The Fallen: Faint-Hearted - Part Six
Lure had indeed mistaken the tranquility outside of the castle as serene. Inside the Castle Nuctroff, a great deal was being set into motion, and, though the Gelerts usually slumbered during the day, there wasn’t a single closed eye in the castle.
Though Hallowehn’s eyes looked as if they needed to do just that. The purple circles under his eyes had become more developed and profound, making his elegant face look haggard. Embellished by his unkempt hair and wrinkled clothes, Wehn looked as if he had not slept, ate, or bathed in weeks.
His head lolled occasionally against the back of his throne—a smaller replica of his aunt and uncle’s, positioned just to the right and slightly behind Mezzanotte’s. This allowed his brief bouts of snoozing to go unnoticed by his family as they conversed in hushed tones in the throne room, awaiting an audience that had not yet arrived.
Still, though they might not have been paying attention to him, Wehn was trying desperately to pay attention to them. He’d barred himself from sleeping and other routine habits the last week because of this. He didn’t want to miss a whisper of what was going on or what his aunt was planning, though most of it had somehow been concealed from him anyway.
“—did a good job. The meat was delivered directly to Javiod.”
Laughter slicing in and out as Wehn drifted between consciousness, but he knew that they were talking of Cervello, the Zombie Usul that had snuck into the Werelupe territory a few days ago. Wehn hadn’t known at the time, however, what Cervello’s purpose had been.
“That should put our old friend out of the game just long enough for—.”
Wehn strained to hear this part, but it seemed the harder he tried, the more the darkness of sleep pulled at him, confusing his mind and jumbling his family’s conversation together inside his head. They said a few more things to one another, but Wehn couldn’t understand any of this either.
He did, however, give a little start and open his eyes—only for them to droop closed again—when he heard the sound of the heavy oak door groaning open. A scurrying of feet over hard marble floor, and then the sound of labored breathing as someone dropped themselves to the floor before Mezza’s throne.
“—returned! I saw it. I saw it with my own eyes! He wears the necklace!”
Necklace... Wehn shuttered against the fatigue and forced himself upward again, out of the darkness. For some reason, the mention of a necklace made his thoughts turn abruptly toward Lure. He heard Mezza hiss.
“Are you certain?”
“Yes! Yes!” It was Cervello that had entered the room, Wehn could tell. “I saw him with Javiod’s daughter. They returned yesterday morning.”
This brought Wehn mercifully awake. Blinking hard, he made himself focus on Cervello’s decaying form.
“Lure?” he asked.
He should have kept his mouth shut, and he would have known better and have done exactly that had he not been so out of it. It was Mezzanotte’s angry, wrathful voice that answered him.
“Yes! Your little friend, Wehn. I thought you told us that he had left for good?”
Wehn recoiled slightly as Mezza swiveled in her throne to look him in the eye. His relationship with Mezza and Noctivas had always been a close one, but there was something—some sort of wall—that came down around Mezzanotte when it concerned her affairs in ruling. Something that cut her off even from her family. It was wicked and dark, and exactly the reason why Wehn had tried to warn Lure about his own family.
“I—I thought he had,” Wehn answered, feebly.
Mezza snorted, waving a paw in the air. It glittered with the ruby ring she wore on her finger. It was shaped like a flower and matched the flower comb that she used to pin back her long, curling black hair. For some reason, the sight of it made Wehn’s stomach uneasy.
“No matter,” she snapped. “There are always other ways. You may go, Cervello.”
Now, Wehn’s stomach rolled. He watched Cervello limp back out of the room, and wished that he could go too. Though his aunt wasn’t looking at him, Wehn had a horrible feeling that her thoughts were on him. The amulet around his neck felt like an iron weight.
Mezzanotte stood with a sweeping of her cloak and gathered her purple dress into her paws. Stepping down from her throne, she turned to look back at her brother and nephew. Without being asked, Noctivas rose and went to stand beside her. A head taller than his sister, Noctivas looked like the older, more sophisticated version of Wehn, with none of his nephew’s playful energy.
Wehn loved them both. They had raised him and taught him and always been kind to him, but he had been young then, and he had a feeling that he wouldn’t be treated so gingerly anymore. Not now that he had grown and was of more... significant value to the clan.
