Inevitable Betrayal: Part Six
A cooling breeze sifted through the clearing in which Ellestra stood. She lifted her face to it and allowed it to shift her blonde hair away from her face. She was quite pleased with the location she’d chosen for her little face-off with the Werelupes. She knew that Damis, the vermin, would go straight to the pack, and then all those old legends would arise, and the fools surely wouldn’t take that long to figure it out. They’d come after her to keep the peace they thought they’d inflicted centuries ago when their old, idiot king had thought he’d rid Neopia of her.
They had to be dealt with before she could commence with her plans.
And what better place to defeat them than this quaint little clearing that was supposed to be sacred ground for Werelupes. Ellestra found it pleasing, but she didn’t know what was that spectacular about it.
It was merely a circle of grass guarded by another circle of trees, though there was a charming little tunnel constructed of young, flimsy trees that had been bowed together and tied at the tops. There were the remnants of a stone throne in the center of the clearing, but Ellestra didn’t see anything too amazing about that either.
Werelupes and their sentimentality. She rolled her eyes. Apparently it was the location in which the fabled Werelupe king, Javiod, had reconstructed a home for the wayward Werelupes and had began the thriving pack that would flourish and pave the way to greatness for future Werelupes, allowing them to live lives in which they weren’t just meaningless monsters.
Whatever. All that goodness made Ellestra queasy, and, besides, the future was what mattered, not the past. Making this place a shrine had been a bout of weakness for the Werelupes. Ellestra had long since grown past any weaknesses.
But it would be quite fitting to beat them here.
Ellestra tilted her head slightly to the right and allowed a smile to blossom over her lips as the sound of approaching footsteps reached her ears. She smoothed the purple, billowing gown she wore and waited for them to arrive.
Fools. They would believe that it was their self-righteous duty to preserve the peace in the Haunted Woods. She supposed she had the great Javiod to thank for that.
“Good afternoon, Zharick,” Ellestra greeted the king in her sing-song voice right as the Werelupe stepped into view.
The massive Werelupe’s shackles immediately rose as he and his brethren stepped into the clearing to find Ellestra waiting. Damis had been leading them to Losely’s cottage when an abrupt vision from Sepheren had changed their path. The villain would choose sacred ground to fight them.
Zharick wrinkled his nose in disgust.
“Go back to your necklace, spirit,” he spat.
Ellestra lowered herself to giving one seething glare in Zharick’s direction, allowing it to float over the Werelupes he’d brought with him as well, and then her face smoothed.
“Oh no, I believe I’ve had enough of that,” she taunted.
“Give Losely back!”
Ellestra’s gaze fell on the Kougra that had yelled at her. Damis. What a pest. Would he ever go away?
“Losely is gone,” Ellestra told him heartlessly.
“No!” Damis roared.
For a moment, the Kougra seemed prepared to spring at her, but he was quickly restrained by a Werelupe at his side. Ellestra chuckled as the Lupe fought to keep Damis in his place.
“So, my king,” Ellestra turned her attention back to Zharick, “why don’t you go back to your cave now and avoid the embarrassment of defeat?”
“You know I can’t go back. You’re my concern now. You know I can’t let anyone disturb the peace of the Haunted Woods.”
“Peace?” Ellestra snorted. “When has there ever been peace in the Haunted Woods?”
“Fine,” Zharick growled. “We’re certainly not the nicest land in Neopia, but we still won’t stand your sort of tyranny here. You’re unwelcome here, spirit. Go back to where ever you came from.”
Ellestra’s eyes became dangerously dark even as she fought to keep her cool, calm control. Werelupes always had known how to push her buttons. Despite her growing fury, she forced her paws to relax from fists and carefully folded her arms over her chest.
“Neopia was never appreciative of my power,” she huffed. “I was going to be the greatest witch in the land. Better even than Sophie! But your ancestors thought they had to stop me. Well, I’m back now, and I’m not going anywhere without my revenge.”
She’d been locked inside of that cursed necklace for centuries, but her memories had never dulled, and her mind had remained sharp. She remembered everything from her life.
