Outcast: The Tale of Rhoswen - Part One
This story is dedicated to bekah050 for inspiring me to write a story about Rhoswen’s history!
“Outcast” is a sort of prequel to my “The Fallen” series. You don’t have to have read those stories to understand this one, but this is a companion to those stories, and will probably still make even more sense if you’ve read at least “The Fallen: Cursed”.
His life had never been an easy one, and it wasn’t as if he was delusional enough to believe that, maybe one day, he could just wake up and things would be different. Things never changed. That was a lesson Rhoswen had learned very quickly.
In a situation such as his own, there was no room for foolish dreams and fantasies. Reality was a cold, harsh, uncaring thing, and he faced it daily. No one pitied the weak or the young. Different was not better. It was better to blend, to be the same, but Rhoswen had never been the same as everyone else. He’d always been different. He’d always been misunderstood.
No one cared to understand him. They preferred to fear, taunt, or avoid him altogether. Like a lab ray monster, he repelled far more Neopians than he attracted. Not that he’d ever attracted any at all. He had no friends, and even his parents had deserted him long ago, disappearing in the dead of night when he’d reached an age at which he could care for himself on his own. Could he blame them? Who could ever truly love a horrid sight such as himself?
His parents had been normal and beautiful, but something had gone horribly wrong with his own genes. He’d been born with fur a muddy color of brown, always unkempt and patchy, as if clumps had fallen loose, while his parents had full, golden fur that had made others envious.
Even though the sight of such fur was rather unattractive, Rhoswen could have lived with that small misfortune easily enough if it hadn’t been mercilessly coupled with more misfortune.
His right leg was mangled, and it had been since birth, forcing him to walk with an exaggerated limp.
But even that would have been tolerable, even that would have been better, if it’d just been that alone. Rhoswen’s worst pain and embarrassment of all was his face. A face that always looked back at him from the mirror, a face he would always have to endure.
His muzzle was covered in scar tissue, and was therefore mostly bald except a few scraggily strands of fur that grew closer to his nose. His left eye was only a narrow slit, damaged by the same sort of scar that ran across his eyelid and down to his cheekbone, and only one eye—his right one—saw anything at all. Most villagers found that one, peering golden eye the most frightening of all.
Rhoswen winced as he recalled the horrified stares that were always aimed in his direction, and he wished, as he always did, that he could be different so that he could be the same as everyone else. But what good did it do him to dwell on things that could never be changed?
He ducked his head, nearly pressing his nose to the book laid open on the table before him, and tried to submerge himself into a world of fantasy that was not his own. Tucked into the corner of the library of Brightvale, Rhoswen found some of the few fragments of peace he could ever steal for himself. Unlike everywhere else, he was mostly left to his own devices in the library, as everyone else was occupied with a book and those of the intelligent, reading minds were never as cruel as those on the outside.
Rhoswen often sought refuge in the library. On days when he felt strong enough to brave the stares and whispers, the hateful and snide comments, he would leave his small cottage of a home and hurry to the book shelves of the library. It was much better than being at home, alone, knowing he was not loved, or even liked, enough to have some company there.
Currently, his nose was tucked into the book, The Ferocious Orange Lupe. It was a tale of a single Lupe that terrorized Neopia in any number of horrendous ways. It made Rhoswen wonder why Neopians feared him when there were Lupes like the Ferocious Orange one around.
Still, he enjoyed to read, enjoyed the escape it could offer him, and he spent many hours—sometimes all day—in the library of his home in Brightvale. But that day, the day he read The Ferocious Orange Lupe, fate had other plans for Rhoswen.
The unfortunate Lupe jolted in surprise as he felt a soft tap on his shoulder. Glancing up, he saw the apologetic and smiling face of the librarian. The blue Elephante was perhaps the only Neopian in Brightvale that didn’t stagger away from him in horror, but that might have been because Mr. Tilbul was rather old and rumored to be slightly senile.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Mr. Tilbul rasped, “but I’m closing early this evening. I’ll have to ask you to leave now. My apologies.”
Mr. Tilbul gave him one last grandfatherly smile and turned to hobble away. Sighing, Rhoswen closed his book and resigned himself to the fact that he would have to spend the rest of the evening occupying his time at home. Alone.
