The Fallen: Faint-Hearted - Part Three
He’d tried to leave the necklace, but since the day he’d put it on, the necklace had shortened to fit comfortably around his neck, lacking only in the width to pull it over his head. And though he’d tried prying apart the clasp, it stayed determinedly closed, as if it had never opened at all, but had been forged shut.
Exasperated, Lure had guiltily left with the Werelupe emblem still wrapped around his neck. Surely they could find another piece of enchanted jewelry to replace it.
He hadn’t been certain where he’d go, though he wagered to stay within the Woods. Neopians were still a little wary of Werelupes, even after Javiod’s work to reverse this, and Lure preferred not to impose on their hospitality, as he had a disturbing image stuck in his head of being chased out of civilization by pitchforks and torches.
So the only conclusion was that he would have to go to the far side of the woods, completely opposite the territory of the Werelupes, which would unfortunately put him within Countess Mezzanotte’s grounds. Hopefully, his presence would go unnoticed, and he could hide out in familiar land until he figured out a better place to hide from his future.
Lure was fortunate to find a small, albeit damp, cave to stake as his temporary home. It was empty and a bit of a tight squeeze, but it would work for a lone Werelupe. His only discomfort was that if he ventured a short walk east, he’d come to a thinning of trees over which he could see the highest towers of Mezzanotte’s castle. He didn’t much care for this proximity to the Halloween Gelerts, but he didn’t have much room to be picky.
He was thankful when, after a week in his new home, he wasn’t attacked in the night by an irritable Gelert or a stray Zombie, and began to feel at ease that he must have chosen a location which they seldom had need to venture. He was able to move about, find food, drink from a nearby creek, and even make small cooking fires without being bothered. Sometimes he heard soft bumps in the night, but he wasn’t really bothered by them, as the sounds were never connected to anything solid that had bothered to find and disturb him.
However, Lure’s luck, unfortunately, never seemed to hold. It was spitting cold rain just after the sun had set one evening when a noise did happen to belong to a body that did, against his most feverish hopes, decide to stray in his direction.
Lure had just been gathering wood to hoard into his cave to keep dry when a rustling of leaves in the trees at his back had frozen him solid. Ears perked and alert, he’d not dared to move for several moments, trying to scent the air and discern where his invisible foe stood. However, this foe did not seem all that concerned about being detected, and it became quickly evident to Lure that, whoever it was, they’d come this way to find him. In automatic response, his heart began to pound, his paws sweat, and his knees threatened to buckle.
No! Now was not the time to faint. Definitely not the time! He swallowed hard and attempted to forcefully keep his eyes open and clear the fog from his head.
“Welcome, sweet scent,” a deep, thick voice hissed from behind him. “What brings you to my woods? What occasion should I honor for your company? I have been so lonely here. So terribly lonely. So nice of you to risk your neck to bring me your company.”
Lure’s mouth was dry, and he couldn’t respond. He simply stood, frozen, with pieces of wood in his arms. He was feeling woozy as he heard the sound of something whispering over the ground, like a cloth sweeping over leaves.
“Mmm, and let us have a smell,” the voice purred.
The intake of breath to Lure’s right was very apparent, as the unseen Neopian drew in his scent, and—very abruptly—blew it right back out.
“UGH!” the voice choked, coughed. “You smell horrible!”
Lure jumped as the voice shouted all but directly into his ear, dropping his firewood unceremoniously and swinging around to face his attacker.
Or would-be attacker was more like it. It was a Halloween Gelert, bent double, and hacking away as if trying to completely expel Lure’s smell from his every sense. Dark black hair fell into the Gelert’s face, shielding his red eyes that were bulging with disgust, but Lure could tell—even under a dark purple cloak—that the Gelert was not much older than he, barely an adult. An amulet of some sort swung harmlessly from the Gelert’s blue chest, swinging with each laborious cough its owner exerted.
“What—Oh, of course! Yuck! You’re a Werelupe!” the Gelert snapped.
