The Nature of the Beast
The Werelupe King and his owner were watching the sunset.
This was not an unusual occurrence—Isengrim spent many an evening like this during his visits to Terra’s Altadorian villa. It had become their tradition, and Isengrim found comfort in traditions, especially in a world that didn’t bother to offer him much more.
They sat on a bench in the courtyard that overlooked the sea. The sunset splayed oranges and pinks and golds across the sky, and forged a glittering path of light across the water. Ships sailed lazily to and from port, the fanciful patterns on their sails illumined like Faerie-lights by the sinking sun. A pod of Delfins broke the surface, dorsal fins slicing through the swells.
Isengrim breathed in. The salty savour of the ocean, the flowers blooming around the reflecting pool, the smell of myriad wild Petpets carried on the wind, and the comforting scent of his owner curled up next to him all rollicked together in his nose to create sheer bliss.
A new smell teased at his nostrils and made him salivate. Someone was in the kitchen, cooking something with cheese and garlic and wheat. They did spoil him here. It wasn’t often he could take the time off from running his kingdom on the other side of Neopia, but when he did he relished every moment of it.
He liked Altador well enough. Isengrim personally felt that King Altador must have given at least some of himself to the wild—the white Lupe was so big and strong for his species that he approached a Werelupe’s stature. The Werelupe King would have liked to meet his ivory-furred counterpart. But Isengrim also felt it was not yet wise to make the Altadorian Council aware of his presence in their land. He was content to act the part of the reclusive visitor—for now.
Terra was playing idly with one of his great dark paws, tracing the lines in his paw-pads and running her fingertips along the curves of his claws. Her hands were so small and pale compared to his, her fingers slender and clawless.
But he knew she had a strength that could not be measured in battle prowess. He did not quite know how to put it into words.
Isengrim remembered the first time he had seen her, brought to him by his packmates after a night’s hunting in the Haunted Woods. She was just a trembling child then, and he thought little of her beyond the prestige of having an owner to call his own. Then her other Neopets had rescued her and he was left with nothing but the taunting memory of her for twelve years.
Then she had been brought to him again, and not unchanged. She was older, more sure of herself, braver. Or perhaps last time he had not known her long enough to see her bravery. She taught him so many things: about having an owner, about being a king, about forgiveness and selflessness. And her caring for him was unconditional, even while she inspired him to be his best self. The way he had always wanted an owner to be.
For that, he felt he owed her so much more than he could ever give her. But she was content to sit and watch sunsets with him.
Isengrim looked up at the sky and grinned. Soon the heavens would darken, and he could howl her songs of moonlight and starlight, of the sweet smell of plants opening up to breathe for the night, of the heartbeat of the planet.
Terra’s grip on his paw tightened and Isengrim could smell her sudden frustration. “Isengrim,” she said.
He glanced down at her with half-closed eyes. “Mm?” he asked sleepily.
“I’m tired of Werelupes getting a bad rep.” She was glaring out at the sea. Isengrim knew she had been thinking hard about something.
He chuckled softly. “Well, to the rest of Neopia we are monsters.”
“But why?” His owner squeezed his paw again. “I just can’t figure it out.” She looked up at him, scrutinising him. “You don’t look like monsters. You’re not deformed or mutated. You’re just larger, stronger, bipedal Lupes.”
Isengrim personally felt that he was far above being “just” a larger, stronger Lupe. He was a Werelupe. But he decided it would be wise to hold his tongue on the matter and let his owner vent.
Terra continued, “I mean, Neopet species like Skeiths and Grarrls are big and strong too, but you don’t see people going around calling them monsters.”
“They do not exactly have the best reputation, either,” Isengrim pointed out.
“Oh… yeah, that’s true.” Terra sighed. “If the definition of a ‘monster’ is something bigger and stronger than you, then that’s a lousy definition. Just because you’re not a Baby Xweetok doesn’t make you horrible. I think you’re awesome-looking. You make me feel protected. I know I’ll be cared for with you around.”
The Werelupe King smiled. “People fear what they do not take the time to understand. It is sheer instinct. Most people do not care to go beyond registering if something looks like it can hurt them.”
Terra nodded. “Yeah… but c’mon, how many ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’-style Neopian Times stories are going to have to be published before people get that through their heads?” She curled and uncurled Isengrim’s fingers. “How strong you are doesn’t matter. What matters is knowing how to control your strength. Many of the largest Petpet species are also the gentlest, simply because they fully understand their strength and do not employ it unless it is needed.”
