The Fallen: Twisted - Part Two
Mezzanotte frowned ever so slightly as two burly Werelupes stepped into her path. She inclined her head to stare up at them—seeing as how they towered several feet above her—and did not appear intimidated considering their obvious advantage in size. Mezzanotte was well aware of her own abilities, and she was quite a powerful force underneath her dainty Gelert façade and slender form.
A few of her midnight black curls fell away from her face, whispering against her cheeks and neck. She studied the Werelupes that blocked her path with faint curiosity. They flanked each other’s sides like an impenetrable wall. The one on the right was blanketed in black fur that was so shaggy his eyes were barely viewable. The one to the left was bulkier, maybe an inch shorter, and had a coat of grey that was currently entangled with twigs and leaves.
They both needed a bath.
Mezzanotte suppressed a sigh and lifted one finely arched brow.
“Excuse me,” she said, her tone slightly scathing. “You’re standing in my way.”
The shaggy Lupe folded his arms across his massive chest in response and grunted. Mezzanotte bit her tongue to refrain from asking how she was supposed to interpret a grunt.
“This is as far as you’ll be going, lady,” the shorter Lupe supplied for his friend.
Mezzanotte’s frown deepened until it bordered on a scowl. She hadn’t expected them to be civil—Werelupes were never civil—but she had expected them to show her the appropriate amount of respect that was due to the Countess of the Haunted Woods. Didn’t they know who she was? How could they possibly not? The twisted civilians of the Haunted Woods had feared and respected her for years now. There was no way even a pack of uncivilized Werelupes could be oblivious to who she was.
“Have you no manners?” she snapped. “Don’t you know who I am?”
The shaggy Werelupe glanced at his comrade who shrugged in return. That was apparently enough for the Werelupe to be satisfied that the Gelert was obviously insignificant. As if the one, low-class Werelupe’s opinion mattered.
Shaggy-fur turned his attention back to Mezzanotte and flatly replied, “No.”
Mezzanotte’s mouth fell open indignantly before she could firmly close it again. They were lying! She knew it! Everyone knew of her! Everyone in the Haunted Woods respected and obeyed her! Fuming, Mezzanotte’s eyes narrowed into slits. She inclined her head in a regal manner, and regarded the two Lupes like the petty civilians they were. Nothing but dirt on her paws.
“Countess Mezzanotte,” she supplied. “Does that ring a bell, gentlemen?”
Shaggy-fur’s muzzle split into a grin. “No,” he replied again.
The grin was evidence that he was lying now, simply toying with her. Mezzanotte’s ruby red eyes heated with anger. He was either extremely brave or extremely foolish to do so. Mezzanotte was betting on the latter. She’d always known Werelupes contained rocks for brains. This fool was the perfect example.
“Do not play games with me,” she hissed. “You know who I am, and you know how dangerous it is to play stupid with a Gelert like me. I’ve come to see Javiod. Show me to him. Now.”
His grin widened, and, with a massive paw, he gestured from himself to his friend. “I’m Raiden, and this is Dometrus. Yes, we’ve heard of you, Mezzanotte, but we are not afraid of your threats. We serve King Javiod, and he wants nothing but his own privacy at the moment.” Raiden chuckled. “You’ll have to come back later, Countess.”
“Why you—” Mezzanotte lifted a clenched paw.
Dometrus held up his paw as well. “Now, now, Countess, we don’t want to fight with you. Run along back to your castle. I’m sure your zombie minions are in need of consoling after a long night that was empty of fun for them.”
Mezzanotte’s nostrils flared in response. She’d never been treated in such a manner. They were lucky she didn’t unleash her wrath right now!
“Watch your step, Dometrus. I demand to see Javiod. Now. I’m not leaving until I’ve done so,” Mezzanotte informed him.
A shifting in the brush drew all three pairs of eyes to Mezzanotte’s left, momentarily avoiding further argument.
“What is all this noise about?” a voice demanded as the largest form yet stepped out of the blanket of the woods.
Mezzanotte’s neck ached from how far back she had to incline her head to see this Werelupe. Thick brown fur greeted her eyes, as well as two bright green eyes that seemed to be churning full of knowledge as they studied each Neopian in the small group. The moonlight caught the golden necklace draped around his neck, and Mezzanotte’s eyes were momentarily drawn down to study the Moon charm the Lupe wore.
“Javiod, I presume?” she spoke first.
Her eyes then went to his makeshift crown, crafted from leaves and twigs, and a small, taunting smirk lifted the corner of her mouth. That was all that he was. A makeshift king. She ruled the Haunted Woods, and it was time that he respected this.
Javiod eyed the Gelert before reluctantly nodding. “Yes. And you are?”
This brought a snort from Raiden, and Mezzanotte shot him a burning glare.
“Countess Mezzanotte,” she hissed through her teeth.
Javiod lifted his brows. “Ah, I see.” He glanced at the two Werelupes still with them. “Please, follow me, Countess.”
