The Fallen: Faint-Hearted - Part Four
When Lure woke in the morning, Wehn was sitting atop his bed of leaves staring unabashedly in his direction, his eyes wide and curious and completely alert, though Lure still didn’t believe that the Gelert had slept. Lure himself sat up with a groggy, stretching yawn. Though they were positioned in the back of the cave, Lure could see early morning sunlight at the mouth.
Wehn had still not stopped staring.
“Did you sleep well?” Lure asked, awkwardly.
Silence. More staring. Did the guy never blink? Lure shifted. No wonder his pack was wary of Gelerts. They had the uncanny ability to look right through someone. Or, at least, that’s what it felt like.
“I didn’t,” Lure pressed on in a desperate attempt to divert Wehn’s attention, to make him blink at the very least. “Nightmares.”
Wehn nodded. “Yes. You twitched a lot in your sleep.”
Stated so matter-of-factly, it felt incredibly disconcerting, as if proving Lure’s notion that Wehn had not slept at all, but had spent the entire night staring at him like that. This made the silence only more awkward, but Wehn didn’t seem to notice.
But then, like a saving grace, Lure’s stomach growled.
“Er—I’m starving. I was thinking of picking some berries, maybe finding some Pteri eggs for breakfast. You want to go?” Lure asked.
Finally, Wehn’s gaze broke away, flicking almost disinterestedly at the mouth of the cave where the sunlight still sparkled. The corner of his mouth tilted down just a hair, in a displeased sort of way.
“Can’t,” he said. “Actually, I can, but I would just rather not. Sorry. My kind and sunlight don’t mix well. It’s a little blinding. I can’t see where I’m going in daylight. My eyes are really only made for darkness.”
“Oh.” Now it was Lure’s turn to stare. “I didn’t know.”
Wehn shrugged. “It’s all right. I’ll just be confining myself here until nightfall, if that’s all right with you.”
Lure consented as much that it was fine with him, and, still feeling a little off balance with the curious Gelert, he left the cave to gather breakfast.
Considerate, he gathered enough for both himself and Wehn and brought it back to the cave to eat with him. He also committed himself to remaining in the cave for the rest of the day—save for his ritual bath and the gathering of lunch—to keep Wehn company. It felt only right, and it wasn’t too horrible. After the morning awkwardness, Wehn had had the graciousness not to stare for an extended period of time again.
In fact, they got along quite well, telling each other stories and laughing most of the day away. Wehn had plenty of interesting stories about his family, their castle, and even a few bits and pieces about the time in which Javiod lived with them.
They spent the next three days together in much the same way. Save for the evenings in which Wehn accompanied him to gather their meal, though he never had much of an opinion on what they ate, saying it all tasted much the same to him when it came to the courses that Lure would be keen to eat. Lure tried not to let this unsettle him, and he actually enjoyed their time together, finding someone that would finally listen rather than judge. They became easy companions.
However, on one evening, Wehn finally did more than just passively stand by. It happened when Lure had ducked to gather a few berries that had slipped from his paw. He’d been bent double when he heard the unmistakable sound of a high-pitched, ear-splitting scream.
It froze him to the spot, as if his spine had turned to rock, and Lure felt the icy venom of fear shoot through his veins. The scream was loud and long, and seemed to linger even after it had gone. Without realizing it, Lure had started to hyperventilate somewhere in the middle of that scream, and his vision was becoming splotchy with black blobs and twinkling, dancing stars.
Right at the moment when he thought he might topple over into a faint, he felt the cold, reassuring touch of Wehn’s paw on his shoulder. It had an icy quality, but somehow had the comfort of a warm hand. It seemed to touch right through the shell of Lure’s fear.
“It’s all right. It’s just the swamp ghouls. You hear them all the time. Calm down. Even your breathing, Lure. Take a deep breath,” Wehn instructed.
As if he could do nothing else but obey Wehn’s quiet voice, Lure took a deep, shuddering breath and fought back the darkness.
“There you go.”
Wehn patted his shoulder once more and then dropped his paw as Lure found the balance to straighten. For a moment, the ground swirled beneath him, but then it stood still again. When he finally could see Wehn in the face again, there was nothing judgmental or belittling about Wehn’s expression.
Wehn smiled, and they headed back to their camp together. That night, laying down on his side of the cave, Lure thought that what Wehn had done might have been the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him before.