“I suppose it’s fortunate that, even though their new king has returned, he’s a coward, and easily disposable. All we need to do is frighten him a bit. Isn’t that right, Wehn?” Mezzanotte questioned, a hint of smile on her lips.
Fatigued as he was, Wehn felt a very real, powerful fear slide up his spine. He hadn’t told Mezzanotte anything about Lure’s condition. He had only spared the details that Lure had been adamant about not returning to the pack when Mezza had informed him that he’d been spotted with the spotted Lupe by one of her scouts, and that was only because he’d had to tell her something to quell her questions. His shock must have shown on his face.
“I’m disappointed in you, Wehn. You should have known better than to keep secrets.” She gestured toward Noctivas.
And with a horribly doomed feeling, Wehn looked at his uncle and realized, too late, that he’d been so caught up in his fear of being caught fraternizing with the enemy that he’d forgotten that Noctivas, too, had an amulet and what it could do.
He stared at that amulet now, on the end of a golden chain around his uncle’s neck, and, through a pale blue, swirling mist, a wide, blue eye stared back at him.
The Amulet of Reflection. It warned Noctivas when someone was lying to him, and, with a simple exertion of his power, he could discover what it was that he’d been lied to about.
Wehn felt suddenly so weak that he had to wonder if he hadn’t caught Lure’s faint-hearted disease.
“Yes, Wehn, we know all about your little friend’s condition, and so you must know what this means. It’s up to your amulet and mine to ascertain that our family continues to reign over the Haunted Woods without a rival power.”
Mezzanotte traced a paw over her amulet, the stone of which was completely black, save for the vague outline of what could have been a face. It was the Amulet of Darkness, and, just like its name, it had the capability to cast everything into a perpetual night, and having everything cast in darkness would allow Mezzanotte and her clan to walk outside at any time with perfect ease.
“It’s time to awaken yours,” she told him, and, as if as one, she and Noctivas moved forward.
Wehn shrank back into his chair, pushing his feet against the ground as if to press himself through the back of his chair. He didn’t have the energy to run or to fight back. He didn’t have the energy to control himself or to stop what Mezzanotte was sure to provoke. Of course. That was what she had been bargaining for. That was why she’d never said anything when she must have known he’d been spying on her for weeks, skipping naps and meals.
Terrified, Wehn could only sit and watch as his aunt and uncle—those he loved most—closed in around him, and in his terror, his amulet began to glow with heat against his chest.
Wehn’s bellowing scream rang inside the castle, and even seemed to fill the warm morning air outside.
Lure was with his pack when it happened. Though having only just returned the day before, he’d been greeted with an exceptional warmth from everyone, as if no one could quite recall that he’d been the coward that had fled in the first place. Apparently, the fact that they’d all come only a day away from being back underneath Mezzanotte’s opposing rule was enough to smooth over all the rough ends that Lure’s disappearance had created. He’d been hugged, clapped on the back, his father had shaken his paw, and his mother had even cried a little. Even Ifram had remained respectfully mute, though the expression in his eyes could not have been mistaken for delight.
But Lure had finally gotten past caring what Ifram had thought of him. His main, and possibly only, concern was that of Javiod’s opinion. When he’d arrived home yesterday, the king had been asleep, and because of his condition, Lure hadn’t wanted to disturb any rest that he could come by, though Lure had been assured by Javiod’s medicinelupe, Neko, that the king was on the mend, and would be back to himself within the week.
It was early morning when Lure was called to the king’s cave, and though his old fear threatened to swarm back at the prospect of facing Javiod, Lure was able to overcome it this time.
Moving quietly into Javiod’s cave, he found the king spread out across a low bed. At the sound of his approaching footsteps, Javiod, with effort, managed to slide himself up into a sitting position. When Lure paused uncertainly, Javiod beckoned him forward, and Lure was surprised to find a gentle smile on the king’s face.
“So, you’ve come back.”
Lure nodded. “Yes. I heard what had happened, and I just wanted to let you know that I will take care of things until you’re well again.”
“No,” Javiod disagreed, causing Lure to look up at him apprehensively. “Neko tells me I’m getting better, but I won’t be taking the crown back. It seems that it’s your time now, Lure.”
Though he’d come back prepared to face the things that frightened him, Lure was knocked a little off-kilter by this. He opened his mouth to object, but found that, now that he was here, there was no turning back. So he lapsed into an anxious silence as Javiod turned momentarily away from him.
