Inevitable Betrayal: Part Four
Zharick flinched as Sepheren’s sightless white eyes seemed to roll in his head. The Lupe’s jaws hung slack and agape, and the elderly Werelupe’s entire body seemed to be convulsing. Zharick had watched his prophet undergo many visions, and never once had he seen one control Sepheren so violently.
He’d only been lost in his visions of doom and destruction ten minutes at most, but it seemed to have a strong hold on him. He’d taken, only moments before, to mumbling unintelligible speech. Occasionally, he even shouted, but Zharick could decipher nothing. All he knew was that, with each twitch, each shout, each pained movement, Zharick and his present Werelupe Council became more and more uneasy.
Zharick was only beginning to consider chancing waking Sepheren when the Lupe abruptly jerked forward. His mouth continued to move, though his speech was silent, and Sepheren, still deep within his vision, jabbed a long claw into the dirt and began to write.
Out of habit, Zharick moved forward to examine what Sepheren was scribbling, and was astonished to find that he could read it this time. It wasn’t a jumble of meaningless lines, but, instead, the Lupe was drawing letters.
When the prophet reached the last letter, his claw jerked so that the leg of the “A” was overly extended and jagged.
“ELLESTRA!” Sepheren roared, and each Werelupe in the cave jolted. “ELLESTRA! ELLESTRA!”
With each shout, a tremor shook the prophet’s body, and Zharick immediately dropped to his knees beside him, reaching out to clamp onto the elderly Lupe’s shoulders and shake him awake. Though Sepheren could not be so easily stirred by his vision, his grayed head suddenly snapped sideways, his white, unseeing eyes trained on Zharick in such a profound manner that it sent fear straight to the core of his heart.
“E-L-L-E-S-T-R-A!” Sepheren shouted, spelling the name aloud. “E-L-L-E-S-T-R-A!”
Zharick fell back onto his bottom as Sepheren suddenly sprang, surprisingly nimble, to his feet. His eyes were wild and seemed to be focused on something only he could see. Zharick had only a moment to comprehend that it seemed that Sepheren’s staff seemed to materialize magically in the prophet’s paw before the old Lupe struck him mercilessly on the head with it.
“OW!” Zharick howled.
Stars exploded in his vision as his head reeled from the blow. He heard the sound of hurried footsteps as the Lupes closest to him immediately started forward to his aid. Zharick, however, held up a paw in what he hoped to be their general direction and beckoned them back.
“Sire.” Sepheren’s voice protruded through the ringing in his head. “Sire, are you all right? Did I strike you?”
He heard the rustle of fur as Sepheren knelt beside him. A large paw weighted suddenly on his shoulder, and Zharick’s vision immediately cleared. Dazed, he blinked and looked up at Sepheren’s concerned visage peering down at him. He felt the same sliver of unease as he felt that the prophet’s blind eyes were focused on him again.
“I’m all right,” Zharick shrugged it off. He didn’t dare to lift a paw to the whelp on the side of his head to test the idea.
“I’m sorry, sire. I couldn’t control it.”
Zharick gritted his teeth as his head began to throb. “My fault. I got too close. Forget about it, Sepheren. Tell us what you saw.”
Sepheren paused for only a moment and then sighed heavily. “Ellestra. The spirit’s name is Ellestra. She’s nearly in control now. She must be stopped immediately.”
A horrible truth to find, one that struck fear into Sepheren’s soul. He knew the name, remembered it from legend. Could it possibly be the same one? Could it possibly be the same Ellestra?
Zharick scowled. “Yes, I know.”
The name didn’t seem to have the same effect on the king, so Sepheren held his tongue. There was no reason to bring up old legends now and frighten everyone for nothing. He’d wait to see if they proved true. He hoped they wouldn’t.
“We’re running out of time, my king,” Sepheren warned again.
Zharick looked away.
And, he thought to himself, they were running out of luck.
Zharick touched the necklace around his neck, brushing his shaggy paw across the two claws that hung from it, and wondered if maybe they were still being optimistic. Maybe all hope was already lost.
Luckily for Losely, the weather in the Haunted Woods seemed to be permanently frozen in autumn. The air was warm, yet there was a comforting, nearly chilling breeze to accompany it. Bundled from head to toe, Losely was grateful for that breeze, though she imagined she was a bizarre sight to those that took her in on her path to Damis’s home.
She’d worn a long sleeved dress that covered her legs, feet, and arms. She’d hidden her paws with gloves and masked her entire head with several scarves that she’d wound around and around until not a strand of her golden hair peeked through.