And then, to Lure’s complete disbelief, the Gelert burst into laughter. Whatever fear he’d felt only minutes before faded into annoyance with the creature that had nearly scared the daylights out of him and was now having a nice laugh at his expense.
“Who are you?” Lure snapped. “And what’s the big deal?”
By this time, tears had streamed from the Gelert’s eyes, but he seemed to remember his manners abruptly, letting the laughter die away as he straightened and wiped his eyes, blowing out a few breaths more before finding his calm.
“Sorry, it’s been awhile since I’ve smelled a Werelupe. I’d forgotten,” he admitted.
Lure merely stared, brows bunched, scowl on his face. This didn’t seem to deter the Gelert. He merely stuck out a pale blue paw in his direction.
“Hallowehn Gervase Nuctroff,” he introduced himself, “but you can call me Wehn.”
Lure eyed the paw warily, but manners his father had ingrained in him won over, and he finally took the Gelert’s paw. It was slender, but felt strong and unreasonably cold. Lure looked questioningly down at it until Wehn dropped it back to his side.
“I’m Lure Brighten,” Lure told him, understand the question in Wehn’s own eyes as well.
“Pleasure to meet you, Lure.”
Wehn took hold of his purple cloak and gave Lure an overly theatrical bow, causing his black hair to fall back into his eyes. When he lifted again and flashed a confident smile, Lure caught sight of a pair of sharp-looking fangs that made him instantly uneasy.
Lure gestured vaguely around them and asked, “So what was that all about? Sneaking up on me and everything?”
Wehn’s grin was positively devilish, but it added something only more alluring to his appearance, his hollow cheeks and over-bright eyes. There was an undeniable youthfulness to him that Lure had a feeling would never quite fade. For a moment, he envied the unwavering confidence in Wehn’s expression.
“Oh that? Yes, my uncle Noctivas is better at it.” Wehn chuckled, but didn’t seem upset that he was bested. “He’s had more practice, though. I’ll be better than him with practice. He’s advanced a few centuries more.”
Lure swallowed. A few centuries? He knew that Wehn’s kind had rather long lifespans, but it had always seemed like like a distant fable, and now it was very real and right in front of him.
“But what was it?” he pressed.
Wehn’s red eyes glittered with something more than just amusement. “That was just how we greet our guests that smell a little nicer than you.”
Lure didn’t really understand this, and he wasn’t sure that he wanted to either, so he didn’t push the subject further. Wehn seemed to realize that this made his new friend uncomfortable, but he didn’t act to smooth over the mystery of his loaded answer. Maybe it was because he rather despised the whole concept of being comfortable as an unexciting experience.
Instead, he asked, “So what are you doing here anyway? Don’t Werelupes live on the other side of the Woods?”
Bullseye. Wehn had just effortlessly found Lure’s most sensitive nerve. He shifted uncomfortably, and couldn’t quite look him in the eye.
“Er—yes, but I was feeling a little crowded, so I struck out on my own.”
Wehn nodded understandingly. “You feel that way a lot when you live in a castle with my aunt Mezza. There’s always a million Neopians in there all hours of the day and night, and feeling cramped in a castle is really saying something, don’t you think?”
Lure barely heard him. His ability to comprehend had faltered somewhere around the moment when he’d referred to the feared Countess Mezzanotte as his aunt. Lure gulped, feeling traces of his usual lightheadedness coming on.
“Countess Mezzanotte is your aunt?” he choked.
Wehn cocked his head to the side, as if he couldn’t quite understand why this would instill such fear into someone.
“Yes.” He shrugged. “Is there something wrong with that?”
Lure’s surroundings swam. “Uh... no, I guess not.”
Except that, if he hadn’t run away, in a couple of years Mezzanotte would be his biggest adversary and ally, depending on how he played his cards. Perhaps it had been her looming so enormously in his future that had frightened Lure the most.
Wehn clapped him on the back. “Don’t worry, Lure. My aunt is okay with Werelupes. Javiod sort of changed her mind about you guys when he lived with us.”
“Lived with you?” Lure questioned uncertainly.
