "I'm so sorry, Cara."


     The following day, I packed my most precious belongings into a small bag. My paws lingered longest on the small piece of amethyst, sent to me for my last birthday by the mother I had never seen or spoken to. As I gazed into the amethyst at the milky, incomplete reflection of a shadow Lupe, I wondered what it could possibly mean.

     What part is mine to play?

     That was another thing this journey might achieve-I might be able to dispel some of the mystery that clung to our lives like deadly mist, shielding us from the truth. Even if that truth was worse than ignorance, I wanted to know; for until I did I was trapped with the fear of the unknown, and what it might mean for my family.

     Finally, everything was packed, and the amethyst hung around my neck, suspended on a piece of thin black string. As a precaution, I placed a purse full of Neopoints in my back pocket. When I turned to face the door, I found my two sisters waiting to see me off. Tears rolled freely down my cheeks despite my vain attempts to hold them in.

     "My ferry leaves in a couple of hours," I said. "Take care of yourselves while I'm gone, okay?"

     "You don't have to worry about us, Fyreth. We're going to be just fine!"

     "I'm glad to hear it, Cara. Never lose that optimism, and things will turn out okay. Belief is a powerful thing," I said, offering a small, sad smile. I didn't know how right I was.

     Time was ticking; the ferry on which I had a place would be leaving before noon. Luckily the dock was only an hour away on foot. I was almost afraid to leave; this was my childhood home, a place of safety and sanctuary for me since the beginning of my memory. It was also my prison.

     "I'll be back as soon as I can," I promised. "You just wait. I'll bring something special back for both of you."

     "Good-bye, Fyreth, and good luck." Shouldering my backpack, I turned to the door. As I stepped out, the breeze flung it shut behind me with a creak and a crash. A sea of white covered everything, masking the world and making it beautiful at the same time. A flurry of flakes melted on my grey-black fur, leaving icy dew-drops behind.

     It turned out to be less than an hour's trek through the forest, but by the time I reached my destination my paws were numb with cold. A serene mist hung over the sea, obscuring the horizon and turning the newly-risen sun milky-gold.

     The dock was overflowing with pets of every colour and species, pets from every walk of life, and they all shared a common purpose--to board the boat that would take them to the much larger dock at Neopia Central. A friendly buzz of conversation drifted through the waiting crowd.

     At the far end of the wooden pier sat a proud ship--big enough to ferry five hundred, at least--the SS Golden Eyrie. True to the name, the figurehead was a gold-painted Eyrie, wings spread as if preparing for flight. Its twin, the Silver Eyrie, had set off for Mystery Island the previous day.

      The gathered pets fell silent as the plank was lowered. Those who already had their tickets were ushered on board first; the rest of us had to line up. I knew some would face disappointment. I was determined not to be one of them.

     "Tickets! Buy yer tickets here!" I ducked through the throngs of people in the direction of the voice. The ticket vendor was a stately-looking white Krawk in a red-and-gold embroidered suit. I pushed my way to the front, producing a meagre handful of Neopoints as I did so. The fierce gaze of the vendor fell upon me momentarily, burning into me, searching, questioning. Finally he looked away, and I dared to speak.

     "How much is a third class ticket?" I recounted my Neopoints nervously.

     "Two hundred and fifty Neopoints per traveller," the Krawk stated. It was everything I had. With a soft sigh, I surrendered the coins and was given a small piece of printed paper in return. "Thank you for travelling on the Golden Eyrie!"

     Ticket in hand, I left the vendor behind and sought to board the ship before it got too full. The sun grew ever stronger in the sky as I made my way back across to the pier.

     "Ticket, please?" A blue Yurble, wearing a fake smile and the same uniform as the ticket vendor, held one hand forward for the ticket. I handed it over without returning his grin. My breath still rose in a pillar of mist, and the last remnants of melting slush clung to the edge of the wood. The bustling crowd, the familiar faces, the snow-covered trees-all that was behind me. Confidence surged through me as I stepped past the plank and onto the deck of the ship.

