The Fallen: Betrayed - Part Three
“Brother,” Alston addressed him, a knowing smirk upon his face.
Javiod hoped that his glare would bore holes into him. “You are no brother of mine.”
“Now, now, no need to be so inhospitable,” Alston chided him.
For a second, it appeared that Alston was going to lift a paw to clap him on the shoulder, and Javiod was disappointed that the other Lupe seemed to decide it was a bad idea at the last moment and kept his paw at his side. Instead, Alston took a brief survey of Javiod’s clearing and clucked his tongue.
“Snug,” he deducted, “though a little cold for my taste.”
Javiod’s jaw tightened as he clamped down on the biting retort that threatened to surge forth. He knew very well that his brother had claimed his room upon de-throning him. He could hardly belittle Javiod’s taste when everything that Alston now had had been stolen from him.
“What do you want?” Javiod hissed.
Alston tilted his head to the side innocently. “Can’t a Lupe visit his brother?”
Javiod growled despite himself. “You’re a fool for coming here. State your purpose or you’d best consider whether or not you can outrun my friends and me.”
Javiod was rewarded by the brief trickle of fear that he saw shine in his brother’s eyes before he could successfully mask it. He’d thought he could play the arrogantly triumphant sibling, but he was going to soon find out that Javiod would crush that parade before it started. He would not have what was his brandished in his face.
At the very least, Alston stopped smiling.
“I came to say that we should let bygones be bygones.”
Javiod snorted. “Then you’ve wasted your time and mine.”
Alston looked indignant. “I won’t stand for any more attempts of yours. Turning me into a Werelupe will not work. You’ll be the only one wasting your time with that.”
Rage simmered in the deepest parts of Javiod’s chest. His brother was a fool. He’d always known that, but the fact that he had the gall to all but say that Javiod should have quit now while he was ahead, because he wasn’t going to return to him what was his, was far beyond stupidity.
“Then give it back to me,” Javiod demanded.
Alston rolled his eyes. “It’s mine now. Get used to it. Besides, I highly doubt my people would prefer a... beast as their king rather than me.” Alston laughed darkly. “Even if I wanted to give it back, it wouldn’t work. You know that as well as I do. They won’t have a Werelupe as their king. You’re all a rather uncivilized bunch. They love me, you know. I’m not a drag like you were.”
Javiod’s ears twitched unnoticeably as they detected the solitary sound of a twig snapping. He’d been so deeply wrapped around his and his brother’s short conversation that he’d ignored his other senses and had not detected his Werelupe pack crowding around the outer ring of his trees. They were hiding there, in the cover of shadows, forming a protective circle around him, waiting.
Waiting for what? Javiod’s gaze flicked away from Alston’s face and then back. For the signal to pounce on his brother, he was sure, and wouldn’t he have enjoyed giving that command? But, as much as his brother was infuriating him, there were better ways to claim revenge, and he was fairly certain that he’d just come up with one.
His brother surely couldn’t have been dumb enough to believe that he could stand there prattling away about how he’d won the sibling war and believe that he could get away with it. Not while Javiod was around. He may not have been the king of Alston’s citizens any longer, but he was the king of the Werelupes, and they were much stronger, and they obeyed his every command.
Slowly, Javiod crossed his arms over his chest, making sure that his brother realized how much he towered over him. Perhaps that was one positive aspect of his transformation. He was now much more physically powerful. Apprehension glistened immediately in Alston’s eyes.
“Fine, you want to play it that way, brother?” Javiod snapped, his eyes sparking with anger. “Then I’ll play it that way. From this second on, you will never have a second’s rest again. It’s high time you learned to deal with problems, Alston, and you’re about to have many.”
Alston’s brows furrowed, not comprehending. “What are you saying, Javiod?”
Javiod grinned wrecklessly, brandishing his sharp, white fangs. Until he could find a way to regain his throne, this plan would have to do. Maybe, if he was lucky, by the end of his plot the Neopians under Alston’s rule would gladly and readily accept a Werelupe king just to do away with a weak fool like Alston.