She couldn’t let Damis see the changes her body had undergone. Though he’d reacted positively to her hair, she couldn’t imagine that he’d react the same when he found that it seemed that she was coming back to life. Her hair was back, her eyes were bold and clear, and just this morning she’d woke to discover that there was only one single patch on her body that was not covered in pink fur. That resolutely green-hued patch on her leg felt like her last hope for survival.
Though survival against what, she couldn’t tell.
It didn’t matter that she didn’t know what she was fighting against, she only knew that there was some sort of invisible enemy that she needed to fear. The blackouts had become even more frequent and longer, and now she always woke with the powerful sensation that tremendous, horrible events had been taking place while she was unwillingly asleep.
Terrified of herself, Losely had finally decided to come out of her self-inflicted isolation and seek the comfort of Damis’s presence. She could only hope that she remained herself around him.
Her heart ached a little as she came to the end of the path and found the walkway to Damis’s cottage. A beautiful array of flowers lined either side of the path up to his door, and his cottage was painted in a merry yellow color. Here was normalcy that she could never have.
Losely lifted a gloved paw and knocked.
The Aisha reluctantly lifted her gaze as Damis opened his door. Her Kougra friend stood regarding her curiously. Even with her face blanketed by scarves, she couldn’t mistake the concern that was reflecting back at her from his golden eyes.
“Damis.” Her voice was muffled. “I-I came to visit.”
Instead of allowing her in automatically as she expected him to, Damis kept himself firmly wedged in the entrance, studying her skeptically for several long minutes. Finally, however, he stepped to the side and gestured her in. His voice was a few degrees short of welcoming, and his expression was guarded.
“Come in, Losely.” He waited until she stepped inside, and then he shut the door. “Have a seat.”
She took the plush blue chair that he beckoned her to and waited for him to sit on the matching couch across from her. Even though she was guarded by her layers of clothing, she couldn’t help but feel that Damis’s critical gaze saw straight through to what she was hiding. She tried not to fidget, though she was horribly uncomfortable under his stare.
“Are you all right?” he asked finally.
Losely looked up at him in surprise. “Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?”
She hoped it didn’t sound as if she was lying.
Damis shrugged. “You’ve been avoiding me.”
Losely fought to keep her gaze level with his. “I haven’t been feeling well.”
“You’re dressed like a walking carpet, Losely.”
She felt her face burn red. The ability to blush had not been something she’d missed after becoming undead, and she certainly didn’t appreciate it now. She was only thankful that Damis couldn’t see the crimson color seeping across her cheeks.
“I’ve been sick. I didn’t want you to catch it,” she hedged.
Damis frowned. “Tell me the truth, Losely. I’m your friend, you know. You can tell me.”
Guilt weighed heavily in the pit of her stomach, and it was all that she could do not to burst into tears. No, she couldn’t tell him. She could never explain that something wicked was happening to her body and mind. He wouldn’t believe her anyway. He’d think she was mad, wouldn’t he? She hardly believed it herself. She couldn’t expect him to. But he was her friend, and she’d never kept anything from him before.
There was no other choice. She had to betray his trust a little longer. Carefully, Losely clasped her paws together on her lap.
“I’m serious, Damis. I just haven’t been feeling well.” She kept her voice firm; wouldn’t let it crack.
That same upraising stare studied her for a painful, silent expanse of time, and it was a long enough expanse that she had time to regret coming to see him. She couldn’t stand the questions when she didn’t truly know the answers.
Damis pursed his lips, momentarily exposing his two fangs, and slowly leaned back against the couch. He didn’t move his golden stare.
She nearly jumped when he finally spoke to her again.
“I was really worried about you, Losely,” he admitted quietly, his face suddenly going slack and exposing his anxiety. “With all the gossip about the Werelupes looking for someone carrying some kind of disease, I though for sure that it must have gotten you.”
Losely felt every muscle in her body tense. “What disease? What are you talking about?”
Damis shrugged and looked away, and Losely was truly sorry that she’d placed those lines of stress around his eyes. He’d really been concerned for her well-being, and she’d done nothing to alleviate his worry.
“I don’t know. They won’t say anything in clear terms. I thought they were just playing some dumb game at first,” Damis admitted. “They’re going around studying Neopian’s eyes. They’re telling everyone to be on the lookout for Neopians who exhibit signs of confusion and loss. They say their stare is glassy, that they don’t know what they’re doing.”
