Balthazar the Apprentice
"Hello?" the young Lupe called out into the midst of the Haunted Woods. He shivered. Balthazar was alone. He had once liked the quiet, but this... it was too creepy.
He forced himself to keep walking. It began to rain, causing him to stumble. He fell onto his face and lay there in the mud. Tears dripped down his face. A glow came from in front of him and he looked up. There was a campfire up ahead. He saw a long, winged figure ready to put it out. He hurried towards them, but collapsed from exhaustion in the mud.
Balthazar heard a laugh. He helplessly looked up. Three Dark Faeries were above him.
"Help me," he whispered. "Please, Faeries. Help me."
The three Faeries laughed again, a cruel sound that shattered the stillness of the night. One of them bent down, and Balthazar's heart rate quickened, but only for a moment. The Faerie grabbed a rock and flung it at his face. He yelped.
The rest of the Faeries laughed and threw rocks at him. Then, they left him crying in the mud of the cold, dark, Haunted Woods.
Exhausted, Balthazar curled up under a tree. He was completely alone.
Not completely. He heard a Lupe not far from him howl. He could tell it was a girl, for her voice was high. He heard a second howl, which meant she had a child with her. Balthazar shivered as a gust of wind blew past, ruffling his blue fur. He hoped the howls didn't belong to Werelupes.
Suddenly, he heard a voice. He knew it was the older Lupess, but he couldn't make out what she was saying. Then, he heard footsteps coming his way. He was still.
The silhouette of a Lupess against the moon caught his attention. She was tall, and appeared to be a young adult. Balthazar couldn't quite tell what color she was at first, but then he saw that she was black, like... he swallowed. Like his mother had been. He let out a small gasp.
The Lupess's head turned sharply. She couldn't see him. Balthazar gasped when she pulled a bottle containing a Light Faerie out of her bag. She held it up to see him.
The Lupess stepped towards him. "I can see you..." she said in an enchanting voice. "I can hear you breathing... I can smell you... I know you are there, young Lupe."
Balthazar hesitantly leaned towards the warm light.
"That's better." The Lupess smiled. "What is your name, young Lupe?"
"B-Balthazar," he stuttered. He shivered in the wind.
The Lupess noticed. "Silly me, talking to you when you are clearly exhausted. Come, can you walk?"
Balthazar attempted to stand, but his legs gave out. The Lupess caught him before he could fall.
"No matter. I shall carry you." The Lupess picked him up. He wasn't that heavy. After all, he was nearly nine, still eight years old.
While the Lupess raced through the forest, Balthazar began to close his eyes. Soon, he was asleep.
"Why did you bring him?" a voice asked.
"He can be useful to our plans, the voice of the Lupess said.
"I will tell you later. Just remember his name for now-Balthazar."
Balthazar groaned and sat up.
"Ah, the sleeper awakes," the Lupess said, chuckling. "Welcome to my home, Balthazar."
Balthazar opened his eyes to find the Lupess standing by his bed. He stared. "Where... where am I?" he asked.
"Like I said, in my home. We are currently in the woods near Faerieland," she hissed on the last word and clenched her fists. He wondered why.
"Who are you?" Balthazar asked.
"My name is Alkalia. I am a Faerie Hunter."
The young Lupe narrowed his eyes. "A Faerie... Hunter? What's that?"
"Have you ever seen a Bottled Faerie?"
"That is my work. I trap Faeries in bottles and sell them."
Alkalia raised her eyebrows. "Why shouldn't I? Tell me, Balthazar, when has a Faerie ever done anything for you?"
The blue Lupe opened his mouth to respond, but nothing came out. Alkalia nodded.
"Exactly. Now, I have told you my story. I want you to tell me this-why were you alone in the Haunted Woods at night?"
Balthazar cast his eyes downward. "I...I was lost. I was trying to remember where the Gypsy Camp was. I wanted to stay somewhere for the night, so I tried to find it. I couldn't and I was wandering around for hours. Then, I saw a campfire with some Faeries. I asked them for help. They just threw rocks at me." He pointed to his various injuries.
Alkalia scowled. "Dark Faeries." She turned around and yelled, Alexandra, get the salve."