Isengrim ducked his nose to her head. “Those are very reasonable observations, but there is just one problem. You are expecting people to be reasonable when they rarely are.” He paused to breathe in her scent. “Thank you for not wearing perfume.”
His owner laughed. “You’re welcome—I can’t stand the stuff. What brought that on?”
“Wearing perfume around a Werelupe is the smell equivalent to someone shining a Bendy Desk Light in your face whenever you are around them. Highly unpleasant and disorienting.”
“Noted,” Terra said. “If I am ever tempted to make myself smell like essence of Pebeanjay, I shall think of you and forbear.”
Isengrim patted her head. “Thank you.”
Terra flashed him a smile that faded quickly as she rested her chin in her hands. “Anyway. People need to be more reasonable, then. They should think twice before reverting to instinct or relying on hearsay.”
The Werelupe’s own amused grin waned as well, and he looked back to the sea. “Do not discount the fact that until very recently, my pack and I made our way in this world through banditry, plundering, and extortion. Those things are not easily forgiven or forgotten.”
“But you did those things because you thought you had to,” Terra said. “You’re really a very kind Neopet, and the other Werelupes are just as honorable and generous as you. You just… got your ideals a little mixed up and smothered, by people who should have taught you better and been more understanding.”
The Werelupe King flicked an ear at the stinging reminder of his original owner, who had created him and then abandoned him shortly afterward. At least it had enabled Isengrim to name himself, because he was fairly certain he was probably created as “lupe212374057” or some such.
He hoped his creator had been eaten by Evil Fuzzles.
For a moment he relished the thought, and then turned his attention back to his current owner, who he liked far, far better. “Yes, and if not for you we would have continued in that manner. Perhaps the true test of a monster is not their appearance, but their actions. Many a monster roams Neopia who does not have the form of a beast—take Dr. Sloth, for instance. Or the Darkest Faerie.”
He had allied with the Darkest Faerie once, over a decade ago. It was something he had to admit he only mildly regretted. At least someone had actually wanted to ally with him for once, and he’d nearly procured Illusen’s Glade for his own domain.
Maybe it was just that he had a difficult time sympathising with Illusen.
He was not very fond of Faeries.
Terra nodded. “Mm… that’s true. What bothers me is when people fail to realise that.” She laughed. “I don’t think it’ll ever stop bothering me, even though I know full well it’s inevitable.”
Isengrim wrapped a paw around her head in a hug. “That is because you are not jaded like me. Keep hoping for the good in people, Terra. It is what makes you such a precious resource in this world.”
“I will.” She looked out at the last glimmer of sun sinking below the sea. “But give yourself some credit, too. I didn’t force you to change. You did have that goodness inside of you, and you had the strength and the courage to look inside yourself and find it. I think the crucial difference between you and Dr. Sloth is that, in your time of testing, you did the right thing. That’s something he has yet to do.”
Isengrim sniffed a little at being compared to Dr. Sloth. He did admire the man’s leadership capabilities, if not his ethics. “So you are saying that the lack of a willingness to change is what truly defines a monster?”
“Yeah… I think so.” Terra grinned. “We sound like we’re putting together a mathematical formula. ‘Monster equals delta over y where y is…’” They collapsed into laughter. “I dunno.”
“Perhaps such things can’t be quantified,” Isengrim mused. “But they are good to think about.”
Terra sighed and tucked her knees under her chin. “But I think part of the problem lies in outside perception, too. A monster can change all he likes, but the world might still choose to see him as a monster. That’s what makes me frustrated—nobody ever gives them a chance.”
Isengrim lifted an eyebrow. “You walk a different path than most, one that few bother to even look for. You do not see things as they do. It is both boon and curse.” He could speak from experience—his own life had not exactly been fraught with social acceptance.
“But someone has to,” Terra said. “If someone doesn’t care, no one will.” She clenched her fists. “I’ll care. I like looking for the good in people. Sometimes they have a hard time seeing it in themselves, and they need someone to show them.”
“You did that for me,” Isengrim murmured.
She looked up at him. “Who knows, maybe even Dr. Sloth has some good in him somewhere. There must be some way to get through to him.”
The Werelupe’s brows peaked in worry and he wrapped an arm around her. “Now, don’t go running off into space to try and find him! You remember how well your first meeting with him went.” Granted Isengrim wasn’t there and had only heard about it later, but how his heart ached with worry at the thought of his owner being brought aboard Sloth’s flagship as a prisoner—even if it had all been a ruse and she and her other Neopets had escaped shortly afterward.
