The Fallen: Tricked, Treated, and Abandoned
Javiod’s gaze flicked around restlessly, moving to each individual glow he could detect through the window in his room in Countess Mezzanotte’s castle. Each light he detected smiled back at him.
Maniacal grins laughed through the darkness at him, buckteeth smiled goofily in the gloom, and mouths opened wide in a perfect “O” marvelled with unseeing eyes. Each face was orange with a haunting yellow glow, making faces that were frozen with their chosen expressions.
Jack-o-lanterns. Javiod frowned. Such a strange creation, and yet such an expected vision as the weeks dropped away into the Fall months, nearing the very haunting holiday that all the denizens of the Haunted Woods loved and cherished. Almost like a mother loves her child, the denizens idolized the holiday like it was fast going out of style.
Javiod didn’t feel particularly festive, nor was he feeling inclined to join in the preparations. He had no interest in costumes and treats and the odd tricks. Though he was entertained, at least a little, with the tricks. He’d heard the plans for many of them whispered around the castle, and that, at least, had kept him intrigued long enough to forget other woes, to forget that he felt strangely out of place in this castle full of Halloween Gelerts, the nightwalkers. Typically the bane of every Werelupe’s existence. His brethren, though they lived outside the castle, had seemed to mirror his anxiety about being around the Gelerts. They hardly ever visited him, and mostly waited for him to come outside to them if they needed to speak to him.
The thought made him sigh. He couldn’t get past the feeling that he was alienating himself from his pack the longer he lived inside the castle. He didn’t expect them to understand. How could they? They’d never known much more than their Werelupe existences. He, on the other hand, knew well what civilization was like and all the comforts it offered. He’d missed having an actual room, an actual bed, and actually being able to bathe.
Javiod glanced down at his clean, yet still painfully shaggy brown fur. It was better than nothing.
Javiod turned his back to the window to find Rhoswen at his door. He caught a brief glance of orange and black streamers strung about across the ceiling through the open door before Rhoswen quietly shut it behind him.
“What is it, Rhoswen?” Javiod questioned his most trusted friend.
It was surprising to find said Lupe standing in his room. Rhoswen openly opposed the castle filled with Gelerts. Even now there was tension in his stance, as if he was braced to make a quick escape. The Lupe held his paws at his sides, repeatedly curling them into fists and then loosening them again. He was nervous. About what? Had something happened? Javiod prodded his friend with his gaze.
Rhoswen cleared his throat in response. “I wanted to speak to you in private, sire.”
Javiod waved his paw. “Stop addressing me with titles, Rhoswen. You know it’s not necessary while we’re alone. What do you want?”
Rhoswen fidgeted nervously underneath Javiod’s probing stare. There was something that was deeply gnawing at Rhoswen’s conscience, yet it was apparently something that he’d already guessed Javiod wouldn’t want to hear.
“Well, I—We,” he corrected quickly, “were just wondering how long we are going to stay in Mezzanotte’s,” Rhoswen winced, “ castle.”
Javiod nearly sighed. He’d only just been thinking about this exact topic. He should have guessed that the question was going to have to be addressed very soon. Werelupes and Gelerts simply didn’t mingle well for long. There was a deeply ingrained dislike that couldn’t be entirely ignored, almost an innate emotion given to them at birth.
Despite himself, it still annoyed Javiod that the Werelupes were so quick to dismiss hospitality. They could have lived in the castle too if they hadn’t been so hard-headed, and now they expected him to give up his little slice of reclaimed civilization just because they didn’t like crossing paths with the Gelerts on a day-to-day basis? It seemed rather selfish to Javiod. After all he’d done for them, why couldn’t they sacrifice a little of their happiness for his? Didn’t he deserve to have what he wanted? Apparently not. Apparently he was supposed to toss aside his own needs and wants for everyone else’s.