Without allowing her to respond, Javiod turned quickly and surprisingly agilely for a Lupe so large, and headed down a path. Mezzanotte was irked that he assumed she’d follow obediently, and even more annoyed that that was exactly what she’d have to do.
Without giving the other Lupes a parting glance, she followed after the gigantic form of Javiod and was glad, at least, to be rid of Raiden and Dometrus. She studied Javiod’s broad, muscled back in silence as they ventured down the short path, briefly changing views as she admired how they’d somehow forced the smaller trees along the path to bow together above their heads to create a tunnel of sorts.
She guessed that was as good of décor as one could expect from beasts. Unless one thought that chairs formed from rocks was a step up, Mezzanotte amended as they reached the end of the tunnel. It led them to a small, circular clearing that contained a high-backed stone throne and a handful of smaller stone chairs.
She glanced up as Javiod gestured for her to take a seat in one of the chairs but made no move to do so himself or to go to his throne. Because of this, Mezzanotte shook her head at his request and remained standing as well.
Javiod nodded. “To the point then.”
Mezzanotte wasted no time. “I came to discuss the little barrier you’ve created around the neighboring kingdom.”
Something passed through Javiod’s eyes, but it came and went so quickly that Mezzanotte could not decipher it. However, something about him became a little more guarded.
“Are you referring to my Lupes keeping the zombies out of the kingdom?” he questioned.
“Yes,” Mezzanotte replied simply. “It must stop.”
“No,” Javiod replied just as simply.
Mezzanotte frowned. She’d tried the simple approach, but if he was going to so bluntly refuse, then she was going to have to use what she knew against him. Noctivas had dug up quite a bit of information about this new “king”.
“I’m going to ask why not,” Mezzanotte informed him, “because I am well-aware of how you came into this situation. You’re new. I can let you slide this once. You were unaware that I, Countess Mezzanotte, am the power here in the Haunted Woods. You’re overstepping your boundaries, so I’m going to ask you to retreat.”
She was going to try to be civil. She was going to try not to yell. She was going to try to contain her wild, unruly temper. Trying was really all she could do. Very slowly, she folded her paws together in front of her.
“You’re wrong,” Javiod began, and caused Mezzanotte’s teeth to grind together. “I do know who you are and all about you. I’m sorry to step on your toes, but, after all, you have your zombies, and now I have my Werelupes. Surely you won’t mind sparing the few Werelupes in your Woods to my rule.”
“As a matter of fact, I do mind,” Mezzanotte retorted.
Javiod shrugged in response. “I’m sorry for that then, but there’s nothing to do about it. They only follow me now.”
Mezzanotte counted to ten silently, waiting until the red hazing around her vision melted away. She hated to be refused anything. Especially by someone so much lower class than herself. She’d had a feeling that this first argument had been a lost cause before she’d ever even come to his part of the woods, however, so she would let it pass for the time being and cut straight to the chase.
“All right,” she ground out. “Back to the matter at hand. I want you to call of your Werelupe guard around the village.”
“What pleasure do you get from terrorizing them?” he asked.
Mezzanotte pursed her lips. “Why are you protecting them?”
A shutter closed over Javiod’s eyes, concealing his thoughts from her. He was awfully touchy about this subject. He even seemed to tense a little. Stiffening inch by inch.
“It’s not right to torment them like that,” he answered.
But Mezzanotte was well aware that he wasn’t giving her the complete answer. He was holding something back. Too bad for him that she already knew exactly what his secret was, and she wasn’t afraid to wave it in his face.
“Why do you care?” she shot back. “They’re not your people anymore.” Now Javiod did go completely rigid from head to toe, his eyes narrowing dangerously. “Alston, isn’t that his name? Your brother? He took them from you. One would think you’d like a bit of revenge. Why are you trying to make his stolen title so easy for him?”
Mezzanotte was glad that she’d made Noctivas dig up all the past dirt on Javiod. It appeared that bringing up his past was the only way to get through the King’s thick exterior. She saw a muscle in his jaw clench.
“That’s none of your business,” he bit off every word.
Mezzanotte shrugged, folding her arms across her chest and tapping a claw against one arm.
“You can meddle in my business, but I can’t meddle in yours?” she pressed. “Your tragic story may not have been my business, but you made it my business when you set up your little barrier. I’m simply asking why you’re protecting the one who betrayed you.”
Javiod’s thoughts were apparently too powerful to conceal, and a horribly raw pain flashed through his eyes. Had Mezzanotte been a compassionate creature, the force of that look of such a tormented soul might have staggered her, but, as it was, she stood where she was.
“They don’t deserve to be punished for his actions,” Javiod replied gruffly, looking away.
Mezzanotte snorted. “Did they not run you out of the kingdom in fear once they’d seen what you’d become?”
Javiod bristled. “It was a natural response.”
“You’re too soft-hearted to be a king.”
“Maybe,” came the response so softly spoken that Mezzanotte wasn’t sure that she’d actually heard it.
