The Fallen: Faint-Hearted - Part One
This story is a sequel to my previous series, "The Fallen." The main character has changed, and it's set several years into the future from the last installment, but you should probably read the rest of the series if you want to get the entire idea of what's going on.
The day that Lure Brighten was born would have been like any other day—normal, albeit tinged with the excitement of new life, but nothing spectacular—had young Lure’s father not been Rhoswen, best friend and most trusted advisor to Javiod, king of the Werelupes.
So, given his father’s connections, the day of Lure’s birth was a bit more of a celebrated occasion, marked by the presence of the king and nearly all the Werelupes of the pack located in the Haunted Woods. The cave in which his father lived with his mother—Svella Brighten—was a relatively large cave given Rhoswen’s position, but even it didn’t seem capable of housing as many Werelupes as those that made an appearance on that day.
Still, even such an honor could not quite instill as much joy in Rhoswen as did the moment when young Lure came into the world. Especially when Rhoswen found that his son was the image of perfection and more—he hadn’t been as fortunate himself in his youth.
In truth, Lure was possibly the most handsome Werelupe pup any had seen in many years. His fur was splattered with a variety of dots that connected willy-nilly over the otherwise white fur of his coat. Paired with his two, startling clear blue eyes, Lure made the picture of a beautiful Werelupe, and a bit of an oddity. Before him, there had never been the likes of a Spotted Lupe in the Haunted Woods.
But even if he’d been scarred and strange, Rhoswen would have loved him just the same. A son and heir was more than he could have asked for, and it was with a great deal of pride that the Werelupe—a mismatch of varying browns and tans on his own fur, all tinged with grey in his aging years—turned to hold his spotted son in Javiod’s view, hoping that the king would be as good as an uncle to Lure.
It was then, in this innocent moment of Rhoswen turning to face his oldest friend, that the most peculiar thing of all happened. In his father’s arms, the infant Lure gurgled childishly, lifting his paws in the air to wiggle them in Javiod’s massive direction. A ray of sunlight slanting through the trees overhead caught his fur in its light, and the white of Lure’s fur seemed to glow, illuminating each darker spot on his fur. For a moment, everyone present was slightly overcome by the marvel of such a sight. A few Werelupes smiled, others seemed a little dazed.
And then, as Javiod reached out a massive brown paw to wrap a finger around Lure’s outstretched paw, a strange sound was heard.
It was soft, and should have been unnoticeable, but it had occurred in a moment when everyone present seemed to be holding their breath, and it was as loud as if someone had screamed. It was the sound of metal rattling against metal, the hiss of something sliding away, and then the soft thud of that something hitting the ground. Something gold reflected briefly.
The collective breath held in the crowd seemed to be released all at the same time, as if a great gust of wind had suddenly rattled through the trees. Javiod’s paw froze just as it connected to one of Lure’s tiny fingers, his gaze dropping to the forest floor between them. Rhoswen’s gaze fell as well, and his arms shook convulsively, as if Lure had suddenly just grown very heavy.
The sound of Lure’s gurgling was the only thing to be heard now. No one seemed capable of asking the question that needed to be spoken now. Most knew the answer anyway, though it was buried deep beneath shock.
As if their age had only just caught up with the pair, Javiod and Rhoswen slowly lifted their gazes back to one another, both staring into the eyes of an old friend and remembering years previous when this had happened before.
Had it been so long ago?
“Can it be..? Already?” Rhoswen questioned uncertainly. “But... Lure?”
“Yes,” Javiod said at length. “It seems I’ve grown old without knowing.” A brief, saddened smile blinked across Javiod’s muzzle. “It must be Lure. It only happened when I touched him.”
Rhoswen’s mouth worked silently for a few moments. He glanced down at his son—innocent and oblivious to the wheels he’d just set in motion. His son? But Javiod... Javiod had three pups of his own. Why would it not be one of them?