Of course, everyone knew the tale of how Javiod had won Mezzanotte’s acceptance and permission to remain king of the werelupes and his own slab of territory, even though she’d been renowned for her greedy nature, but Lure didn’t recall ever being told that Javiod had lived with her.
“Sure,” Wehn went on, his voice tinged with admiration. “I met him before, your king. He was a nice Lupe. Smelled funny like you, of course, but he seemed good. He was just upset a lot. I heard he’s doing better now.”
Lure swallowed the queasy feeling creeping up his throat, able, for once, to divert his attention away from his fear to something that seemed marginally more interesting to him.
“But why did he live with you?”
Wehn pursed his lips, as if trying to recall. “My aunt never really would tell me why, but I think it had something to do with that brother of his. Alfred? Albus? Al—.”
“Alston,” Lure supplied.
Wehn nodded, wagging his paw. “Yeah, Alston, that’s the one! Javiod needed Aunt Mezza’s help when his brother burned down the woods you all live in.”
Lure fell into silence for a moment. Generally, his kind looked upon the Halloween Gelerts in a wary, not quite trusting way, like one would look at and treat a present from Jhudora, as if something was noticeably askew, but they couldn’t quite put their finger on it. Lure had never known that the Gelerts had helped them before. It appeared that Gelerts were, for the most part, omitted from the Werelupe history, obviously a sore subject when it was possible, at any time, for Mezzanotte to change her opinion on her truce.
Maybe the Werelupes were just leery of anyone getting too soft of feelings for the Gelerts and a time arising when a hardened attitude toward them would be needed.
“Oh,” Lure mumbled finally.
“So, do you know him then? Personally? Javiod?”
“Yeah,” Lure admitted, suddenly not feeling quite as obliged to lie. “He’s my dad’s best friend.”
“Oh really? Who’s your dad then? Is it—.”
Wehn stopped talking abruptly, his red eyes widening in incredulity, as if seeing Lure if only for the first time. He thumped his forehead with a paw, once again disturbing the amulet on his chest. Lure glanced down at it to avoid Wehn’s newly seeing eyes, and saw that in the gold of the amulet set a jewel a shade of blue a little darker than Wehn’s fur, and that the colors in the jewel seemed to be swirling surreally.
“You’re him, aren’t you?” Wehn asked, dropping his voice low in an excited whisper. “You’re the next one? The next king? I don’t know why I didn’t recognize you! I mean, how many Werelupes really have spotted fur anyway? And you’re wearing that!”
His paw waved at the moon charm around Lure’s neck, and once again Lure felt a stirring agitation at the fact that the bit of jewelry refused to release its claim on his neck.
“Yeah, that’d be me,” Lure sighed.
“Then what are you doing here for real? Shouldn’t you be with your pack? You know... learning stuff about how to be king and all?”
Lure scowled, abruptly indignant. He hadn’t asked for the job. Why did it have to keep dogging him everywhere he went? If he wanted to give up his claim to the throne, wasn’t it perfectly reasonable of him to be able to? It should have been. If it wasn’t for the necklace.
“I don’t want to,” Lure told him, sounding inevitably childish. “And don’t I have a say in it? It’s not my fault this stupid thing picked me, is it?”
He clutched the chain around his neck and waved it so that the crescent moon dangled serenely from left to right. Wehn stared at it curiously, though still animated by his excitement at having discovered Lure’s identity. Didn’t the Gelert ever act mellow?
“Really? Is that how you all choose your king?”
“Yeah,” Lure snapped, “and it’s completely bogus. I don’t want to be king.”
Some less significant part of Lure’s conscience warned him that he shouldn’t be having this conversation with a potential enemy, but he’d never had anyone that could objectively listen to him complain.
Wehn lifted his paws, waving them in front of himself as if to ward off a potential attack, though his easy smile remained on his face.
“Hey, hey, no need to get irritable, friend. I was just asking. I’m not going to tell on you or anything.”
Lure looked up. “You’re not?”
Wehn snorted. “Nah. You know, you’re not the only one born into something you didn’t really want.”
