The Fallen: Faint-Hearted - Part Seven
Breaking into the castle was particularly hard for Lure. The Zombie guards were intimidating creatures, but their intimidation was only effective on normal Neopians under normal circumstances. Though they were only partially whole, considering their half-life state, the chaos of Wehn’s amulet seemed to have been affecting them at least a little. They seemed more confused than usual, a little lost. They cowered backwards as Lure approached, making it easy for him to enter the castle, as if they’d forgotten exactly why they were stationed out here to begin with. Most of them were already unnerved as it was anyway, considering that the sound of one, long scream continued to rise and fade, rise and fade inside the castle. Fear clenched his heart as he heard it, because he knew that it was Wehn.
That was why he had the strength to plow past the confused Zombies guarding the castle entrance, enduring the stench of their rotting flesh and the way that a couple of them reached toward him, moaning like the lost souls that they were.
Through the castle doors, down the long, stone hallway, past the flickering wall torches, and into the main chamber he went, all the while following the resonating sounds of Wehn’s cries. He found him in the throne room, alone and sitting atop his own throne.
The sight of him froze Lure in his tracks. He didn’t look like the Wehn that he remembered. He looked almost monstrous.
He was sitting ramrod straight, his spine almost painfully stiff. His paws were wrapped around the arms of his throne, nails digging into the wood. His shoulders were tense, straining. He seemed to almost be pushing himself backwards into his seat. There was a grimace on his face that gave way each time his long, pale snout opened to release another pitiful yell.
But the most haunting sight of this scene came from two different sources. One was Wehn’s eyes. Once red, they were now glowing blue—the same color of blue as the amulet around his neck, which was also glowing and swirling and almost pulsating against Wehn’s chest.
“Wehn!” Lure choked out his name.
But no sign of recognition came. Wehn merely continued to writhe slightly in his seat, whimpering and howling in intervals. Seeking to comfort his friend as he’d once comforted him, Lure swallowed his own fear and stumbled toward Wehn. With a look of frightened apprehension, he tentatively reached out his spotted paw and touched Wehn’s.
He gave a yelp as Wehn gasped suddenly, twitched, stared wildly— blindly— around him, as if in his craze he was seeking out the source that had touched him. Lure started to step back, but Wehn’s face suddenly contorted into a heart-wrenching expression of fear and pain that stopped Lure before he’d lifted a paw.
“No!” Wehn gasped in a voice that didn’t sound entirely his own. “No! I can’t! I can’t! I don’t want to!”
For a moment, his body went slack, as if in exhaustion, and then a small cry bubbled up Wehn’s throat, and he jerked rigidly again. Torn by his friend’s evident pain, Lure squeezed his paw.
“It’s all right, Wehn.”
The Gelert shook his head wildly. “Don’t make me! I don’t want to. I don’t want to be count. I don’t want to! Not for this. Not for this.”
Lure squeezed his paw. “You don’t have to. It’s all right.”
He didn’t know what he was reassuring his friend about, but he sounded as if he needed it. What had Mezzanotte said and done to provoke him into this? What had she threatened? Apparently it was something that Wehn had privately been very torn up about.
Wehn burst into tears. They glistened and streamed down his face, reflected by the blue glow of his eyes. He still continued to stare blindly around. Lure couldn’t tell if he was focusing on anything, or if he was searching for something he couldn’t see. The Gelert sucked in a breath and then it shuddered back out. The sound was painful. Lure tried squeezing his paw again, and thought of the only thing that might help.
“Calm down,” he ordered, trying to mimick Wehn’s normally calm, cool voice. It was the one thing that had helped him in his panic. “Calm down, Wehn.”
Wehn gave another shuddering breath, but he blinked and turned his head, as if searching for Lure. The Werelupe felt a surge of hope. It was short-lived.
“Ah, so the king has finally graced us with his presence.”
Lure was blindsided by a streak of purple light as he turned toward the voice. It hit him somewhere around his chest and knocked him off balance. He stumbled away from Wehn only to fall at the foot of Mezzanotte’s throne. With a grunt, he hit the marble floor, and could only stare—dazed—as Mezzanotte stalked from the shadows of the room into view.