He wasn’t even halfway home before a crowd of ruthless Neopians descended on him. With his head down, and his one good eye staring at his feet as he limped home, Rhoswen was still aware when a group circled around him. He heard the sound of their feet shuffling toward him, but most of all he heard the quiet snickers. He wanted to close his eyes and melt into the ground, but, since this was physically impossible, Rhoswen paused on the dirt path and looked up at the Neopians surrounding him.
It was a small, but still threatening, group of five. A Lenny, two Moehogs, a Skeith, and a Kougra. Each wore their own versions of a cruel expression, some cracking their knuckles.
In size, Rhoswen was larger than any in the group, but his physical state hindered him, and he was nowhere near as threatening to them as they were to him. Still, he braced himself. He wasn’t afraid, just wary, tired.
“Look who it is, boys,” the Kougra drawled. “Our friend, Rhoswen. Looks like he doesn’t have anyone to walk him home.”
The crowd around him hissed laughter. Rhoswen gave the Kougra a glance. He was one of his frequent tormentors, so Rhoswen knew him by name. Syfur was a short, stout Kougra with a coat of dirty orange fur. His green eyes were cold and mean, and he was often seen wearing a pair of ragged shorts and nothing else.
As Syfur glared at him and awaited a response, Rhoswen remained mute. He no longer had anything to say to those that hounded him. There was no way to get them to stop, and he had long since grown tired of trying. All he’d learned to do was wait out their attack and remind himself that, once they were finished belittling him, they would leave, and he could go home.
He just wished they’d hurry up. A glance at the sky told him that the sun would soon be setting. His cottage was located on the outskirts of Brightvale, tucked into a cropping of the woods that would lead the bravest of adventurers to the Haunted Woods should they want to venture that far and deep into the forest. Rhoswen didn’t like traveling home at night. Sometimes he had a growing sense of paranoia that monsters from the Haunted Woods roamed closer to Brightvale than he liked.
Unfortunately for Rhoswen, however, Syfur and his friends had a great deal of taunting pent up inside of them since Rhoswen had avoided going out for the last week or so. Rhoswen wasn’t certain how much time past as the Kougra and his cruel friends circled around him, hissing mean words, and chanting rude melodies about his face. Some shoved him occasionally, and, like a broken toy, Rhoswen bobbed around inside the ring of Neopians as words assaulted him, and angry shoves made him stumble from side to side. At one point, he thought his felt a stick prod his mangled leg, and he whimpered quietly to himself, hoping no one heard.
The sky continued to dim, turning orange and pink in the horizon, all the while. Rhoswen kept his head down, trying to ignore the words that continued to batter at his already wounded, almost nonexistent, self-esteem.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, Syfur finally seemed tired of his game.
“Aren’t you going to fight back, freak?” he demanded.
For one powerful moment, Rhoswen wished feverishly that he was the ferocious orange Lupe and not the pitiful, lame Rhoswen. But he wasn’t, so he shook his head meagerly, and continued to stare at the ground.
Syfur laughed scathingly, as if he’d known before he asked that Rhoswen wouldn’t retaliate. Of course he’d known. Rhoswen never fought back. He couldn’t. It’d been so long since he’d tried to defend himself, Rhoswen could scarcely remember what his own voice sounded like.
Rolling his broad shoulders, Syfur turned to his gang. “Come on, guys, let’s go.”
The group murmured their agreement. Rhoswen winced as someone threw a stick at his feet, realizing someone had poked him in the leg earlier. He kept his head down anyway, waiting for them to leave.
Syfur, however, still had one last thing to say, “Hope you’re not afraid of the dark, freak. You better watch your back on your way home. Don’t want the ghosties to get you, do you?”
Laughing, Syfur stomped off, leaving Rhoswen with the worst sense of horror he could have ever departed upon him. The sky had darkened considerably. He wouldn’t make it home before nightfall. Fear flashed through Rhoswen’s one good eye as his paranoia stirred to life.
The path to his home was frightening enough in the day time when he took it, because no one lived for miles around him, but it would be twice as bad at night, when the forest was alive with nocturnal creatures, and his sight was even worse than it was during the day.