She remembered being the pink Aisha with dreams. She remembered her wish to impress all of Neopia with her power, but they’d never appreciated it. They’d never found the wonder in her ability to pit one Neopian against the other. Did they not realize how strong someone’s power had to be in order to turn someone’s will?
“My great-grandfather stopped you, and so will I,” Zharick warned.
He’d thought her existence had only been a legend. Just as he’d thought it legend that Werelupes had once been magical beings.
The Werelupe elders had only mentioned her in passing stories, warning of the great feat Alec, Zharick’s great-grandfather, had had to go through in order to contain her when her power had gotten too strong. Alec had always believed that everything came with a sacrifice. That sacrifice had been his own two claws, the claws that Zharick wore on a necklace. In return for the power to seal Ellestra into her necklace, Alec had had to lose something as well.
In their battle, Ellestra had removed his claws, and, in an attempt to defeat him, had tried to seal him into them before he could seal her away. In the end, Alec had triumphed, but most of his power had been lost to his own claws. Werelupes had lost their powers, but the price had been worthy. Still, out of old suspicion, the claw necklace had been passed down from one king to the next.
Though Zharick had never believed that they contained magic.
“Will you?” Ellestra taunted. “How?”
Zharick started to step forward, and stopped when Ellestra lifted a warning paw.
“Ah, ah, ah,” she chided. “I don’t think you want to do that.”
She lifted a dainty paw and snapped her fingers. Puzzled, Zharick could only watch as Nostrom, one of his trusted Lupe warriors, came out of the makeshift tunnel at Ellestra’s back.
“Nostrom, what are you—?”
Zharick didn’t bother to finish his question as he realized that Nostrom’s eyes contained a glassy, empty stare. The Werelupe moved mechanically to Ellestra’s side. A feeling of betrayal wound up Zharick’s spine. Nostrom had allowed her to control him?
“Here we go, Nostrom. Give it to me,” Ellestra ordered.
She opened her paw, palm up, and Nostrom obediently deposited something into her grasp. A blistering smile spread across Ellestra’s lips.
“I don’t think you’ll be doing anything without this,” Ellestra taunted him.
Extremely smug, Ellestra lifted the item and allowed it to dangle from her paws by the string it was on. Every Werelupe present, save for Nostrom, gasped in alarm. In Ellestra’s wicked paws was the Werelupe claw necklace, Alec the Great’s power, the symbol of all Werelupe strength. Zharick’s heart fell to his feet. He lifted a paw to his chest only to find that the necklace wasn’t there. How had he not noticed it was missing?
“Nostrom stole it for me when you slept last,” Ellestra admitted gleefully, “and I believe that means that I win.”
With her free hand, Ellestra snapped again. Nostrom’s glazed stare cleared, and, with a groan, the Werelupe collapsed in a heap on the ground.
“No!” Zharick growled, and he started forward again.
“Don’t move!” Ellestra hissed, and she clenched the claws in her paw.
Zharick froze solid. Every joint in his body locked in place, and he could only look on helplessly as what felt like invisible irons clamped around his wrists, ankles, and neck. At his side, Sepheren’s old face became grieved, though he’d seen nothing that had happened.
“The king cannot disobey the holder of the claws,” the prophet explained grimly.
“Exactly,” Ellestra agreed. “So, if you want him to be safe, none of you had better move.”
The instant panic that waved through the crowd of Werelupes was tremendous. So tremendous that the Lupe holding tightly to Damis’s shoulders momentarily loosened his grip. Damis had been straining against the grip of the Lupe, and, upon being released so unexpectedly, he stumbled forward in surprise. For a moment, he felt slightly disoriented, and then he lifted his gaze and saw the imposter in Losely’s body, and fury began to seep in through the fear.
“Now, my king, I believe you will be the first to help me on my path of destruction. I believe that’s fitting, don’t you?” Ellestra asked, sarcasm dripping from her sweet-as-honey voice. “You will help me bring chaos to Neopia.”
“NO!” The roar of protest was so loud that Ellestra jolted.
The Aisha turned in time to see Damis hurling himself in her direction. She scowled at his foolish attempt to save his friend. It was time to deal with him now.
“I don’t think so, you little pest.” With a flick of her wrist, Damis was lifted off the ground and flung into one of the soldier trees guarding the clearing.
