The Fallen: Twisted - Part One
The stench of rot burned the inside of the Gelert’s nose. She wrinkled it in response and stared down that nose at a rather unfortunate Usul. The creature’s sparse clothing was ripped jaggedly and did little to combat the wind that howled through the Haunted Woods on the darkest nights, but clothing was really the least of the Usul’s problems, or, at least, that’s what the Gelert suspected. She didn’t imagine a few measly holes in a shirt was much of a problem for a creature that often had to check to make sure that an arm or a leg hadn’t fallen off somewhere along the way.
Even now, as Mezzanotte watched the Zombie Usul, it seemed as if his right arm sagged a little strangely, as if it was slowly sliding from its hold on the Usul’s shoulder and was in danger of dropping to the grassy floor of the Woods. Mezzanotte hoped that this was not the case. She didn’t particularly like the idea of a disembodied arm wriggling at her feet.
The Neopian seemed to be unaware of the current predicament of his arm, however, and he continued to rattle on in a broken voice about a different misfortune. The Gelert’s dark red eyes may have been trained somewhere above the Usul’s head, but she heard him.
She heard him very well.
Every single word sent a spike of unbridled anger through her pale blue frame, and, had the Usul been paying closer attention, he would have noticed that her slender paws were shaking ever so slightly with rage. There was a look of contempt on her lovely face that looked particularly frightening, which was most likely why the Usul’s eyes remained downcast as he spoke to her.
Mezzanotte listened for the extent of his speech, and, when he finally fell silent, she took several moments to gather her wits and her words before she could be allowed to spout off indignant bursts in her anger. She turned and took several steps away from the Usul, as much as to clear her mind as to relieve her sense of smell.
Really, Zombies had to have been the most disgusting-smelling creatures in the history of Neopia. Worse than the Rubbish Dump. By far.
Mezzanotte cleared her throat and turned back to her minion. A few curly strands of raven black hair fell forward as they came loose from her rose-shaped comb, and Mezzanotte idly shoved them back.
“Cervello,” she addressed the Usul, and he finally lifted his head. There was a fearful sort of respect in his glazed stare. “I understand your troubles. Your troubles are my troubles, of course. And I want you to know that I am going to deal with this problem to put an ease to both our minds.”
A broken, hesitant smile bloomed on the Zombie’s face. “I never doubted you, Countess Mezzanotte. You have always been a wonderful guardian of the Zombie kind.”
Thankfully, there were very few of them. Mezzanotte appreciated that fact silently. After all, her castle would smell rather horrid if very many of Cervello’s kind lurked in the woods around it.
Mezzanotte nodded thoughtfully and glanced up through the crooked arms of the tree branches that persisted in growing thickly around her castle. They blocked out the majority of the sunlight and Mezzanotte could appreciate that, but that also meant that little of that cursed sunlight got to her roses that bloomed thick and wild in her private garden—in which she and Cervello currently stood—and Mezzanotte did enjoy her flowers.
However, even their richly thick, sweet smell couldn’t compete to Cervello’s body odor.
“I appreciate your loyalty, Cervello. Tell your people that Javiod will be dealt with soon. I will call upon you when the time is right.”
Mezzanotte paused. This was usually the point in the conversation in which she was obliged to offer her paw for the usual kiss of departure. However, the Countess was a tad bit reluctant to offer her paw to Cervello. Lest his lips fall into her palm.
So, she simply did not offer. Cervello would say nothing of it, and no one would know that she’d disobeyed etiquette. Who would reprimand her anyway? No one dared to trespass against Countess Mezzanotte the wicked, cruel, and yet stunningly powerful Halloween Gelert.
Mezzanotte ignored the angry, quick flash of a face in the back of her mind. There was one that would stand against her—was standing against her—but that would not last for long.
“Thank you again, Countess. We are close if you desire our service. Good night.”
The Usul tipped his head, already having become aware that he was not going to be offered her paw—signifying that his brain, at least, had not yet come loose from his body—and he turned to leave.
He was only four or five paces away when a soft thump sounded. Mezzanotte was glad that the Usul’s back was turned, because, had he been looking, he would have caught her expression. Mezzanotte was usually quick to guard her feelings and thoughts, but it took her several moments to mask the disgust that flashed brightly across her face as Cervello’s arm came loose from its socket and dropped to the ground.
The fingers of said arm waved fruitlessly in the air for a few minutes after, as if to wave Cervello back to retrieve his lost limb. However, Cervello did not seem to be aware of the departure of his arm.