Javiod swallowed hard and shifted so that the side of his body faced her, as if showing her his front completely left him open and vulnerable. Mezzanotte frowned. What had happened to this beast? She felt, somewhere underneath all that foolish self-pity, there was a strong, intelligent creature, but he was wallowing, and he’d allowed himself to be overcome by a silly sort of weakness. Didn’t he have any sort of respect for himself?
Any reasonable creature would want revenge. Mezzanotte was banking on that.
“Move your Lupes, and I’ll get revenge for you,” Mezzanotte bargained. “Alston wont receive one night of complete sleep and rest again.”
Mezzanotte sighed. “The zombies don’t injure them. They simply frighten them.”
Mezzanotte hissed softly. What a hard-headed creature! She studied him in the darkness and knew that there was a great deal of strength there. But it was buried. Buried somewhere he’d long since forgotten.
He could be a powerful ally. If he’d ever drag himself out of the hole he’d dug. Hopefully he’d do so soon, because, if she couldn’t get rid of him, she could use him. If this self-acclaimed king was going to be sticking around and annoying her, she needed to get some sort of personal gain from him. It was Mezzanotte’s way.
“Fine, but it’s a pity for two creatures such as ourselves to be enemies over such a foolish quest of yours,” she told him. “Think about it, Javiod. Consider everything. Once you see reason, I think you will feel more obliged to move your Lupes.”
Mezzanotte paused and lifted a paw to tap her lips thoughtfully. With any luck, he would play right into her paws in time.
“You know, I like you. I can tell that you’re strong, stubborn, and have a great deal of influence. Like me. If you’d ever like to know what it really feels like to be king, to rule over everyone with respect, and to get revenge, come to my castle. There’s a place for you there,” she told him, considering how much more powerful she’d be with his assistance, and then, reluctantly, adding, “and your Lupes.”
With that, Mezzanotte gathered her skirts into her paws and nodded a farewell at Javiod, who was still turned away from her, staring dismally down at the ground.
“Good night, Javiod.”
Mezzanotte disappeared down the tree-formed tunnel.
Javiod stood where Mezzanotte had left him for at least an hour, staring down at the same spot on the ground. Staring at nothing. And inwardly considering all that had gone on. Such a short conversation to have churned him up so much. All of those old emotions were awake and swirling around inside of him again. All of that old pain.
Alston. It’d been a month since he’d last seen him. A month since Javiod had decided that he’d never be returned to his rightful position, that he’d never again be the Lupe he’d once been. A month since he’d forfeited his kingdom to his brother, knowing full well that those Neopians would never accept a Werelupe as their king.
Javiod went to his throne and slumped into the seat, closing his eyes tiredly, and releasing a great sigh. To think that he’d went from wanting revenge to protecting those that had betrayed and outcast him.
Mezzanotte was right. Her heart was cruel and tainted, but even she could see that he was a fool. He’d given up. He’d admitted defeat. He was weak and spineless, and he didn’t deserve to be king.
Javiod propped his elbow on the arm of his throne and buried his face in his paw. Would there ever be a time when he wasn’t the one sacrificing everything?
In the highest tower of a castle bordering the Haunted Woods, a Lupe stood against a window, leaning slightly against the frame, dark eyes examining the night outside that was surprisingly alive for a time that was usually dedicated to slumber. The Lupe melted easily with the shadows cast around his room, his fur being the same shade as those matterless outlines. A breeze blew in through the window, ruffling the Lupe’s shoulder-length black hair.
Alston ignored the breeze, his eyes keen and on the border of the Haunted Woods. Somewhere inside those woods lurked his brother and a pack of powerful Werelupes. Unease rolled in Alston’s stomach, as it had rolled there day after day for the past month.
It was too quiet.
The kingdom seemed to be protected by a bubble of unending peace and tranquility. Not a thing had gone wrong, not a thing had been out of place, for the last month, and that didn’t bode well with Alston. His brother had sworn vengeance, had sworn that he’d never receive a decent night’s sleep again.
Granted, he hadn’t, but it wasn’t because his brother and the Werelupes were terrorizing his kingdom. It was because it was so quiet. Not even a peep from Javiod. He didn’t seem intent to make good on his threat.
But appearances were deceiving. Alston knew that fact well. Somewhere out there, his brother was surely plotting a massive uprising to bring him to ruins. The shadow Lupe frowned. This obviously meant that he had to act first and act fast. He had to stop his brother before he even began.
Alston had an idea in mind. His eyes glittered with the triumph of this idea, though it had not yet yielded any success. He was confident that it would. With the right words and provocation, he could stir the kingdom’s inhabitants into working with him, into smothering his brother’s plans before they could bloom.
He had the right words. He had the motivation. Within time, he could set his plan into motion. His retaliation against his brother’s seemingly lack of retaliation would be a success, and he would no longer have to worry about being overthrown.
With a pleased, yet somewhat leary smile, Alston turned away from his window to get to work.
To be continued...