Inevitable Betrayal: Part One
The vision unfurled like mist over water. Slowly, almost dream-like, it unraveled, curling gently into images of the marketplace in the Lost Desert, ghosting into silhouettes of Neopians, coloring in the lines, and smoothing out the blurred edges until it had painted the picture of a bustling marketplace in the middle of the hot desert of Neopia.
There was nothing out of the ordinary to the untrained eye here, but this second sight immediately perceived the difference. As one, seemingly ordinary, Mynci strolled through this mind-painting, the sight locked onto its unassuming yellow form and trailed behind as the Mynci paused in front of a fruit stand with what appeared to be his comrade, a red Zafara.
It was obvious from their clothing that they were of the less fortunate in the Lost Desert, but there was also something about their eyes that gave away their intentions before they’d been met. Quickly, almost unnoticeably, the Mynci looped his tail around an apple as he paused for only seconds at the fruit stand. Almost invisibly, it lifted the apple and carefully shoved it into his own pocket after he’d ascertained that no one was looking. The Mynci exchanged one meaningful glance with his friend, and then they both moved away.
Certainly it was an act of thievery, and certainly it wasn’t something that the guards, had they been aware, would have allowed to happen, but it wasn’t altogether something unusual. The comrades had needed food, and, to get food, they’d taken the only method they understood. This vision would have been nothing astounding or particularly moving had a second form not suddenly slid into the line of sight.
This form, however, was matter-less, almost ghost-like. Perhaps it could have been mistaken as an apparition as it had no true form and simply hovered several inches above the ground, gliding hauntingly in the Mynci and Zafara’s direction. But there was something dark about this presence, something truly evil and foreboding, and it was not exactly a ghost, yet not mortal either.
The vision followed after this substance, the viewer feeling a prick of anxiety and a trickle of fear himself as he watched helplessly.
As if it truly had a purpose, the matter-less substance gained on the red Zafara, and, as if it meant to run him over, the substance pressed itself into the red, furry body. For a second, and no longer, the viewer hoped that it meant to simply pass through, but it did not emerge from the other side of the Zafara’s body, and the viewer truly hadn’t expected it to.
The viewer knew quite well that right now, the substance was twining itself with the Zafara’s very soul, lacing its intentions and desires with that of the Zafara’s, and, quite effortlessly, taking control of the Zafara’s own body.
After only a minute had passed, the Zafara halted abruptly. So quickly did he come to a stop, and so unexpectedly, that his Mynci friend continued to walk, unaware that he was now trotting solo. The viewer watched the form of the Zafara stiffen strangely, and then turn, almost mechanically. It was obvious that the Zafara was no longer himself then, as his face was impossibly blank and unfamiliar. His blue eyes were glazed with an unknown film, and he appeared to be nothing more than an empty shell.
However, he was not empty. Not at all.
With the same harsh, mechanical movements the Zafara suddenly began to walk again, in the opposite direction of his friend. He continued this strange, surreal march in a direct path of a rather large Tonu guard. He did not stop until he’d reached the giant fellow, and, extending an unfamiliar paw, he tapped the gentleman on the shoulder.
Once he’d gained the Tonu’s undivided attention, the Zafara lifted an accusing finger, and pointed toward the retreating back of his Mynci friend. His mouth moved slowly, and, though no words could be heard by the viewer, he knew what the Zafara’s words would be.
“Thief. He stole the apple.”
And just like that, the deed was done. Unheard shouts rang, and the Mynci friend turned in surprise as he was stampeded by guards intent on placing him under arrest. With this dark deed done, the Zafara’s body jolted once in the sight of the viewer, twice, and then that filmy, unknown substance slid out, releasing him from its evil hold.
The Zafara blinked, dazed, the glaze receding from his view, and he looked on in horror and confusion as he saw his friend tackled by the guards.
Another act had been committed then. It was done. But how much worse would it grow when the amulet devoured more power?
The viewer pushed away from his vision, unable to stand any more of this horrible, inevitable betrayal...
“Sepheren, my friend, what did you see?”
The blind prophet addressed lifted his head in the direction of his master. The eyes in the sockets that stared unseeingly at the Werelupe King were eerily white and seemed to have a strange glow about them, as if he was not truly blind at all, but could see many things.
Zharick, the Werelupe King, had no doubt that Sepheren could indeed see many things, though he didn’t believe any of them were on the same level of senses that he himself contained. Because of this second sight, the Werelupe Sage, Sepheren, was an invaluable ally to have at his side. Lately, however, Zharick hadn’t been enjoying what Sepheren had to tell him.