Lure studied him skeptically. “You don’t have to be king, though, do you? Won’t your aunt... sort of... live forever or something?”
“Yeah, or something,” Wehn laughed. “My family, though, sometimes we have this strange manner of disappearing, but, more or less, long as she’s around, I won’t have much to do.”
Lure lifted a furry brow. “Then what are you talking about?”
Finally, the excitement vibrating from Wehn’s body seemed to ebb into a stillness that seemed uncharacteristic to Lure, even though he’d only just met the Gelert. A slight frown replaced Wehn’s smile.
“I have a necklace too,” he admitted finally, lifted the amulet around his own neck, “but it’s a bit different than yours. It does stuff. Stuff I don’t really want it to do, but stuff that my aunt thinks she could use.”
Now it was Lure’s curiosity that was peeked. “Like what?”
Wehn eyed him. “I shouldn’t tell you.”
“Why not?” Lure pressed.
“I just can’t,” Wehn sighed. “Especially not to you.”
Lure had a bad feeling about what it meant that he, especially, couldn’t know what Wehn’s amulet did. Particularly since Wehn knew who he was. Was there really something to be feared about the Gelerts?
“Who am I going to tell? I’m a runaway, remember?”
Wehn lifted a skeptical brow, as if he didn’t quite believe in Lure’s self-inflicted banishment. Lure growled in disgust, and turned to trudge back to his camp. Whatever. If the Gelert didn’t want to tell him, then fine. Lure had better things to do than listen to Gelert lore.
Stomping through the undergrowth, Lure knew that he’d made a commotion to get back to his camp, but he hadn’t thought it’d been quite loud enough to drown out the footsteps of someone trailing him. Still, he was a bit surprised when, dropping himself onto a log by his already crackling—albeit it puny—campfire, he looked up to see Wehn hovering just to his left.
“That was kind of rude, you know,” Wehn commented airily, plopping down on the other end of the log.
He made a face as if he was used to being cushioned by plush seats rather than the rough, scratchy exterior of oak wood. Lure rolled his eyes.
“I thought the conversation was over,” Lure explained haughtily.
Wehn shrugged. “It’s impolite not to invite someone to dinner at this hour.”
Lure snorted, but rubbed his neck absently, thinking again of Wehn’s especially sharp-looking fangs. To keep from exposing his insecurity in the Gelert’s presence, Lure gestured at the meat cooking over the fire. He’d scavenged it from his home before leaving, and he imagined it would be the last decent meal he had in awhile. He wasn’t too keen on sharing.
“I didn’t figure you... liked this sort of stuff.”
Wehn chuckled, and the sound made Lure’s hair stand on end. It was an amused sound, but there was a deep, rolling something just under the surface that warred against Lure’s instincts. Pretty pathetic that just a laugh could make him want to run.
“I can make do when I have to,” Wehn allowed.
Great. Now he had to share his best meal. Lure grudgingly cast Wehn an annoyed look from the corner of his eye, but Wehn seemed oblivious. He was undoing the clasp of his cloak, letting it slip soundlessly to the forest floor, and exposing a long-sleeved, rustled Neovian shirt and black pants. He looked elegant and out of place in Lure’s impromptu home.
They fell into an odd silence while the food finished cooking. While he turned the meat to roast it evenly, Lure could feel Wehn’s eyes on the back of his head. It made him uncomfortable, but he refused to turn and question the Gelert. It wasn’t until Lure had divided the meat and handed Wehn his share before conversation returned to them.
“So why did you leave?”
Lure tensed. “I had my reasons.”
Wehn chewed his meal thoughtfully for a moment. “Are you not going to tell me now, because I wouldn’t tell you about the amulet?”
Lure nodded, and Wehn smiled bemusedly at him.
“Fair enough,” the Gelert allowed. “It’s fortunate that I’ve decided to tell you then.”
Lure glanced over at Wehn, but, despite the smile on his face, he appeared to be serious. Lure took a bite of his meat, wondering if he should exchange such information, wondering if it wasn’t best just to leave a secret just that: a secret. Did he really want to admit that he was a coward to someone that was a possible enemy?