"Yes, ma'am," a voice called back.
Alkalia turned back to face the young Lupe. "Why were you not at home?"
"I was at home a few days ago. We live on the edge of the Haunted Woods. I went exploring, but when I came back, the house was destroyed, and my mother... my mother was gone."
Alkalia regarded him with sympathy.
"I've got it, ma'am!" a voice shouted. A young Lupess, about Balthazar's age ran into the room. She was carrying a jar of salve and some bandages.
"Hi," she said.
"Hi," Balthazar replied politely.
"Are you here to be Alkalia's apprentice too?" the green Lupess asked.
"Yeah. On capturing Faeries."
Balthazar looked at Alkalia. "Am I?"
"Do you want to?" Alkalia asked, bandaging him up. "I shall not force you."
Balthazar considered the offer. He had nowhere else to go. His family was gone. On the other hand, capturing Faeries didn't entirely seem like such a good idea. He remembered the Faeries who had hurt him when he was weakest. His expression darkened. Why just hurt those Faeries? There were the other Faeries too. He doubted that any of them would have helped him.
He looked up at Alkalia. "I accept."
Alkalia grinned. "A wise choice. You will not regret it."
"I don't expect to."
"Balthazar," hissed Alexandra's voice. "Wake up."
The blue Lupe's eyes flew open. Alexandra stood over his bed, dressed in her traveling cloak.
"What is it?"
"Alkalia has a mission for you."
"What kind of mission?"
"Do you remember those Dark Faeries who were cruel to you?" Alexandra asked. In response, Balthazar bared his fangs. The Lupess grinned wickedly. "I shall take that as a yes. Anyway, Alkalia has them cornered. She wanted to know if you would like to do the honors."
Balthazar stood up. He had grown taller over the years. He was fourteen now, and had mastered the art of capturing Faeries. "I'm ready."
The two Lupes raced through the dark, trying to get to Alkalia. Balthazar heard her howl of triumph and quickly changed direction. Alexandra was close behind him.
At last, Balthazar reached her. He saw three familiar Dark Faeries, unable to escape a ring of light surrounding them. Alkalia turned. Balthazar never ceased to notice that she never aged.
"Balthazar," she crooned. "You have arrived. Would you do the honors?"
Balthazar nodded solemnly and stepped forward. He took a bottle from Alexandra.
The Dark Faeries froze when they saw him.
"Him," one of them said. "He looks familiar."
"Yes. Have we seen him before?"" another asked.
"I doubt it. I could never forget such a hideous face."
The Faeries laughed wickedly. Balthazar approached them. They didn't move.
Wordlessly, he opened the bottle. A huge vortex on the inside sucked one of the Faeries. She screamed with desperation, but to no avail.
"Our sister!" one of the two Faeries shrieked. "You will pay for this!"
Before she could do anything, Balthazar opened another bottle. She was sucked inside.
Soon, Balthazar gazed at the Bottled Dark Faeries.
"Things look quite different from the inside of a bottle, now don't they?" he chuckled. "Don't worry, Faeries, you'll be out... just not for a long time." The Faeries yells were muffled from inside the bottle.
Alkalia looked upon Balthazar. "You have done well, Balthazar. You are a true Faerie hunter."
"Thank you," he said respectfully, bowing a little.
"I trust that you enjoy living with me?"
"I must warn you. I have had a strange dream. It is most certainly a vision of the future. The time will soon come where you must make a choice that could affect your life. Are you prepared for it?"
"I have to be."
Alkalia smiled, her fangs glistening in the dim light. "Excellent..."
"What's that?" Alexandra asked, the fur on her neck raising.
Balthazar looked up. He heard nothing. Nothing at all.
Alkalia frowned. "Odd."
The sun shone upon them. It was not yet night. The Haunted Woods should never be this quiet.
"What is it?" Balthazar asked Alkalia.
Alkalia sniffed the air. "This scent..." She sharply turned her head in the direction behind them. "Werelupes."
"Can we avoid them?" Alexandra asked, quickly standing up.
"No, they..." Balthazar looked around. He snarled. "They're all around us."