Javiod knew his brother could not handle conflict, and it was about time Javiod stopped allowing him to get away with night after night of banquet and ball. He was about to find out exactly what all being king entitled.
“As the Werelupe king, I declare war against you.”
Alston’s eyes bulged as the forest around them suddenly erupted with approving howls.
“W-What? You can’t do that!” Alston shouted.
Javiod shrugged away his brother’s denial. Yes, this would be wonderfully rewarding. Just seeing the fear creep into his brother’s eyes was rewarding enough. Javiod took a threatening step forward so that his bare, clawed feet touched the tips of Alston’s glistening boots. He angled his head to glare tauntingly down at his brother.
“From the moment you leave this clearing, my Werelupe brothers will bring chaos to your kingdom. Things will go missing, things will become broken, fear will course down your spine every night as the woods around your kingdom come alive with howls, and your Neopians will be in a constant state of distress,” Javiod informed him, each word adding another douse of fear to flame the fire of terror growing in Alston’s gaze. “You will be forced into the duties you neglect, Alston, and you will pay for what you did to me.”
The expression in Javiod’s eyes was one so terrible that Alston stumbled back, his back ramming up against the bark of a tree behind him. He shook his head briefly, denying.
Javiod extended a paw that brandished a thick coat of brown fur and five long claws. “Look at what you did to me, brother. Do you doubt me now?”
Alston shook his head again, his eyes rivetted on Javiod’s extended paw as if he was still having a difficult time wrapping his rather small brain around his brother’s words.
Javiod lowered his face to his brother’s, “Run now, Alston. Run back to your kingdom and prepare for my wrath.”
A shiver of terror shook his brother’s shadowy frame, and Javiod gave him a shove. Alston stumbled sideways, gave his brother one last disbelieving look, and then bolted into the woods, making a rather noisy escape to his castle.
Once his brother was gone, his brethren stepped from their cover in the trees, and Javiod turned in a slow circle to give each one of his brothers a powerful look.
“From this night forth, we have our revenge!” he shouted suddenly. “We are cursed creatures, and for too long we have been hiding here, accepting the ill-treatment we receive from others. If they will do nothing but except tyranny and villainous behavior from us, let’s show them what real evil is!”
A few of the Werelupes looked apprehensive, if for no other reason than the sight of madness now winking out of Javiod’s eyes. A few wondered if their king had finally been pushed over that one last, high ledge. There was no longer a civilized beast before them. Just a beast.
Rhoswen suddenly stepped forward out of the circle into Javiod’s view. “Sire, are you certain? Is this really—?”
Javiod interrupted him with a wave of his hand. His senses told him that Alston must have been moving rather quickly, for all traces of him had vanished in the wind. His brother was no longer inside the Haunted Woods, and therefore out of hearing range.
“You think I was serious?” he questioned lightly, turning a curious expression to his right-hand Lupe. “I wouldn’t harm m—.” Javiod bit his own tongue and corrected himself, “I wouldn’t harm innocents.”
He’d nearly called them his citizens. They were no longer his in any way except in his own memories. Javiod frowned.
“I’m not sure I understand, sire,” Rhoswen pressed.
Javiod shook his head, and, raising his paws, gently lifted his stick-made crown from his head to hold it before his face. He stared at it ponderously for several long, quiet moments. His Lupes obediently lapsed into silence, allowing him a moment.
Javiod studied the twigs and leaves, how the sticks curved into points and were tied together, how the leaves were strung around in the place of rubies. His Werelupe brethren had made him this inexpensive, seemingly worthless symbol. But it wasn’t worthless.
Not like he’d first believed. Not like he’d thought during all of his moping.
“My brother is a suspicious creature,” Javiod informed the Lupes gathered around him without taking his eyes from the crown. “He will believe every word I spoke, will not be able to relax, let alone sleep, for several days. It’s time he worried about something, so I instilled a little fear into my sibling.”
To think he’d taken the meaning of his makeshift crown for granted all this time. A simple visit from his brother, and his eyes had been opened. He’d been wallowing in grief for too long. Alston had helped enlighten him over how selfish he’d been. Javiod did not want to wind up like his brother.