Feeling a lump form in his throat, Rhoswen started down the path again. There was nothing else he could do. He had to go home. He had nowhere else to stay. As much as he wished he could make it there before it got any darker, it was no use. Night was all but fallen. Something behind his good eye burned, and Rhoswen sniffled. The desire to cry was something he often encountered, but he hadn’t been able to shed a tear ever, as far as he could remember.
The sun was gone, the orange and pink tinge to the sky had faded to black, and the stars were just beginning to wink from the dark blanket in the sky. Above his head, Rhoswen could see the full orb of the moon taking the place of the sun for the night. However, even the brightness of the moon did little to illuminate his path as he reached the woods in which his home was situated.
Rhoswen whimpered as, somewhere in the forest around him, a mortog croaked loud and long. A rustle of leaves in a gust of wind made his fur stand on end on the back of his neck, and Rhoswen began to imagine the horrors that could be lurking in the woods all around him. Images of dark shadows with glaring red eyes seemed to be trailing after him as he tried to quicken his limping pace to his home.
His breathing ragged, Rhoswen huffed one breath out and sucked it back in, wheezing brokenly, and ducked forward, trying to move faster, as he heard the sound of something like twigs and dried leaves crackling underfoot.
He was being absurd, he knew, because, even if he wasn’t imagining those sounds, it was probably just Syfur following him home trying to frighten him. Regardless, Rhoswen continued to feel the burn of ghost tears behind his eyes as he felt helpless and tired already from such a laborious journey.
Why did Neopians have to be so mean to him? Why couldn’t they just leave him alone? Just once? Didn’t they feel any guilt, any remorse? It was all their fault that he was out here now, scared and alone in the dark. All their fault if a monster ate him.
Rhoswen staggered, gasping awkwardly, as a twig snapped closer to him, only a few feet off the path into the woods. His one golden eye darted to his left to look, but saw nothing. Nonetheless, his heart began to race unevenly, beads of sweat pearling on his forehead and tangling with his already matted fur. He thought he heard a low, angry growl, and, for a moment, he thought he might faint from exhaustion and fear.
Then he heard the growl again, the unmistakable rustle of a body moving leaves, and he decided to do something desperate. He broke out into a run, or as close to a run as he could get. It looked more like he was hopping furiously on one leg, dragging his other like a pirate’s peg leg, as he scrambled up the path, finally seeing his house in the distance.
But it still wasn’t close enough. Not nearly close enough! Because he hadn’t been imagining it all these years! There were monsters in these woods!
Oh, dear, sweet, Neopia, he only had just a little bit farther to go before he could hide behind the safety of the walls of his neohome cottage.
As if the monster stalking him sensed his foolish, fruitless hope for salvation, a long, piercing howl suddenly rose up from the darkness of the woods to his left. Rhoswen’s heart stopped, his legs locking with it, as he listened to the angry call of a... a Werelupe. What else could howl like that?
Rhoswen sobbed dryly as the call filled the darkness around him for several long minutes before it faded into a growl that rumbled the brush to his side. Shaking from head to toe, he turned to look, his knees knocking against each other, and saw two, glaring red eyes staring at him through the darkness.
“No...!” Rhoswen’s hoarse, ill-used voice rasped.
But it was too late. The creature had been stalking him for a distance and now had found its opportunity to strike. Rhoswen shuffled back, throwing an arm up over his scarred face, releasing a pitiful yelp, as the Werelupe, massive and angry, lunged at him from out of the woods.
The Werelupe was more than twice his size, and its great weight knocked him clean off his own paws. He landed on his back with a grunt as his breath whooshed out of his lungs. The Werelupe released a barking growl, and then sank his massive Werelupe fangs into Rhoswen’s lifted arm.
Rhoswen yelled out in horrendous pain as the Werelupe’s fangs pierced his fur and a fiery, searing agony raced through his arm, worse than anything he’d ever felt. He heard the savage beast on top of him growl again, but that was all. Black enveloped Rhoswen as the pain became too much to handle, as his arm, burning and screaming, forced him into the darkness of unconsciousness, ushered along by the crushing, suffocating weight of the Werelupe on top of him.
However, just before he sank into oblivion, he thought he heard a voice, distant and nearly indistinct under the sounds of his own screams, pant, “Finally! I’m free!”
To be continued...