He glanced down at Wehn’s amulet, watching the dark blue swirl like someone was mixing it with a spoon.
“Why the change of heart?” Lure asked.
For a moment, Wehn’s expression became unexplainably guarded, and Lure thought he might be changing his mind. However, the wall went down as quickly as it had come up, and, though he dropped his eyes to his meal, picking disinterestedly at it, he seemed ready to explain. Perhaps he was just as curious about Lure’s departure as Lure was about his amulet.
“Because I’m a runaway too,” Wehn admitted.
Lure’s brows knitted together. “You are? But why? I didn’t think you were in line to be king next.”
Wehn rolled his eyes. “There are things required of us that are more disturbing than just placing a crown on our heads, you know, but you wanted to know about the amulet, and that’s really the center of it all anyway.”
Lure made a face at Wehn’s mildly placed insult, but gestured with his paw for him to go on. Then it was Wehn’s turn to make a face as he lifted a paw to his amulet, touching it lightly, as if he didn’t dare to take a firm grip on the thing.
“It’s called the Amulet of Chaos.” Lure flinched, but Wehn didn’t seem to notice. “Each member of my family has an amulet of their own, but mine is the most... potent, you could say.”
Wehn dropped his paw. “It can send Neopians—even those a considerable distance away from me—into a crazed frenzy. It causes mass disorder and confusion, and could, therefore, really prove a problem to any established law or order.”
It didn’t surprise Lure when he began to feel queasy at the mention of this. “Have you ever used it?”
Wehn shook his head solemnly. “No. Well, not really. I don’t know how to control it, but I think it has something to do with getting overly-emotional. A few times, when I’ve been particularly upset, I’ve noticed things happening around me, but nothing full-blown. Aunt Mezza and Uncle Noc can control theirs at whim. They told me I’ll learn how to eventually as well.”
Lure understood what it was like to be controlled by your emotions, but this was a bit extreme. Feeling faint and turning the world into a place of chaotic disorder were two entirely different things. The Werelupe swallowed uncomfortably.
“Did you run away because you’re scared of the power?” Lure asked.
Wehn’s smile was bitter. “You could say that.”
Wehn cut across him, “So tell me about why you became a deserter then?”
Lure wanted to refuse. It was immediately the response on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed the response, knowing full well that after Wehn had divulged his secret that he had to hold up his end of the bargain.
“I’m just...” Lure paused, wet his lips, and tried again, “I’m just not fit to be king. You see... I get really sick whenever something bad or frightening happens. Anything stressful, and I get nauseous. Too much, and I faint.”
“You faint?” Wehn repeated incredulously.
“Yeah,” Lure admitted, embarrassed. “It happens a lot, and I can’t control it. The more stressful the situation, the sicker and more light-headed I get. So obviously, I can’t be king, because I would probably be unconscious until the day this dumb necklace picks someone else.”
Wehn was silent for a moment, his red gaze slipping once or twice toward the Lupe charm necklace. “Well, I guess that makes sense. Better than what I’d expected.”
Lure frowned. By the tone of his voice, it seemed that Wehn had expected something worse of him. What could possibly be worse or more pathetic?
“What had you expected?”
“That you were a deserter, plain and simple, like your dad was, years ago,” Wehn admitted without reservation.
Lure’s spine went suddenly rigid. “What are you talking about?”
Wehn lifted his brows. “You didn’t know? Your dad—Rhoswen, right?—he left Javiod here when my aunt took him in. Took the rest of the Werelupes and left.”
His father had deserted Javiod? That wasn’t possible. Rhoswen and Javiod had been best friends since Lure could remember, and he’d never heard talk of desertion before. Wehn must have been confused. The look of horror on Lure’s face, however, must have been evident, because Wehn was quick to change the subject.
“But that doesn’t matter now, does it?” he smoothed over. “Things worked out for the best, but back to your little problem. So you just faint, right? As soon as you start to get a little uneasy about something?”