“Oomph!” Damis’s breath rushed out of his lungs in a burst.
The Halloween Kougra fell, wounded, to the ground, but Ellestra wasn’t done with him yet. She had to be rid of him once and for all so that she didn’t have to be annoyed by any more attempts to rescue Losely. With her unnatural grace, Ellestra seemed to float across the ground to kneel beside Damis’s body.
Dazed, the Kougra’s golden eyes opened to stare up at her.
“Now,” she began, “what shall I do with you, Damis? I’m thinking banishment. Perhaps to the very top of Terror Mountain. How do you like the sound of that?”
Damis groaned. “Give Losely back.”
Ellestra rolled her eyes. “This is exactly why you’re being banished, Damis. I can’t have you constantly in my hair while I’m trying to become the supreme ruler of Neopia, now can I?”
“Losely,” Damis grunted. “Losely, can you hear me?”
Ellestra reached out a paw to roughly pat Damis on the cheek. The idea of banishing the twerp was becoming more and more appealing by the second. He flinched at her touch, but she ignored it.
“Losely isn’t here anymore,” she told him.
“Losely,” Damis persisted. “I know you’re in there.”
“No, Ellestra disagreed, “she’s not.”
Becoming more and more ill-tempered, Ellestra shoved the sleeves of her dress up to her elbows and flourished her wrists. “Now, to Terror Mountain you go.”
Smiling triumphantly, Ellestra began to speak the chant that would send Damis to the highest peaks of Terror Mountain. One twist of her wrist, and he’d be gone.
Ellestra jolted, her paw frozen in midair.
“What?” she breathed in disbelief as she heard the sound of Losely’s voice in her head.
She was so stunned that she missed the gleam of triumph in Damis’s eyes.
“I won’t betray him!” Losely snarled inside her mind.
Ellestra ground her teeth together. “Well, I will!”
She lifted her paw to finish with the flourish of her wrist, and stopped dead in her tracks. Having caught his moment of advantage, Damis snaked his paw quickly upward, curled it deftly around the skull necklace, and ripped it off of Ellestra’s neck. As the chain snapped and the skull fell into Damis’s paw, Ellestra let out a monstrous howl of rage.
“Give that back!” she commanded.
Exhibiting a show that was as unladylike as Ellestra had ever become before, the Aisha coiled and sprang at Damis like a wild, ruthless Neopet, nearly foaming at the mouth. Shocked, Damis forgot to roll away.
“Run!” the gruff command came a second later.
A blur of gray fur whizzed by Damis’s line of vision as Sepheren, as agile as a Lupe less than twice his age, tackled Ellestra to the ground. Needing no more inspiration, Damis rolled quickly away and sprang to his feet. He was just to the boundaries of the trees when he stopped and turned. He couldn’t leave Losely here.
“Run!” Now it was the other Werelupes urging him on.
Damis glanced back at where Sepheren was wrestling with Ellestra to keep her pinned to the ground. No, he couldn’t run. He couldn’t leave Losely here. Even if that monster was in control of her body, she was still his friend.
In disgust, Damis lifted the skull necklace in his paw. Such an insignificant item to cause so much trouble. Damis hated its very existence. Grunting, he tossed it angrily to the ground and stomped on it, breaking the surprisingly fragile skull in half.
An ear-splitting, heart-wrenching scream split the air, and Damis promptly fell backward, startled. He pressed his paws tightly against his ears as the scream threatened to rip him in half, and his gaze went directly to Losely’s body.
Sepheren had released Ellestra, and she now lay, writhing, on the ground, screaming in what sounded like horrible pain. Her feet pounded the ground, digging small holes in the dirt while her paws tore at the grass around her, ripping up clumps.
And still she continued screaming.
“Losely!” Damis cried in fear.
Was she hurting Losely? Had he somehow hurt Losely? Sickened, he glanced down at the crushed remains of the skull necklace. No... Had Losely been in there? Had he destroyed her soul? Torn, Damis felt as if he’d lost the ability to breathe.
“Losely!” he choked again.
He scrambled helplessly toward her body, crawling on his hands and knees. He was almost to her when he saw clumps of her hair suddenly disperse from her skull.
Damis had to momentarily close his eyes, as he felt he might be sick.