Rhoswen looked back up at his friend, wondering suddenly if he would be bitter that it was not his own son that had been chosen, but there was nothing but kindness on Javiod’s weathered face. Massive, brown, and streaked with gray, Javiod was still as imposing as he’d once been when he’d first become king. Rhoswen’s gaze flickered almost restlessly to the crown on Javiod’s head—aged as well and made of twigs, leaves, and other foliage.
“But Ifram?” Rhoswen puzzled.
Javiod smiled at the name of his oldest son and shook his head. “No. It chose Lure.”
Javiod crouched abruptly, bending in one fluid motion to retrieve what had fallen before. When he straightened, he clutched his Lupe Moon Charm in his massive paw: the symbol of the king. A golden crescent moon hanging on a golden chain, it had weathered many kings, and it only released its iron grasp from around the neck of its current king when it had found the next meant to rule.
Rhoswen stared at it in quiet wonder as Javiod lifted the necklace and gingerly wrapped it around Lure’s neck. Rhoswen could hear the click of metal as the clasp fastened, and, as Javiod pulled away, the necklace itself seemed to shorten in length to better suit its new wearer. Lure gurgled in enthusiasm, unaware as to what had just taken place. Such a burden. Such a gift.
“But, Javiod, are you certain?” Rhoswen pressed one last time.
The king nodded. “Yes. Lure will be king.”
King? Rhoswen stared down at his infant son.
The golden Lupe Charm winked merrily back at him, nestled contently against Lure’s tiny chest.
By the time that Lure had grown into a gangly teen Werelupe, he knew full well what the Lupe Charm meant, and all the implications that went along with it. For part of his youth, he’d worn the necklace proudly, a symbol that made him stand out among the rest, something that made him special. However, it wasn’t long before he began to feel that it was more a curse than a gift.
The older he became, the more enlightened he found himself on all the things that would be expected of him once he was old enough to take Javiod’s place as the head of their pack. It was frightening to him, how much they expected of him. Though his father smiled and reassured him, Lure felt no less ill at ease the older he became. In only a few more years, the weight of the entire pack would rest solely on his shoulders.
This revelation was terrifying, and it often overcame Lure in the most embarrassing ways until he began to fear any sign of adversity or pressure. He became so claustrophobic when faced with the prospect of ruling that Lure had developed an alarming reaction of fainting—passing out cold. Not only did this embarrass himself, but he knew it was also a humiliation to Rhoswen, his father, and this was perhaps the worst of all.
However, Lure’s peers—especially Javiod’s eldest son, having found himself stepped over for the crown—took any opportunity possible to wield it to their advantage. After all, at a certain age, Werelupe teens became a bit ruthless in an effort to prove themselves to the pack. This left no mercy to spare on Lure—future king or not.
The spotted Werelupe winced at the sound of his name, having recognized Ifram’s voice immediately, and he momentarily debated on whether or not to even acknowledge Javiod’s oldest son. It was Ifram, above all others, that seemed to resent him the most.
Whether or not he would have turned cowardly and ran was never tested, because Ifram was suddenly at his side. Lure stiffened in response to him, though he was considerably larger than Ifram already.
“You come here a lot, you know,” Ifram commented, almost lazily.
As if ashamed, Lure dropped his gaze, having—only moments before—been staring at the currently empty throne of Javiod. Stationed in the middle of a clearing, a throne of stone rested in the circle of more than a dozen trees. There was a makeshift tunnel constructed of bent and tied saplings that led to this natural throne room, and Lure had been sitting just at the mouth of that tunnel, staring, almost dejectedly, at his future seat.
He did, in fact, come here often, but he’d been hoping that no one had noticed, as he scheduled his visits to contemplate his future when the pack was supposed to be otherwise occupied. It was supposed to be an almost magical place, and Lure came here in chance that he might happen upon some unknown form of guidance.
Rhoswen had seemed to think it capable of such wonders. Lure remembered that his dad had once told him that these woods had once been burned down by Javiod’s evil brother, but it had regrown and become just as it had looked before. As if nothing could quite diminish the power of this place.
“Yes,” Lure grumbled finally.
Ifram’s tale thumped the ground impatiently. It was the same dark brown as his father’s.