Going from one insult to the next, in Lure’s mind, the Werelupe bristled slightly. Wehn made his condition seem petty and foolish.
“It’s a little more than that, but yeah.”
Wehn nodded. “Oh. Well, I can see why you left then.”
There wasn’t contempt in his voice when he spoke, but a strange note of understanding that Lure didn’t quite understand himself.
Still not quite certain if he trusted him, Lure muttered, “Yeah,” and lapsed into a sulky silence, but this didn’t seem to deter Wehn, as Lure was getting the feeling that nothing ever did.
“But you’re going to go back eventually, right? Once you get over it?”
The question took him off guard. He thought that it was something he could simply get over? Like a sickness? Lure nearly snorted. If only it were that easy. Just like Lure’s father, Wehn didn’t seem to understand the degree of his affliction.
“No,” he said simply. “I don’t think there is any getting over it.”
Wehn surprised him again. “Of course there is. You just have to learn how to be brave. Everyone’s afraid of something.”
Lure made a face. “This is different.”
Having polished off the last of his meal, Wehn folded his arms across his slender chest. Lure thought he heard a faint rumbling sound, as if Wehn’s stomach was growling in hunger, and the Gelert did seem to have a pinched expression on his face as he glanced at the fire over which the rest of the food was still simmering. He’d said he made do when he had to, but Lure had a suspicion that his kind of food didn’t even touch Wehn’s real hunger.
Lure had to suppress a shiver of revulsion as Wehn’s eyes suddenly turned and lit on him, a thoughtful expression easing away the hunger pang that Lure had just caught on his face.
“But if you don’t go back, who will be king?”
Lure could swear that he felt the moon charm around his neck flicker with unexplainable heat—if only for a second—when Wehn asked this question. He marked it off as his own guilt and looked away from Wehn’s searching gaze.
“They’ll figure something out.”
“But you still have their necklace,” Wehn pointed out.
As if he didn’t know. Lure growled and lifted a paw to tug at the chain, showing Wehn how it was snugly secured around his neck with no intentions to remove itself.
“They’ll have to find a different necklace.”
Lure was stubborn. Though, by all appearances, the necklace was an inanimate object, it often felt that it had a life of its own, and it seemed to have its will pitted against Lure’s, which, of course, only made him want to fight back against it harder.
“I see,” Wehn said softly.
Lure gave him a sharp look. “What? Next are you going to tell me I should go back? That I’m a coward and a fool?”
Wehn met his gaze.
“I should,” he admitted, “but it looks like you’ve told yourself that enough for both of us.”
Lure blew out a breath. It was unnerving how this Neopian could hit the subject matter right on the head, and how he did so without flinching or breaking a beat, as if the simple statement of a fact shouldn’t be hard for anyone to express no matter the subject.
It made him lose his appetite, and though Lure gave the rest of the meat on the roasting stick a regretful glance, he stood and made to go to his cave. Wehn did not object. He interpreted the significance of Lure terminating the conversation in such a manner.
But Lure had only taken two steps before he remembered Wehn’s earlier remark about manners. Wishing he didn’t feel obliged, Lure turned back to him.
“You want to stay here for the night?”
Wehn didn’t answer for a moment, but instead stared up through the scraggily branches of the trees around them turned the white, round orb of the moon, somehow managing to still spill furtive light into the darkest place in Neopia. That strange expression was back on his face, and it looked almost sad now.
“Sure,” he accepted. “It’s late now. No sense in trekking back to the castle at this time. I’m tired anyway.”
Lure only nodded as Wehn followed him into the cave. He allowed the Gelert the soft mound of leaves he’d collected for a makeshift bed and slept against the far cave wall himself. Though Wehn had made claims of fatigue, Lure was fairly certain that Gelerts only slept during the day, and he had the sinking suspicion that Wehn was well awake when he dropped off to sleep.
It was uncomfortable, and threw him into a restless slumber, because he couldn’t shake the feeling of being stared at, but, later, Lure would admit that it was also nice—no matter who it was—to have company again.
To be continued...