He gave a little start when the king turned back again, holding in his massive paws the leaf and twig crown of the Werelupe king. Lure stared at it uncertainly as it was held out to him.
There was nothing to do but to accept it. Lure knew it. This was what his life had been leading up to. Swallowing his unease, the golden Werelupe took the crown and set it, a bit apprehensively, on his own head.
Javiod chuckled. “Very fitting, I think.”
Lure felt his face heat. “Don’t poke fun, uncle. I just—.”
Lure stopped, scowled, and glanced down. All at once, the moon charm dangling against his chest had grown inexplicably warm. So warm that it quickly transcended to an uncomfortable heat, almost like the lick of flames. It even seemed to glow.
It started to burn, almost as if it was cooking his fur. He started to grab it, and then stopped, none too keen on burning his paw.What was going on? It had never done this before.
A low, strangled gasp expelled into the air, breathing out until it became something like a growl. Startled, Lure glanced up only to find that Javiod had suddenly gone very rigid on his bed. Without realizing it, Lure stepped back as Javiod gave a convulsive jerk, his paws clutching blindly at the bedsheets, and then his eyes seemed to roll in their sockets.
But Javiod didn’t look like his uncle anymore. He didn’t even look normal anymore. Only seconds before, he’d seemed weak and drawn, smiling softly and making quiet jokes. As if this had been just a mask, Javiod now looked wild and strong. His massive head jerked in Lure’s direction, and though Lure couldn’t see the green of his irises, it felt as if the white of his eyes were staring in his direction.
Lure choked as Javiod suddenly threw back his head and released the most terrifying, gut-wrenching howl Lure had ever heard. He wasn’t sure what to make of it when several answering howls of the same savage nature sounded outside the cave.
Lure could only duck when, once this howl had run its course, Javiod suddenly bounded from the bed, leaping completely over Lure, and barrelled out of the cave. The howls sounded again. Lure’s heart pounded in his ears.
Without really comprehending what was happening, Lure scurried to chase after his uncle, and what he found outside the cave could only be described as chaos. Wooden furniture that some of the pack had painstakingly made was overturned and broken, firewood had been scattered, the breakfast that had been simmering over the fire had been tossed to the forest floor.
And all the Werelupes standing amid this mess had the same, white-eyed, savage stare as Javiod. Their shackles were raised, drool seemed to be leaking from their mouths, and more than one pair of sharp teeth were bared. They were howling at the sky, growling at one another. Some were fighting, others were tearing at their own clothing.
“Stop! What are you all doing?” Lure shouted.
But none of them seemed to hear. Lure could see his own father amidst the three Werelupes ripping at their clothes. His mother was only a few feet away, tearing into some of the meat that had been cooking for breakfast.
What was going on?
Lure stared around, panicked and confused, but his answer seemed to come from the sky. It was a smudge of darkness that caught his eye and lifted his gaze, and with a shortness of breath, he saw that the smudge of dark was rather like a blanket, or perhaps spilled ink that was slowly bleeding into the blue of the sky.
It only took moments, and everything was cast into darkness.
Lure stood—unable to move, barely able to think—and listened to his pack howl again. His fur stood on end. Against his chest, the moon charm remained almost painfully hot. It seemed to be the only light now, glowing gold.
With a great sense of foreboding, Lure turned to the west, staring just at the treeline to where the domes of Mezza’s castle were just visible.
Wehn had warned him, no matter what they decided, Mezzanotte would continue with her plot to dominate the Haunted Woods. And now that Lure had returned, Mezzanotte had turned to her one ace in the hole: Wehn and his amulet. Lure’s stomach tightened painfully, and he thought, for a split second, he might have a relapse—he might just faint, right here, in the middle of the disorder.
Lure gasped. It was as if he could hear Wehn speaking inside of his head in that gentle, scolding tone. The hallucination served its purposes, however. With effort, he drew in a deep breath and fought to clear his head. He had to think rationally now. He was king now, and it was up to him to figure out what was going on and how to stop it, because, for whatever reason, he appeared to be the only one unaffected.
Taking one last, anxious glance around him at his friends and family, Lure aimed himself in the direction of Mezzanotte’s castle and took off at a sprint.
To be continued...