Javiod realized that he must have started scowling somewhere in the process of his thoughts, because, when he refocused on Rhoswen, the light brown Lupe looked even more timid than before. Javiod was having a hard time working up compassion at the moment, however. Couldn’t he be allowed to wallow in self-pity just once?
“And where do they expect us to go?” Javiod asked dryly.
The question, or maybe the tone, seemed to have caught Rhoswen off guard, because he simply stood staring for several quiet seconds before he shook his head roughly. He wet his long muzzle with a flick of his tongue, appeared to consider Javiod’s question for a few moments, and seemed to be fighting for a reasonable answer.
Finally, he gave in to defeat and shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Javiod inclined his head regally. “So I should just spit on Mezzanotte’s hospitality and tromp off into the woods with no plan? Shall we just go live in some holes then?”
Rhoswen recoiled as if Javiod had slapped him, though he’d barely raised his voice at all. It must have been the hostility in his tone that had caught the Lupe off guard. Javiod was never much more than mildly annoyed when he was at his worst. Now, however, he felt that he deserved the privilege of losing his temper for once.
Didn’t these Lupes understand? Didn’t they grasp how badly he’d wanted his old life back, and how he was clasping at straws, so to speak, for something even remotely close to what he’d once had? Mezzanotte had offered him the next best thing to his own kingdom: a partnership with hers. Certainly she was the reigning power, but he still had influence, a soft bed at night, and a warm bath. And the Werelupes wanted to throw that all away. For what? To sleep in a hollowed-out tree stump at night?
Javiod’s mouth formed a tight line.
“We don’t mean to disrespect Mezzanotte, it’s just that—.”
“Just that what?” Javiod interrupted sharply. “Just that I should dismiss all she’s done to help me so that the Lupe beasts can go run around the woods crazily again?”
Javiod knew his words were harsh, but he couldn’t take them back. Not right now at least. Not when he was convinced that he was on the side of reason.
Mezzanotte had helped him. She’d helped him take a little piece of revenge against his brother by sending her Zombie Neopians to terrorize his kingdom on a nightly basis, which had, Javiod had heard, made his brother look rather haggard just recently with his loss of sleep and comfort. It was a small thing, and hardly comparable to uprooting his entire life as his brother had done to him, but it was rewarding nonetheless.
And, not only that, but she’d given him power, comfort, and security. She’d given him a castle again and a small group to reign over. She’d allowed him to keep the Werelupes as his specifically and had even given him a little power over her own Neopians. She had been generous, and what did his brethren wish that he do? Spit in her face?
“No, sire, no. That’s not what we mean at all,” Rhoswen protested, and then he spread his arms, encompassing Javiod’s modestly sized room. “It’s just that we aren’t used to this as you are. We like the Woods. It’s home.”
“Your home is gone. Don’t you remember? My brother destroyed it.”
Rhoswen flinched as if Javiod had hit him, and the Werelupe king instantly regretted his words, but there was no way to take them back. He’d stepped over the line. Wasn’t he the one that was guilty for their loss? If he’d never appeared, the Werelupes would have still had their home.
Rhoswen blew out a ragged breath. “Maybe that’s where we can go, sire. Maybe it can still be saved. We miss it, sire, and we miss—.”
There was a dainty knock on the door that caused Rhoswen to stiffen and cut off mid-sentence, as if he already knew who was on the other side of the door. Rhoswen dropped his eyes to the floor as if admitting defeat.
“Come in,” Javiod called to the visitor.
The door swung open and Mezzanotte smiled at the two Lupes. Rhoswen immediately looked away, but Javiod smiled back, forced as it was.
“Javiod, there you are,” Mezzanotte greeted him, stepping into the room with her black cloak trailing the ground behind her.
“Our king,” Rhoswen sighed the last two words to his sentence, nodded his head to the Countess, and slipped past her out the door.