“I’ll get some satisfaction from knowing that he’s ill at ease, but, from this second forth, I swear off my vengeance.” An audible gasp went around. All of the Werelupes were aware of how obsessively Javiod thirsted for his golden crown. “You are my citizens now. You, the creatures of the night. I was foolish to ever want what I once had.”
Javiod finally looked away from his crown long enough to flick a glance at Rhoswen. His trusted advisor appeared to have been knocked into a state of stupor. Javiod smiled faintly and lifted the crown again to sit it upon his head. This was how it was meant to be.
Javiod took a sweep of the crowd with green eyes, staring into the individual face of each Lupe lurking within the Haunted Woods with him. He tried to force his smile wider, but it simply did not reach his eyes.
“I only require a few moments alone in my cave, and then I will return to you all, the best Lupe king you’ve ever known.”
He finished his impromptu announcement by patting the Lupe nearest him on the shoulder and breaking through the circle the Werelupes had formed around him. Javiod kept his head held high as he disappeared out of the clearing in the direction of his cave.
Rhoswen watched his retreating back as the other Werelupes did, each in their own state of surprise, though none were quite as great as Rhoswen’s. He knew Javiod best, after all.
What was it the king had told him only nights before? Revenge was all he had? What had spurred this sudden change of mind, as quick and as unexpected as a candle flame being snuffed out.
He would play along for now. Rhoswen nodded firmly to a Werelupe that caught his eye with a questioning expression. There would be no questioning of Javiod’s character while he was around.
Rhoswen would keep his speculations to himself, but, somewhere, deep down inside, he felt as if this was the best acting performance Javiod had ever displayed. Something wasn’t right. Rhoswen knew Javiod’s heart, and Javiod’s heart yearned to be king. A real king with a gold crown. The king his brother had taken away from him. With a concentrated effort, Rhoswen began to motion the pack away, back to their cave.
“Go on, get on about your business,” he ordered, ushering them away.
He spared one last glance in the direction that Javiod had disappeared, and then followed the rest of the pack down the arched-tree tunnel back to the pack cave.
Javiod was well aware that Rhoswen, if no one else, hardly believed the show he’d put on for his audience. This knowledge was confirmed when he caught Rhoswen sending one last look over his shoulder, the same look of disbelief etched on his features. Javiod caught this, because he had really not gone back to his cave. He’d merely went far enough into the woods so that he could see without being seen, and had waited to see the response of the pack.
Most of them had all but shrugged it off—Werelupes were known for their abrupt mood changes anyway—except Rhoswen. He was far too wise for his own good, even though he acted meager and tended to shadow rather than to lead.
Javiod frowned and turned to begin the venture he’d claimed to have already taken—the one that led to his cave. Rhoswen thought that he’d been acting, and Rhoswen was, of course, correct. At least, partially.
He did want his kingdom back. He wanted it more than he’d ever wanted anything, thirsted for it like a Neopian stranded in the hottest stretch of the Lost Desert thirsted for a drink of water, and would always yearn for it in such a way, but he had to concentrate his efforts elsewhere before he went mad.
Here, among the Werelupes, he had the second best thing to a title and citizens to rule over. He had something sort of like a substitute, and he’d been taking that substitute for granted. His visit from Alston had reminded him of that, just as it had reminded him that he’d failed.
He’d failed with his first attempt and his only plan. The only method he’d conjured to de-throne Alston had been to turn him into a Werelupe so that he’d be banished as well, and that had failed, but, not only had it failed, it had also alerted him. He’d be on his guard for a while now, and he’d be much more careful about where he walked or slept, what he ate or drank, and who he kept in his company. It’d be all but impossible to form a successful upset now. If it was even possible anymore.
All that left him to do was to wait.
Perhaps he was just being naive. Perhaps he had nothing but a fool’s hope. How good were the odds that his throne would be returned? Not that good.
Javiod reached the mouth of his cave and stumbled into the darkness like a weary traveler. He’d have to make due until then. Until the day that he could win it all back. Until the day that he could replace the crown of twigs with the crown of gold.
But... would that day ever come?