When Lure woke in the morning, he was alone. There was a soft impression in the bed of leaves to signify that Wehn hadn’t departed long before, but he was still definitely gone. The sugary sweet scent that had been hovering in the air while they were together—a smell he hadn’t noticed until it was absent—was gone. Though it tugged at him in a lonely sort of way, Lure tried his best to shrug it off. He occupied himself with tedious tasks: finding food, wood to burn, and bathing in a nearby creek. Things to keep him busy so he didn’t think about how it bothered him that Wehn had left without a word.
This boring routine was only interrupted once when he’d heard a low groan from a bush by which he was crouched gathering berries, and he had illogically jumped to the conclusion that some zombies had wandered his way.
His vision had began to spot, threatening total darkness in a matter of seconds, when, forcing himself to do as Wehn had instructed him before, he realized that the sound had been the groan of an old tree, its branches laboring with the movement of a breeze sifting through the woods. Lure had felt incredibly foolish, and had made a point to seek out every little sound and disturbance he heard from then on to prove to himself that he was imagining things.
His fainting spells became fewer and far between.
Two days whittled away, and then three, four, five... By the end of the week, Lure’s patience was growing thin, though he still didn’t know why he was waiting on Wehn’s return. Sharing secrets over a campfire on one insignificant night and picking berries together didn’t make them friends, and Wehn had said nothing about sticking around for an extended period of time. Really, Lure should have been surprised that he’d stuck around as long as he had. Though Wehn had called himself a runaway, Lure had known it wasn’t the same permanent term for Wehn as it was for him.
And despite reminding himself this repeatedly, Lure couldn’t quite convince himself of it. As a Werelupe, he’d grown up in a pack, and the presence of Wehn during his self-inflicted solitude had become something he relied on in a few short days.
Which was why, when Wehn finally did return—exactly a week and two days after his early morning disappearance—Lure was elated. Though this joy was dimmed a little when he finally got a good look at the Gelert as he slumped out of the trees toward him where he stood, just outside the mouth of his cave.
If Wehn had now claimed to be tired, Lure wouldn’t have doubted it despite his suspicion that Gelerts stuck to the daylight hours for slumber. There was a noticeable difference in Wehn. He appeared paler, more drawn. The haunting beauty to his hollowed cheeks only made him look sickly now. There was a light rub of purple under both of his red eyes, and he seemed to be physically and mentally drained. His natural, energetic aura seemed significantly depleted, and, despite his best intentions to remain aloof from Wehn this time, incase he disappeared again, Lure couldn’t keep from feeling sorry for the Neopian. And slightly worried.
“Are you all right?”
Wehn glanced up at him and seemed to have trouble focusing. Lure wasn’t altogether sure that he was even staring at him, as his red eyes seemed blurred, but then Wehn lifted a paw, rubbed his eyes lightly, and seemed to resurface—if only a little.
“Hmm? Yes, I’m fine. It’s just... My responsibilities are a little tiring sometimes.”
Lure couldn’t imagine what kind of responsibilities would sap the life out of someone like this. He frowned.
“Like what? Is everything at the castle okay?”
Wehn nodded sleepily. “Of course. They’re all having a party.”
Wehn snorted. “News has spread that you’ve disappeared.”
“Why would they be having a party about that?” Lure started.
Wehn gave him a wry look. “Are you really that dense? Why do you think?”
A lump of unease gathered in Lure’s throat. Wehn was acting very off-kilter. There was something about his sleep-deprived new persona that seemed rather cynical and stand-offish. Something about it that was peculiarly bitter.
“Your aunt wants the Werelupe pack out of the way so that she can rule completely again.”
“That’s never been a secret,” Wehn replied, and there was the bitterness again. “You’re just making it easier than she expected.”
The guilt came back with the ferocity of a tidal wave. Lure’s shoulders slumped. But hadn’t he expected this? He had. He’d known leaving would put the Werelupes in a vulnerable position. He’d known that all along. They needed a king to rightfully keep their territory.That had been Mezzanotte’s deal years ago. Even by removing the hazard of himself as a king, Lure had made things no better.
A roll of sickness. The unease was climbing in degrees toward his weakness. Lure’s palms sweat. He wobbled a little. The several days of facing his fears having dwindled away to amount to nothing as he teetered on unconsciousness.
Lure jolted a little, glancing Wehn’s way. The Gelert looked suddenly solemn, almost himself again. The dazed way he’d crept into camp had seemed to evaporate a little. Lure stared at him and was surprised to find that it eased his panic a little, that the sound of his voice was oddly comforting.