Javiod frowned after the Lupe momentarily before turning his attention back to Mezzanotte. She was smiling up at him brilliantly, having to incline her head to look him in the eye. Hers were deep red while his were bright green. She searched his gaze for a moment, as if taking stock of what had just occurred in the tension-filled room, and then shrugged and used a dainty, light blue paw to sweep her curling black locks behind her shoulder. The flower comb in her hair shifted and caught the light of a torch planted on the wall nearest her.
“You look like you could use some cheering up, my Werelupe king,” Mezzanotte smiled. “Why have you not joined in with the festivities?”
Javiod tried not to grimace. “I’m sorry, Countess, but I’m not really in the mood for holidays.”
Mezzanotte clucked her tongue. “That’s a shame. Halloween is an honored occasion here.” Javiod prepared himself for a lecture, but, instead, Mezzanotte shrugged like she was indifferent. “Very well then, but you do have to attend the ball.”
Javiod frowned. “What ball?”
“The ball on Halloween night,” Mezzanotte informed him. “Our most important citizens will be there, and they will expect to see you at my side. They need to be comforted, you know.”
Javiod nodded absently, trying not to think of it. They needed to be comforted by the fact that he remained here, which meant his Werelupes remained here, which meant that any crafty, wicked, or sly trickster could have his fun tormenting whichever soul he pleased on Hallows Eve without being reprimanded.
Javiod had been surprised to find that the Werelupes protecting Alston’s kingdom from Zombies a few months back had intimidated the rest of the undead crowd alike. Not only had he been protecting Alston’s kingdom from nightly terrors, but it appeared they’d also inadvertently protected some others.
But now, with his allegiance to Mezzanotte, no such guard was held, and the denizens were free to strike fear into the hearts of any Neopians that they pleased. It was Mezzanotte’s will that her citizens wreak havoc where ever they pleased, and Javiod wouldn’t protect the ones that had cast him out and burned his new home anymore. They could fend for themselves.
Javiod shoved away the guilt that tried to snake around his heart.
“Of course. I’ll be there.”
Mezzanotte’s eyes twinkled. “Come in costume? I’ll have one specially designed for you.”
Javiod grimaced. “That’s pushing it.”
Mezzanotte’s laughter sounded like tiny bells ringing. “We’ll see.”
Javiod stood against the wall, his large body pressed tightly against cold stone. He was trying to stay out of the way. He’d been trying to all night, but his bulking form was hard to miss, and it took up a great deal of space. He had gotten used to being an eye sore quickly enough upon his first transformation, but, tonight, the soreness of eyes was only amplified considering his attire.
He’d caved—When had he become so weak?—and he’d worn a costume to this pointless Halloween ball. What had made him give in? Maybe it was just the fact that few could resist Mezzanotte’s charm. Perhaps he wasn’t an exception. Javiod didn’t want to think further than that. It was bad enough to acknowledge it at all.
Javiod pulled uselessly at the collar of his jacket. She had dressed him in medieval attire from head to toe. He’d looked like a true Count then, and he was positive it was done so that he’d match Mezzanotte. She was clad in a red dress that ballooned out at the bottom and forced bystanders to give her a wide berth. It was a mirror image of a dress straight out of the dark ages—or maybe just Neovia—and she’d accented it with a wig of white hair all piled atop her head. Javiod didn’t know how she’d managed to hold her head up at all.
But she had. And she’d been on his arm most of the night, bobbing that head in greeting as she chattered away with guests, strengthening alliances—an important thing to have in a place as untrustworthy as the Haunted Woods—while she charmed the shoes off her guests. She used him as a tool, he’d guessed, seeing as how he said little, but she referred to him a lot.
Many of the guests had glanced at him only to quickly glance away again. As if they were frightened by the mere sight of him. It hadn’t taken long for Javiod to guess that Mezzanotte hadn’t accepted him into her castle all those days ago just for his own benefit.
She was using him to keep a firm hold on her power. But hadn’t he already suspected that?