As if called, a pack of Werelupes surrounded them. They were hideous, and reeked of death. Balthazar wrinkled his nose at the horrifying scent.
A Werelupe, larger than the others, approached them.
Alkalia growled at the sight of him. "The Werelupe King, she muttered. "Don't say a word. Let me do the talking."
"Alkalia," the King snarled.
"You. What do you want? I have kept my end of the treaty," Alkalia said calmly.
Balthazar glanced at Alexandra. What treaty? he mouthed. Alexandra shrugged. Both Lupes turned back to face the King.
"You have not," the King replied. "You have stolen one of our own's child."
"I did no such thing," Alkalia hissed.
"Let the accuser come forth," the Werelupe King barked.
A Lupess stepped forth, coming to stand next to the King. Balthazar's eyes widened.
"Mother?" he asked.
The green Lupess smiled at him. "Hello, son. Why have you not joined us?"
"I thought you were dead!"
His mother shook her head. "No. I transformed. Took on a much... stronger form. Left you." She looked at him pleadingly. "Come back with me, son."
Balthazar looked up at Alkalia.
"Do not look to her for guidance!" his mother shouted. "She only seeks to deceive you!"
"I do not," Alkalia hissed.
"Liar!" His mother turned to face him. "She only seeks to mislead you. Come back with me. I am your mother."
"I am letting him make his own choice," Alkalia said. "I suggest you do the same." She stepped away from him.
Balthazar looked to his mother, then to Alkalia. At last, he reached a decision. He looked up at his mother.
The Lupess smiled, confident her son would come to her when she called. She stretched out a paw. "Come home with me, son."
Balthazar snarled and stepped backwards. "I am home." Alkalia stepped forward and wrapped an arm around him.
"You heard him," she said to the Werelupe King. He wants to stay with me."
The King nodded. "Then our treaty is safe. Come!" he barked at the pack. The Werelupes turned and ran into the forest, Balthazar's mother among them.
"I told you your choice would come, did I not?" Alkalia asked him.
Balthazar nodded. "You did. And you were right."
"Good. Now it is time for me to tell you our plan." She leaned down and whispered into his ear.
Many years later...
"Good," Alkalia said approvingly. "You have done well."
A fully grown Balthazar and Alkalia stood in the remains of a village, just outside of Faerieland. Every house was destroyed, everyone was gone.
"Where is she?" Balthazar asked.
They did, and the crying of a child was heard not far from them.
"Let us go," Alkalia said, running towards the sound.
They found a speckled Xweetok, hiding in the remains of her home. She sniffed when she saw them.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"Hush, little one," Alkalia said soothingly. "What is your name?"
"Listen to me, Xandra, and listen closely," Alkalia ordered. "We cannot stay long. Do you know who did this to your home?"
Xandra shook her head, her green hair moving with her.
"Faeries," Alkalia whispered.
Now Balthazar fully understood her plan. Alkalia told him how she had seen a sorceress in her visions. This Xweetok, the sorceress, was extremely powerful. Alkalia had seen her taking over Neopia, ruling it and ridding it of all Faeries.
"F-Faeries?" Xandra asked.
"Yes. If you are to rid Neopia of them, you must train with them, pretend that you like them. But I want you to feed your anger, let it blossom. Then, the time will come when Balthazar and I shall help you rule Neopia. But you mustn't tell anyone about us, understand?"
"Good." Alkalia cocked an ear. "Come, Balthazar. We mustn't be found here."
And with that, the two Lupes vanished into the night.
"Good." Alkalia smiled wickedly. "All is going according to plan, correct?"
Xandra nodded. "Yes." She took the artifact from Alkalia.
Balthazar grunted. "Don't lose that," he warned. "It took me a lot of trouble to get. Alkalia said she'd had a vision of some Ixi thief coming and taking it. You must be extremely aware."
"I will be careful," the Xweetok promised. She carefully hid the artifact in the drawer upstairs.
"Good..."Alkalia smiled. "Soon no Faeries will roam Neopia."
"For the better," Balthazar agreed. The blue Lupe threw his head back and howled a note of pure victory. The plan would work and he, Balthazar, would never have to capture them again. His work would soon be done.