Terra laughed. “If I do go, I’m bringing you and Hyren and Blynn and Pharazon with me. I’m sure we could get the job done.” She shot him a coy smile. “You know how effective we are at getting through to people.”
At this point Isengrim became less sure that she was joking. Just in case, he hugged her tight, as though she was going to run away to Virtupets right then and there. “Well, you already have four Neopets so you can’t adopt Dr. Sloth,” he proclaimed loudly, “so there!” He meant for it to be funny, but there was a note of genuine panic in his voice. His ears were pitched back and his tail curled under his legs.
The truth of it was – and both of them knew it – Isengrim just didn’t want his owner’s attention going to anyone else. Sometimes it was hard enough having three siblings. He was well aware that he had a tendency to be possessive, but he felt like an owner was a good thing to be possessive about. He’d lost one once and he was determined not to lose this one.
Granted, he had the decency to release her from owning him if she desired it—at least he thought he could be that strong, and he honestly hoped that heartbreaking day would never come.
But she was no hypocrite when it came to what she had been ranting about. She cared about him as deeply as he did her, rejoicing in his successes, giving him comfort in times of sorrow, fighting alongside him when the need arose, and inspiring him to overcome his weaknesses. What he was, what he had done, none of it mattered to her. She really had found the good in him, pulled it out, and clung to it until he’d started to believe in it himself. Because she wanted to see him in a better place than he had been.
That was why he needed her so badly.
“Isengrim…” The Werelupe snapped out of his thoughts to see Terra looking up at him worriedly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I won’t go running off looking for Sloth, that’s ridiculous.”
He studied her expression and swallowed hard. “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to get worked up like that. I just… worry… about you.” He worried about himself, too, but that sounded like an awfully self-centered thing to say.
By the look on Terra’s face, his true meaning had been pretty transparent. He did trust her, but sometimes he still had these moments of anxiety. There were old wounds in him that would take a long, long time to heal.
Some things, though, could accelerate the healing process. Terra leaned her head against his shoulder. “I’ll never leave you. I promise. You’re one of my best friends. If the Space Faerie appears and sends me on an epic quest across the galaxy to redeem Sloth—well then, I won’t go unless I can take all of my Neopets with me. And nobody’s getting abandoned.” She shrugged. “Sloth’s not even a Neopet, anyway.”
Isengrim offered her a weak smile. “Good.”
Terra patted his arm. “And until then, you and your siblings have me all to yourselves. We’re family, sweetie. Family sticks together.” She snorted. “Besides, what are the chances of the Space Faerie sending me on a special mission? I’m cool, but I’m not that cool.”
The Werelupe King wrapped a paw around her head. “Don’t sell yourself short, Terra.” His smile widened. “I know not what the future brings, but be assured that I will support you in whatever you are meant to accomplish. You are all members of my pack.” Like the other Werelupes he ruled over, he was bound to this quirky little family by loyalty and brotherhood. He would follow them and fight for them to the ends of the universe and back. It was not a connection he regarded casually.
His words faded into silence and he felt like he had to lighten the mood. “I am sure Hyren would be interested in seeing Sloth again,” he said slyly.
His owner laughed. “Now that would be interesting to watch. Sloth versus the former commander of his space-marine corps…”
“I feel it would end badly for Sloth,” Isengrim said.
“Hey guys!” Blynn shouted from the other side of the courtyard. “Dinner’s almost ready!”
Terra looked over her shoulder at her Disco Zafara. “Thanks!”
“We’ll be in shortly!” Isengrim added.
“Anyway,” Terra said, turning back to him. “What were we talking about before we went off on that soul-searching tangent?”
Isengrim smirked. “Monsters. And how no one likes them.”
She hugged his arm. “Well, I like monsters.”
The Werelupe King’s tail wagged and he rested his chin on her head. “They like you, too.”
That was the final word on that subject.
Dusk was falling sharply, although the western clouds still glowed neon pink. Above their heads, the first stars began to peep out of the darkening sky. Isengrim recognised the familiar constellation—the asterism of six exceptionally bright stars that were always the first to be seen at nightfall. The First to Rise.
He poked a claw up at them. “In Altadorian tradition, those stars represent a Faerie, do they not?”
Terra nodded. “Siyana. One of the founders of Altador.”
“Werelupes have their own names for the star-figures.” Isengrim traced the dual arcs of three stars each. “We call those stars the Two Tails. They represent two Werelupes walking together. Perhaps they are hunting partners, chasing a nearby constellation.” He smiled. “Or perhaps they are friends who truly understand each other.”
His owner smiled too. “I like that one best.”