     "Welcome aboard, son." I whipped around, ears pricked, to the sight of an elderly white Lupe in a blue-and-gold uniform and tri-point cap of similar colours. "Is this your first trip on the S.S. Golden Eyrie?"

     I was struck by the way his fur seemed to move in the wind, though the air was still; by the glazed intensity of his gaze as his eyes met my own; and most of all, by his voice. He spoke in a low, rasping whisper, and his words dragged as though speaking pained him in some way.

          "It is," I said quietly, eyes sinking to the floor. He had a certain air of power and nobility; it was easy to see how he had earned the title of captain. "I must say, this is a magnificent ship."

     "Isn't it?" His gaze drifted away from me and towards the distant horizon. I felt my nerves calm fractionally. When he did not speak again, my mind returned to finding my quarters and acquainting myself with the vessel on which I would spend most of the week, including Halloween night.

     As I turned to leave, a familiar rasping froze me in place.

     "Fyreth," the Lupe said quietly, "be careful. I have reason to believe we will run into trouble on this trip." Wait. Wait just one second. How does he know my name...?

     Throwing caution to the wind, I looked him squarely in the eye and said, "Who are you, and how is it that you know my name?" For the first time, his face appeared sunken and sullen, as if a great sorrow weighed upon him.

     "I can tell you no more. It's not the time, and unfriendly ears gather around us." A quick glance around the deck revealed that no one else was near enough to hear us talking.

     "What are you talking about? There's no one else here."

     "Don't be so sure about that," the old captain rasped. I could have sworn I heard laughter in his voice, but I did not dare contest it. Suddenly all the superstitions I had discounted as idiocy over the years came flooding back with new and inexplicable credibility.

     "I'm going to explore the ship now." He remained silent and made no move to stop me, so I broke into a run and didn't look back until I was halfway down the stairs. Thankfully, I had not been followed.

     Below deck, the Golden Eyrie was a hive of activity-musicians and bards lined the hallways, and everyone seemed relaxed and cheerful. Flames ensconced in brackets on the walls cast a dusky ambience over everything. A carved sign on the wall said,




     I passed the lavish first-class cabins and the reasonably well-decorated second-class hallway without looking too closely. A narrow passageway led to a dark, slippery staircase carpeted only with dust and slime. I kept one black paw on the banister during my descent to guard against a fall. It surprised me how hard it was keeping my feet moving in the right way now that the ship was in motion.

      Again, once I reached the bottom, I found myself alone.

     Third-class turned out to be a series of sparsely blanketed wooden bunk beds lined up against each wall. The damp, encroaching smell of mildew permeated the air. This is what I get for 250 Neopoints? I've been saving up for months! With a sigh I collapsed on one of the beds and tried to forget my frustration. If what that Lupe said has any basis in reality, I'm going to need all of my strength and wits...


     I spent three hours on the bed, stretched out fully, and allowed my mind to wander. It was a meditation technique my sister taught me when we were both much younger. The gentle roar of surf carried me away into a waking dream, an alternate reality. Gradually, I became aware of a soft singing - a voice of silken beauty that rose and fell in time with the waves. As it grew stronger in my mind's ear, a terror grew within me; the terrible certainty that the ship was sinking. Everyone on board would drown. I tried to breathe, tried to swim, but the current was too strong. The waves were no longer allies; they had become the monsters that haunt nightmares, with row after row of sharp teeth and a cruel, inhuman, suffocating strength.


     Breathing hard, fur on end as if charged with static, I pulled myself from the waking nightmare and collapsed in a panicky heap beside the bed. It was quiet; almost too quiet. During my rest someone had been in and placed a candle on the shelf beside my bed. Night had fallen. I was still the only pet in the room--obviously, no one else was travelling third class.

     At least the waves had settled again, for the time being. At least the monsters had returned to their shadows. That was something to be grateful for. Instinctively, I felt around my neck for the amethyst. It was gone, string and all. I felt the panic rise again in the form of a nasty voice in the back of my head. What if that dream came to you for a reason? What if you were meant to prevent a disaster? What if you're too scared to say anything?