A rock lodged in Losely’s throat. It felt suddenly hard to breathe.
“Why are they looking for someone like that?” She couldn’t keep her voice steady or even now.
Damis frowned. “I don’t know. They won’t say. Most of the denizens of the Woods think that it must be some rare disease.”
Disease? Ha! Laughable! That’s what they thought this was? A disease? Puny, insolent Neopets. They were sadly, sadly mistaken. And soon they would know just how far off of their mark they were.
Losely gasped and shoved those thoughts away, thoughts that weren’t her own. Whose were they? She didn’t know, but she’d been hearing them far too often these days. Was she the one that was diseased? Could there be a cure?
“What’s wrong?” Damis asked, suddenly scrutinizing her again.
For a moment, she thought Damis was about to pout. She knew that, by now, he must suspect her of keeping him on the outside of something. He knew she had some kind of secret. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t share it with him.
“You know, for a while I thought it was you,” Damis began to abruptly speculate aloud. “That day out in the woods when I was talking to you, it was like you were somewhere else, but your eyes were open. Ever since then, you’ve kept me at arms-length, Losely. You’ve been acting secretive and distant.”
Losely swallowed audibly. Was it that obvious?
“But,” Damis went on, “I believe you if you say it’s not you. It’s not you, is it?”
She was ready to break down right then and there, underneath Damis’s concerned, questioning eyes. She needed the release of admittance more than she’d realized. She needed to expose herself, to not be the only one with this horrible secret. She needed someone else to tell her that she wasn’t crazy, that there was a reason why she was having blackouts and waking up in places she didn’t remember, hearing voices in her head that weren’t her own.
Losely opened her mouth to confess, but her words tangled in her throat.
“Are you sure you want to tell him, Losely?” the melodious voice spoke inside her head. “What will you do if he thinks you’re crazy?”
He wouldn’t. Would he? Losely closed her mouth.
“That’s better,” the voice purred. “It’s better this way.”
How could it be better that she was suffering alone? Losely felt tears well up in her eyes.
“Are you crying?” Damis asked quietly.
Great. She was. Softly, but still crying. Little tremors shook her body, and the tears that had gathered on her lashes now streamed freely down her cheeks. Embarrassed and undone, Losely lifted her gloved paws and pressed them over her eyes. A louder sob broke through before she could contain it.
“Losely?” She heard Damis rise and cross the floor to her. “Are you--?”
“Don’t!” she yelled suddenly, and Damis jumped backward, surprised.
Losely sprang to her feet. Overwhelmed by her despair, she was startled to find the first flame of rage flicker to life inside her chest. She ground her teeth together as the tears continued to stream. This wasn’t fair! She was suffering, and she didn’t know why, and she still had to suffer alone. She couldn’t stand it any longer!
“Don’t come near me, Damis! You might get it too!” she shouted, voice drenched with tears.
“Losely, what are you talking about?” Damis demanded.
Releasing an agonized scream, Losely began to tear away her garments. She ripped her gloves from her paws, tore the sleeves away from her arms, and flung the scarves around her head to the floor. Tearing away at her disguise, she didn’t stop until she stood, panting and crying, in a sleeveless, patched dress with a skull necklace dangling around her throat.
Damis gave a gasp of surprise.
“What are you doing, you FOOL?” the voice inside of her head roared.
“I won't let you do this!” Losely cried aloud, startling Damis once again.
Exposing her newfound perfection to Damis, allowing him to absorb the golden, full hair, crystal clear blue eyes, and nearly flawless pink fur—save for the patch of green still stubbornly on her leg—Losely, at least for the moment, liberated herself from the unseen power that had a hold over her.
And with this liberation came a flood of memories. Losely released a cry of surprise as she was suddenly bombarded with all the things that had taken place during her blackouts. All at once, she remembered. She remembered the scenes of betrayal, the images of deceit and destruction that the thing inhabiting her body had created.
“No,” Losely gasped, as she saw what was in store.
All at once, she whirled on Damis. “You have to stop me, Damis! You have to stop her! Don’t let her do this! Don’t let her succeed!”
Losely released a strangled cry as the room suddenly threatened to tilt sideways. She felt it coming on, like she always did. She could feel the darkness just on the outskirts, fighting to drag her down.
No... No! She couldn’t allow the monster inside of her to have control. Not with Damis here.
For a split second, Losely’s gaze connected with Damis’s.
“I’m sorry!” she wept.
And then she turned and fled.
To be continued...