Sepheren drew in a deep breath, appearing pained as a frown creased his haunting face. A face that was old with age and ragged grey fur that grew untamed and still as wild as it had in his youth. Atop his large head, nestled in his thick mane, was a crown of bones that symbolized his position in the Werelupe ranks. A crown that was close to being a twin of the one the Werelupe King himself wore. Sepheren’s favored staff—topped with a skull of some unknown beast—lay before him on the ground where he sat cross-legged.
The dirt just above the position of the staff was lined with drawings that made little sense to anyone else in the King’s enormous cave other than Sepheren, the artist.
Zharick stared at these drawings as he waited for Sepheren to respond, scowling at things that he didn’t understand. Sepheren had been drawing these inexplicable lines during the expanse of his vision. It had been a frightening experience to watch, even for a weathered soul like Zharick.
The prophet had gone suddenly lax, his large jaws gaping open, and then his index claw had shot forth and began scribbling away with speed that Zharick hadn’t been aware that Sepheren claimed. He’d mumbled softly, at times sounding like baby gibberish, all in a tone that hadn’t sounded like Sepheren’s voice.
“It worsens,” Sepheren said finally, and several of the other Werelupe councilmen in the cave jolted, Zharick included. “Its power is growing. It will spread to the Lost Desert. It feeds from its claimed soul.”
Sepheren paused, pursing his lips. As if he could see everything as clearly as Zharick himself, Sepheren tilted forward slightly and examined his own unintelligible scribbles in the dirt. His blind eyes fixed on the marks. He traced some of them with his claw, grunting to himself, as if he was actually reading and understanding what he’d written in a trance.
“We must find the soul. Time runs short. The amulet must be destroyed.”
A few hushed whispers went around. Zharick ignored them.
“Do you know who it is?” he questioned, hoping against hope.
Sepheren’s brows furrowed. “It isn’t clear. I can only see the outline. The soul’s body is simply the house. It does not move with the spirit.”
“Then how do we find them?” Zharick pressed, feeling anxiety creep between his shoulder blades.
Zharick lifted his paw to toy absently with the necklace around his neck. It hosted two Werelupe claws, seemingly inconspicuous, but, upon a closer look, it could have been noted that Zharick’s left paw was two claws short. All Werelupe kings were born lacking two claws. It was the mark of the leader. This lack of razor sharp claws didn’t seem to faze him, and he touched the necklace as if it brought reassurance to him, though hardly anything could do that at this moment.
Of course he had every right to be anxious. Some fool had found the Amulet of Inevitable Betrayal and was cavorting around wearing it like it was jewelry, unleashing a darkness on the whole of Neopia like none ever seen before. The longer the necklace had this soul, this carrier, the stronger it would become. The acts it committed would grow worse. The feats of betrayal it forced Neopians to carry out would become horrendous until everything crumbled under the chaos it would create.
“The stronger it grows, the less time the soul will be in possession of the body,” Sepheren explained. “Look for the eyes, my king. The eyes give away everything.”
So they would have to go around the Haunted Woods examining everyone’s eyes? How many souls lurked inside the Haunted Woods? Too many, and most of them were already inhospitable enough as it was. It would be a difficult task to have anyone willingly succumb to having their eyes checked.
“It could be anyone,” Zharick said quietly to himself.
He saw Sepheren’s head nod in agreement, and a burden of weight pressed against his shoulders. It was his responsibility to find the host of the evil spirit. It was his responsibility to make sure that law and order remained functioning in the Haunted Woods. At least as well as it could be expected to.
After all, whoever had found the amulet had found it in the Haunted Woods. It had always been rumored to have been housed in this land, seeing as how its evil core sought the darkest of the lands, but Zharick had never really believed in it. At least not until things had started happening. When Sepheren’s visions had begun, his worst fears had been confirmed.
Someone had found the Amulet, and someone was wearing it.
“Noctivas is such an oaf,” a Halloween Kougra growled, appearing extremely peeved and referring to the Gelert Count of the Haunted Woods, part of a self-acclaimed royal clan that resided in the area. “All I wanted was a rose. His sister grows the best ones. I thought maybe I could give it to Alice.”
The Zombie Aisha the Kougra was addressing was oblivious to her friend’s indignation, lost somewhere in her own thoughts, unaware that he was currently annoyed that his plans to bring one of the loveliest flowers in the Haunted Woods home to his sister, Alice, had been terminated. Her eyes were fixed somewhere to his left, lost in a glazed, somewhat empty expression. Not quite daydreaming, yet not quite asleep.