“You should go back.”
Wehn’s brows furrowed, and he turned to Lure in one swift swirl. The fatigue in his face made him look vicious.
“But what?” he demanded. “Lure, if you don’t go back, Aunt Mezza will make your pack conform again. She’ll probably use them like she does the zombies. I love her, and she’s my family, but we’ve never seen eye-to-eye. I like the Werelupes. I liked Javiod. Sometimes the power goes to my aunt’s head.”
Though Lure knew what he said was true, it didn’t change the fact that he was still the coward he’d been before. And, like that coward, he still searched for excuses.
“She’ll find another way even if I do go back.”
Lure didn’t understand why this simple statement—an obvious one at that—would make Wehn look like he’d slapped him in the face, but he immediately felt the urge to apologize after he’d spoken. The viciousness disappeared, the fatigue returned. Wehn’s slender shoulders slumped.
“It’ll be my problem then.”
“What do you mean?” Lure asked.
Wehn looked gravely up at him. “It’s true that Mezza will try, no matter what, to find a way around her promise to Javiod. She’s let him have his time in the sun, but now she’s ready to be the sole force again. That’s always been her intention. She wants the power of being the only ruler of the Haunted Woods, the most feared land in Neopia.”
“And?” Lure pressed. “Why will that be your problem?”
“Because she’ll use me to do it. I know it,” Wehn admitted, his gaze falling. “It’ll be my amulet. Hers and Uncle Noc’s don’t have the right power to do it. It’ll be me she uses. I just don’t know how yet.”
“She’ll make you lose control,” Lure guessed, sounding as defeated as Wehn’s grim tone.
Wehn’s blue paws tightened into fists at his sides.
“No,” Wehn disagreed. “I’m not weak. I can control my emotions.”
Lure couldn’t quite take offense to this when Wehn said it in such a pitiful tone, though it made his pride prickle vaguely. Staring at Wehn, he felt nothing but sympathy, knowing exactly what this helplessness felt like.
Sighing, he leaned his back against the dark oak of a tree behind him.
“Well, you don’t have to worry about it. I’m not going back, so she won’t have to use you.”
Though Lure knew this was a petty reassurance, he’d expected it to relieve some of Wehn’s distress, as the focus would be removed from him, but it seemed to only do the opposite. Again, Wehn’s gaze cleared and sharpened, his anger returning and that dispassionate glaze in his eyes ebbing.
“No, Lure, you have to go back. Don’t you see?”
Like his battle with the necklace, Lure fought back the more something tried to press him into his fate. He’d expected Wehn to be understanding after what had been said. Apparently, he’d thought wrong.
“See what?” Lure snapped back. “How will it make a difference if what you say is true?”
“Once Javiod’s reign as king is up, if you aren’t there to succeed him, then Mezza gets the crown again by default. At least with you there, there’d be a fighting chance,” Wehn told him. “I won’t let her use me or the amulet.”
“Why do you care? Aren’t you supposed to be on your own aunt’s side?”
The fight in Wehn’s eyes flickered at this, and he fell silent, struggling for an answer to this key question. Obviously, his ties to his family were very close, so Lure couldn’t quite understand why he was offering something that sounded treacherous.
Finally, Wehn said, “Yes, I should be, but I can’t turn a blind eye to my own beliefs just for her sake. I don’t agree with her concept of world domination, even if it means only all of the Haunted Woods. Sometimes... sometimes I think Aunt Mezza is a little more wicked than she appears to be. Power has the tendency to corrupt, and I don’t wish to enslave anyone, in any manner.”
Wehn let his explanation end here. Admittedly, it had seemed like what little he had said had taken a considerable effort, as if each word against his aunt had caused him physical pain. Lure understood. He’d turned his back on his own family himself.
But it didn’t change the facts. He wasn’t fit to be king.
“Look, I understand what you’re saying and why you believe it, but you don’t understand. I can’t go back, and that’s all there is to it.”
Lure paused, and then, almost feebly, added, “I’m sure Javiod will figure something out.”
Because he couldn’t bear to see the look of disappointment that always followed his admittances of his shortcomings, Lure turned his back and strode to his cave, fleeing—as he always did—from any form of conflict.
Still, he’d never felt such disappointment in himself as he did when he heard Wehn’s voice call softly after him, “Coward.”
To be continued...