     But I won't be. Cautious as ever, I took the candle from the shelf and held it before me to light the way. In this fashion, I made my way up the two flights of stairs and onto the deck of the ship. I saw a few pets gazing at the full moon; they were all alone, never in pairs or groups. They were the loners, the individuals. The dim light of the moon made every shadow seem more malevolent. Immediately I cast my eyes around for any sign of the captain, but (to my great relief) I was the only Lupe on deck.

     "Excuse me?" I called to a blue Shoyru in a long black cloak. "Have you seen anyone wearing a piece of amethyst on a string?"

     He did not respond. I drew closer; his eyes were wide and blank, the eyes of one caught in the depths of a waking dream, and they were fixed on the horizon. I followed his gaze. Nothing but the stars and the ocean. Nervously, I moved from one pet to the next. They were all dreaming. Even more disconcerting, it seemed they had lost the ability to respond to anything I did. I yelled, waved a paw in front of their faces, even shook them by the shoulders--it was as if they had been paralyzed.

     "What's going on?" I wondered aloud. I was ready to run back down the stairs--maybe to hide, maybe to find help--but something stopped me. Something in the form of an insidious creaking; the sound of laboured breathing and the steady step of padded paws on wood.

     "That's a fair question," came the rasping voice. "I know the answer. The question is, do you want to know?"

     Heart sinking, I turned myself to face the captain. His shock-white fur stood out like a beacon against the dark surroundings. I considered his question for only a moment before answering.


     "Ah, but how do I know I can trust you?" he said, eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Speaking of which, one of my staff found this in the third-class bedroom..." he reached into one of his many pockets and withdrew a darkly glittering amethyst suspended on a string.

     "That's mine!" I leapt up and tried to snatch the amulet, but he was too fast; before I knew what was happening, I was on the floor, and the amethyst had been spirited back into the pocket. Now the Lupe was laughing-a low, booming laugh that seemed to make the deck tremble.

     "Nice try. Now, I want you to make me a promise." I felt so helpless. The fiend had me cornered--he must have known what the amulet meant to me when he had it stolen. How could I have been careless enough to let this happen? What would he ask me to do?

     "If I share this knowledge with you, it must remain a secret between us. If you tell anyone else, anyone at all, the amulet--and your soul with it--will shatter, leaving you an empty shell at the mercy of wandering spirits." He grinned wickedly. "Secondly, you must agree that under no circumstances will you oppose anything I do, lest you and everyone on board be cast into the ocean forever more." His face was twisted and somehow feral; his hissing voice more terrible than ever. "In return, I will answer every question you care to ask and return your precious amulet. Do we have a deal?"

     I took a deep, steadying breath. It seemed like a bad idea to disagree with this Lupe, whoever-whatever-he might be; it seemed like a worse idea to trust him. I pulled myself to my feet and backed towards the railing. The amethyst was the one thing I had that linked me to my mother, to the past I knew nothing about. If I gave it up, there would be nothing left but to return home, lost and without purpose. I could not let my most treasured possession fall into the hands of this monster. So, against my better judgement, I said:

     "I accept your terms." I held out a paw to receive the amulet.

     "You may feel a slight shock," the captain snarled. "Don't be alarmed - it's only the amulet forming a connection with your soul, so that should you ever break the promise..." He trailed off. I knew what he meant, and he knew that I knew. In one quick movement, he lifted the stone from his pocket and dropped it into my outstretched paw. A momentary coolness shot through me. It felt like a part of me was being stripped away, even as I placed the stone around my neck and fought to control the shaking that had taken hold.

     "Now," I said, determined to make the most of what control I had. "What have you done to them?" I gestured with my paw to each of the other pets, all of whom had remained eerily still.

     "I made certain that they would not be in the way." I looked at him quizzically.

     "In the way of what?"

     "The transformation." He was no longer grinning.

     "If this is true," I said carefully, "Then why was I not treated in the same way?"

     "You are one of us. Our blood runs in your veins. It would have been wrong to deny it." His eyes glimmered with anticipation. "We are the Werelupes."

To be continued...

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