Mezzanotte finally found her voice and cleared her throat.
“Cervello, you’re forgetting something.”
The Usul turned back with a look of confusion, spotted his arm, and somehow managed to look embarrassed with his strangely emotionless face. He waddled back hurriedly, gathered up his arm, and sent her an apologetic shrug.
With one arm.
“I’m sorry, Mistress.”
Mezzanotte, not entirely sure how much longer her blank expression would last, waved him away and turned her back to him. She waited until she heard the rustle of underbrush that signified that Cervello had disappeared into the Woods before she let out a breath.
She shoved the disturbing image of Cervello’s one arm wriggling in her garden to the back of her mind, and gathered her long black dress into her paws so that she could go inside. Pressing through the large, oak door that served as a rear entrance to her castle, Mezzanotte hurried down a flight of steps until she reached the dungeon of her castle.
There were no bars or torture devices down here, however. The space was occupied instead with several coffins. All but one—hers—were closed.
Mezzanotte’s resting box was the largest and the most elaborate. It was pressed against the far wall and guarded by two torches on either side. The rest of the room was filled with the coffins of her council and her guards, and, also, her brother.
Mezzanotte quietly weaved between the coffins to one that was situated to the right of hers, and was the second largest and elaborate. Lifting a dainty paw, she rapped twice on the lid and stood back.
She heard the soft sound of a groan and then the reluctant creak of the lid lifting. Slowly, her brother’s identically pale blue body appeared as he pushed against his lid and sat up. His short black hair was in disarray from sleep, and his red eyes were blurred and groggy. His expression was confused as he caught sight of his sister and groaned again.
“It’s almost dawn. What are you doing awake?” he grumbled.
“The Zombies are restless.”
Her brother sent her a sour look. “The Zombies are always restless, Mezza.”
“Noctivas,” she sighed. “They’re restless for a decent reason this time. The Werelupe.”
Some of the sleep cleared from Noctivas’s eyes. “Him again?”
Noctivas groaned for the third time and finally climbed out of his coffin. He slid to the floor on bare paws, still dressed in his evening attire from earlier in the night, though it was fitfully rumpled and wrinkled. Mezzanotte had no idea how her brother could sleep in a dress shirt and slacks, but he somehow managed.
The male Gelert stretched his arms, yawning away the last bits of sleep, and caused the ruby amulet on his chest to shift reluctantly as the material of his shirt gave and pulled with Noctivas’s impromptu stretch.
“What now?” Noctivas asked, begrudging the unknown Lupe for his part in waking Noctivas at this unreasonable hour.
Mezzanotte frowned. “The same. The Werelupe king—Javiod, I believe—continues to protect that silly little town. He and his pack will not allow the Zombies into the village. Apparently our fuzzy, brown friend doesn’t approve of the Zombie’s favored game.”
Noctivas smiled reluctantly, flashing two sharp fangs at his sister. “Their game? You mean that ridiculous ordeal in which they run around the village asking for the brains of the Neopians living there?”
He chuckled as if he’d seen this scene play out before with his own eyes. Mezzanotte hardly doubted that he had, in fact, scene it. Her brother was amused by the simplest of things.
Mezzanotte shrugged. “They have to entertain themselves somehow, brother. It keeps them away from here, at least.”
“Which is always nice,” Noctivas agreed. “They could all use a good scrubbing. They smell something awful.”
Mezzanotte glared at her brother. “You’re missing the point. The Werelupes interfere with the Zombies now, and next it’ll be with us, the Halloween Gelerts.”
Mezzanotte’s glare hardened, though it was no longer for her brother. She turned and paced away from him, and then turned and paced back, her dark dress sweeping the floor behind her. As if she had only just suddenly become aware of the presence of all the other coffins, her voice dropped into a whisper.
“I won’t allow that, Noctivas. This self-acclaimed king is encroaching upon my territory. The Haunted Woods is mine. I won’t let some dirty pack of scroungy-looking Lupes steal it away from me!” she hissed.
Noctivas held up a paw as if to calm his sister. “Now, now, Mezza, no need to get so ruffled. I understand, and I agree. Our family has ruled that Haunted Woods for too long to allow this Javiod fellow to change things.”
Mezzanotte folded her arms across her chest, pressing against the twin of the amulet Noctivas wore around his neck that was around her own.
“Will you find out what you can about him for me?” she asked. “I think it’s time I paid this creature a personal visit.”
To be continued...