“Thinking about what it will be like to be king?” Ifram pressed.
“Yes,” Lure repeated.
There was no sense in lying. Why else would he be here?
Ifram sent a coveting glance at the moon charm that hung from Lure’s neck, and Lure knew that he was thinking that it should be him instead that was spending his time that afternoon looking upon the throne that would soon be his.
“Do you think you can handle it?”
A muscle in Lure’s jaw twitched. He knew what was coming now. He’d suspected that this was the real reason that Ifram had found him. The Werelupe wouldn’t miss the chance to torment him. In hopes, Lure was sure, that he’d turn coward and flee. Was he that far off the mark? Lure had to wonder.
What was a Lupe, if not coward, when the simple mention of things to come could cause him to faint? Surely, though his father and mother tried to convince him otherwise, no one could really believe that his fainting spells were just nerves and that he would overcome them when the time came. It was ridiculous. He was probably doomed to pass out every time anything particularly stressful arose during his reign. What kind of king would that be?
Ifram seemed to sense that he wasn’t going to get an answer, so he pressed on, “I think it will be terribly difficult, don’t you? I mean, think of all the Lupes that will be relying on you.”
Lure swallowed. As if on cue, the pace of his heart began to kick up a few beats.
Stop it, he told himself. He’s just trying to egg you on.
“I’m sure it will be hard,” Lure conceded.
“Hard?” Ifram chuckled. “That’s probably an understatement. What if someone gets sick? Lost? Hurt? What will you do if someone breaks the pack laws? Can you keep the peace treaty with Countess Mezzanotte?”
Thud, thud. Thud, thud.
Lure felt his heart beating in his throat as he thought of Mezzanotte, the Halloween Gelert that claimed rulership of the majority of the Haunted Woods. Javiod had forged a pact with her to allow the Werelupes their own land, but it was well-known that the Countess desired to have everything for her own. Could he stand up to a Neopian as formidable as that?
The more he considered it, the more his fur bristled, the more his paws began to shake. He was beginning to feel light-headed.
“I—,” he choked on his own words, his throat suddenly too dry. “I’m sure I can—.”
But Ifram didn’t give him time to finish. “Really? I’d be afraid of Mezza myself. She has a whole clan of Zombies for an army, after all, and what can anyone really do to stop a Zombie attack? They’re already undead after all.”
A lump had wedged in Lure’s throat at this point. Queasy, his stomach rolled a little treacherously, threatening an onslaught if Lure didn’t regain his composure. It was just too bad that he felt the ground crumbling away under his feet already, and he couldn’t find any firm footing to retaliate.
“Well, I’m sure—.”
“Don’t you think there’s someone better suited?” Ifram demanded, softly. “Like me, for instance?”
Of course he did, but he hadn’t chosen this necklace. It had chosen him! Lure related as much to Ifram, his stomach floating toward his throat, but the Werelupe only snorted derisively in return. The noise could barely cut through the thick fog in his head.
“You didn’t have to accept,” Ifram snapped, though he knew as well as the rest of the pack that the necklace chose the king and wouldn’t relent said king unless someone else was found, forcing the Werelupe into the title whether he wanted it or not.
As if this knowledge had silently incensed him, Ifram played his last, big card. “What then, Lure, will you do as our king if things ever come to a war?”
He’d pictured it before: an invasion on the woods in which he stood helplessly to the side as intruders stole everything they had, or maybe even burned it to the ground like the fabled Alston had. Mass chaos, and it would be all of his fault if the pack lost everything. They would remember him forever in tales and legends as the biggest failure in Werelupe history, a dim and ugly light that had lit and fizzled out shortly after the triumphant glare of Javiod’s reign.
An unforgivable, blind mistake on the part of the Lupe Moon Charm necklace. They’d probably toss it out as junk after that, and find some other, more adept item to symbolize their power and king.
And all of that would happen just because of him.
Lure’s stomach gave an unpleasant lurch, his head reeled, and, without any further ado, the lights went out.
To be continued...