It took the Kougra only a matter of seconds to realize he was being ignored. Pressing his black ears back to his skull, he growled irritably and prodded her with his paw.
“Losely, are you even listening to me?” he demanded.
His friend’s body shifted as he pressed against it, but she didn’t give a start and refocus on him as he’d expected. Instead, she lolled sideways a little before bobbing upright again, the same, blank stare on her face. The Kougra wondered if she was somehow sleeping with her eyes open. She was a Zombie after all, and their bodies didn’t exactly function normally.
Though it was logical, it didn’t suppress the chill that ran down his spine, feeling as if there was something much more deeply wrong about this scene than he could perceive.
He prodded her again. The wispy remnants of what had once been a head full of long, wavy blonde hair shifted around her face, but her dull blue eyes remained unblinking.
“Hello? Losely?” he called. “Losely! Wake up!”
He waited for several long moments for a response, and, when he didn’t receive one, he lifted his paw to try once more. His dark paw was almost completely outstretched when Losely suddenly gasped and jolted, nearly toppling sideways off of the log he’d come across her perched upon on his way home. Startled himself, the Kougra sprang backward and issued an alarmed hiss.
“Damis?” Losely questioned immediately, lifting a paw to her chest as her glazed eyes cleared to their usual murky color and focused on him with a look of confusion.
Damis felt his own heart racing, but he tried not to appear as frightened as he felt.
“It’s about time,” he complained. “Were you asleep?”
Asleep? How long had he been trying to call for her attention? Had she been asleep, really? Was that what had happened to her? For a moment, the only thing Losely could do was stare at her friend. He was obviously annoyed with her, so she couldn’t doubt that she’d drifted off at some point. She couldn’t remember a thing he’d been talking about, and her last clear memory had been of him sitting down beside her.
Then it had gotten hot. Hot and dry and... In disbelief, Losely glanced down at her paws half-expecting them to be gritty with sand. That was ridiculous. There wasn’t any sand in the Haunted Woods, and she hadn’t moved at all.
So how could she explain that she didn’t remember the last five or ten minutes of her life?
“Y-Yes,” she stammered a reply to cover her true, inadequate response. “I was asleep. Sorry.”
Damis studied her face skeptically for a moment before shrugging it off as if it was much less important than Losely felt it might be.
“It’s fine, but you have to let me in on how you sleep with your eyes open,” Damis replied, his mind already flitting on to the next matter at hand.
Now Losely shrugged feebly. “It’s a Zombie thing, I guess.”
Damis chuckled happily at his Aisha friend, as if this answered everything, and then presumed to prattle on about other occurrences in his day. Try as she might, Losely couldn’t make herself listen, though she did manage to nod in the correct places so that he thought that she was giving him her undivided attention.
What was happening to her? This had been the third blackout in the last week, and they felt as if they were becoming longer. It felt as if she was losing herself for lengthier spans of time, but losing herself to where and to what? When she surfaced back into reality, she found herself in the same position she’d been in during her last given memory. Nothing had changed, yet she’d felt significantly different.
Maybe it really was a Zombie thing. Maybe the periodical blackouts were caused by how losely her appendages were mended together. After all, at any given time her arms, legs, or even her tail were at chance of rolling away. But why had these blackouts only just started? She’d been a zombie for... Well, for a really long time.
Losely flinched at this acknowledgement, though she suspected that maybe that was where the truth lay. Nothing had been the same for her since her... loss of mortality. She’d once been a beautiful pink Aisha, lively and joyous. She’d had long golden locks of hair, and bright, flushed cheeks. She’d worn dresses—long, frilly white ones— and billowy blouses, rather than her current raggedy pair of shorts and shirt.
She’d had a mother and father that had loved her, and she’d been a happy resident of Neovia. And then one day, out of the complete blue, she’d lost it all. Everything.
Nothing had been the same since she’d lost her parents. Losely glanced down at her discolored paws. Obviously.
It was a horribly depressing fate. Maybe her mind preferred to go on brief vacations to escape it. She couldn’t blame it. The thought of this caused a wave of sadness to envelope her form, and she sighed wearily. Cutting Damis off in mid-sentence, she stood.
“I’m sorry, Damis, but I have to go home. I’m not feeling so well,” she apologized quietly.
She heard Damis call her name in surprise as she suddenly sprinted away, but she ignored him and hurried through the woods toward her tired, broken cottage resting in an overgrown portion of the Woods.
Losely wrapped her paw around the strange charm on the necklace she’d found a few weeks before as she ran, attempting to seek comfort in the contact, though she had a vague suspicion that that was not its purpose.
To be continued...