When he opened them again, her pink fur was falling out as well. Damis choked on tears. Had he done this to her? He watched, petrified, as those lost locks of hair deteriorated into nothing, and the pink fur disappeared completely to show green-hued, sewn together flesh.
Her scream rang in his ears, and Damis bravely stuck out a paw and clasped her arm, though she continued to twist and writhe under his grip.
“Losely, stop!” he pleaded. “Stop. Stop. Please, stop.”
Almost like magic, Losely’s body abruptly went still. Damis gasped as her limbs fell to the ground and her head lolled to the side, eyes closed. Damis’s heart seemed to stop. Was she still breathing? Damis squeezed her arm.
The Zombie Aisha groaned. “Damis?”
Lashes fluttered open, and murky, pale blue eyes peered up at him.
“What were you thinking?” Zharick demanded.
Losely winced underneath his blistering gaze. She dropped her eyes to her paws, studying the broken floorboards of her cottage. Zharick stood before her with his prophet at his side. Both Werelupes were truly too large to comfortably fit into her cottage, but they’d insisted on helping her home and monitoring her overnight to make sure that the spirit was gone. They were taking up the expanse of her bedroom now, as they’d only just allowed her to slip out of bed before they demanded answers. She supposed she should have been grateful that they’d allowed her to sleep through the night and the exhaustion before they hounded her.
But she didn’t really feel grateful. Half-heartedly, she lifted her gaze to try and meet Damis’s. He was standing in the doorway of her room, but his visage was blocked by the impromptu wall that the Werelupe bodies made.
“Well?” Zharick prodded.
She did owe them an explanation. Right?
“I found it in Neovia,” she admitted guiltily. “I used to live there with my parents...” Losely flinched. “I go there sometimes to the house we lived in.”
She swallowed. She avoided the topic of her parents whenever possible. They were her most painful memory of life. The loss of them had devastated her, and had inevitably lead up to her unfortunate half-life as a Zombie.
“And?” the king pressed.
“No one lives in the house anymore. I found the necklace inside on the old fireplace mantle. I didn’t know how it’d gotten there, but I liked it.”
“It sought her out,” Sepheren acknowledged. “Ellestra had to find a vulnerable heart to control.”
Zharick snorted, and Losely scowled.
“I’m sorry, okay? I just... I just thought...”
“It’s not your fault,” Sepheren’s gruff voice assured her. “Ellestra was powerful, and she was waiting for her chance for revenge. When King Alec sealed her away and banished the necklace, no one knew that it would return. It was not your fault.”
There was no solace in that in Losely, and she remained disheartened. However the necklace had found her, she’d allowed it to use her. Damis cleared his throat and stepped around the massive body of Zharick so that he could see Losely.
“You thought what, Losely?” he questioned softly.
Losely sighed, her eyes downcast again. “It was so plain and ugly. I thought that someone must have left it there because it was so unattractive. I knew how it felt to be discarded, to be unwanted.”
Sepheren nodded understandably, though Zharick continued to look peeved. One understood how the necklace had used its charms to relate to the Aisha, and the other simply thought that the Aisha had been naïve and foolish, and had nearly sealed Neopia’s doom. Both kept their opinions to themselves.
“Appearances aren’t everything, Losely,” Damis reminded her. “You’ve never been unwanted, you know.”
A touch of a smile fluttered across Losely’s lips. For a moment, she recalled the sound of Damis’s voice calling to her when she’d been locked into the darkness in Ellestra’s necklace. Perhaps that had been what had brought her back. She’d felt... wanted. Had she been blind all this time?
Losely didn't look up in time to catch the ghost of a smile that flickered over Sepheren's muzzle.
Feeling awkward and annoyed with the overly-emotional situation, Zharick huffed out a sigh.
“We’ll be going now, but we’ll still be checking up on you from time to time,” Zharick told her.
Losely nodded, avoiding his stare.
Frowning, Zharick touched his prophet on the shoulder, and Sepheren turned to allow the king to usher him out of the cramped cottage. Zharick paused only once at the door and turned back to Losely briefly.
“Next time, let sleeping spirits lie,” he warned, and, folding himself awkwardly, he disappeared out the door.