Javiod had tried his best not to pay attention to any of the matters discussed. He’d kept his eyes trained on whoever was speaking, but his mind drifted elsewhere.
Was this the life he really wanted? Javiod had to wonder. He’d searched for Rhoswen’s familiar face in the crowd, and he only spotted it once, at the beginning of the whole affair.
The Lupe had been nearly submerged in the masses of the crowd, but Javiod had glimpsed his face clearly enough. Rhoswen had been looking from Javiod to Mezzanotte in a peculiar way, and then Javiod had seen Rhoswen’s gaze drop to his and Mezzanotte’s entwined arms, and the Werelupe had visibly winced.
After that, Rhoswen had sunk back into the crowd and disappeared from sight for the rest of the evening, leaving Javiod with a strange sense of humiliation.
He tried his best to ignore it. But it was still there. All through the night. Even as the hands of Mezzanotte’s impressively large grandfather clock came ever closer to midnight. A gathering excitement in the air became noticeable the later it became, and it also became quite distracting to most, deterring them from conversations of serious matters to subjects with a lighter undertone: prized stories from Halloween’s past.
When one Neopian—a Halloween Mynci caped in black—caught Mezzanotte’s attention fully enough for him to slip away, Javiod did so without hesitation. He simply loosened his arm from hers and melted back into the crowd. He hadn’t even been aware of where he was heading until he’d found himself at the door that led to Mezzanotte’s garden.
He paused only once as he got the sense that there was a collective holding of breath, but it quickly passed as a series of loud chimes rang out in Mezzanotte’s massive ballroom, and all that breath-holding was expelled in a burst of cheers as streamers and confetti shot into the air.
Midnight on Halloween.
Javiod pushed open the door and slipped outside into the darkness, which was considerably more quiet. The fresh air was like a gift as it cooled him, gently caressing him even through his thick fur. He breathed it in, and even enjoyed the way it mixed with the scent of Mezzanotte’s roses that grew tall and wild out here. He closed his eyes momentarily and allowed some of the tension to ease out of his back. It felt as if he’d been holding his breath this entire time.
What was he doing here? He wondered again. Was this what he was meant for? Months ago, he would have said yes. Months ago when he’d still been civilized, when he’d been a regular Lupe and not a monster. But now? Now he felt horribly out of place around the slender, unobtrusive forms of other well-known powers. He was the outcast now, the monster.
Javiod blew out a breath and opened his eyes, scanning the darkness. He wasn’t even entirely sure what he was looking for, but someone else was.
He didn’t even hear the door open, but suddenly Mezzanotte was beside him.
“They’re gone,” she answered his silent question. “They left at the beginning of the party.”
Javiod felt a rock form tightly in his throat. It was hard to swallow, hard to breathe. Hadn’t he already guessed this? Wasn’t that the reason why he’d come out here to begin with? To confirm that suspicion? He’d known it for hours now. He’d known his Werelupe brethren had gone the moment he’d seen Rhoswen’s painfully clear face across the ballroom.
Javiod said nothing, but this didn’t deter Mezzanotte.
“ Sometimes we must do what’s best for ourselves. Sometimes we must push forward alone.” She patted his shoulder absently, one of the few—if not the only—Gelerts to be careless about touching a Werelupe. “You’ll get used to it. You need no one else.” She chuckled. “Except, of course, me.”
Javiod didn’t have to guess what this blackness was that was creeping closer to him, circling around, threatening to cocoon him in darkness. Sadness weighed his limbs, grief made it hard to breathe. They’d left him. Those he’d trusted the most.
They’d left him with nothing.
Behind him, cheers still rang inside Mezzanotte’s castle, uttered by joyful souls, echoed over and over again as the celebration continued without him, as Neopia revolved without him. Javiod became oblivious to the slender form beside him.
Nothing mattered now. He had nothing at all. He was a Werelupe king without a pack.
He was cursed, fallen, and utterly alone.