She was holding a short, black staff with a skull set morbidly on the top. It’s sockets were dark, but Lure could see a glint of purple somewhere in the back of it’s head. It didn’t seem fair that they had the amulets as well as this strange, magical staff, and all Lure had was a crummy necklace that only declared who would be king.
“This is interesting indeed, but not entirely unexpected. I see your jewelry has made you immune to the effects of Wehn’s necklace.” Stepping forward, Mezzanotte rapped the end of her staff—that grey skull—against the moon charm nestled against Lure’s fur.
Lure jolted as the necklace seemed to hiss and heat against him, as if in defense.
“My necklace?” Lure repeated dumbly.
He pushed uncertainly to his feet, more aware of the feather-light weight of his necklace now than he had been before.
Mezza nodded. “How else would you suppose you were unaffected by Wehn’s necklace?”
He hadn’t really thought about it. It had only seemed important at the time that he was the only one unaffected, and was, therefore, the only one capable of putting things right again. Now, Lure spared his necklace—glowing gold and warm—a glance, and he felt guilty for his earlier begrudging thoughts. So it did have more than one purpose.
Lure looked up as Mezzanotte chuckled.
“Release Wehn,” he ordered.
Her laughter died abruptly. Mezzanotte had never been known to take demands lightly, let alone from a Werelupe. Her pretty face turned sour, creasing as she frowned.
“I’m not holding him, Werelupe, but, even if I was, it would be none of your concern.”
Wehn released another whimper, as if he contested this.
Lure’s paws curled into fists at his sides. “He told me you would do this, but it won’t work. I’m king now, and I’m not going to back down. We had a deal. You made a deal with Javiod. Are you going to break your word?”
Mezzanotte tossed back her long, black hair and laughed. Unlike Wehn, the lines and sharp bones in Mezzanotte’s face were more frightening than charming. Perhaps it was her wicked aura that tainted her beauty.
“Break my word? I have no intention to ever do such a thing,” she informed him, “but, should you find that you are incapable of ruling such unruly citizens, I will gladly break our little contract and take the job for you.”
So that was her plan! To frighten him and frazzle him into leaving the crown behind. Lure stared at her. Had she known about his fainting spells, his weaknesses? Had she expected him to turn tail and run at the sight of such disorder? Maybe he would have—if he’d never met Wehn.
Now he knew that that was not an option. Wehn had already gone through too much to keep him king for Lure to give it up now. Besides, Wehn had been right. Mezzanotte was too wicked to have complete rule. If she controlled all of the Haunted Woods and all of the terrifying, gruesome creatures within, there was no telling how she’d use it against the rest of Neopia. It was bad enough that she had power over a few already. Lure wasn’t a newcomer to how she wielded her zombie army to intimidate others.
“I won’t,” Lure said firmly. “The Werelupe pack and that half of the Haunted Woods are mine.”
Mezzanotte’s pretty face snarled, and she gestured with her staff toward Wehn. “And what if I refuse to let Wehn go? What if he remains in this state permanently?”
Lure’s expression was fierce. “I won’t let you do that.”
Mezzanotte obviously didn’t tolerate refusal well.
“You think you could stop me?” Mezzanotte shrieked. “Insolent fool!”
He wasn’t fast enough to see the brandishing of her staff coming again. But, with wild, gleaming eyes, she waved it hard through the air. He saw the burst of purple light, but he didn’t feel it like he had last time.
Instead, he saw a burst of gold, and the two colors seemed to momentarily fill the room with blinding light. He found he wasn’t afraid of it. The glow was warm, though painfully bright. He lifted a paw to shield his eyes, but it made no difference. He couldn’t see anything.
But he could hear Mezzanotte’s enraged scream.
And then the light faded, and, after blinking several times, Lure could see the room around him again. Mezzanotte lay crumpled on the floor, her purple dress splayed around her like the top of a mushroom. Her rose comb had become dislodged from her hair, and her hair had fanned out around her—a gloomy, black pool. The staff was lying across the room from her.
Lure stared at her. She’d been knocked unconscious. He felt no sympathy for her, no confusion or fear. It was his necklace that had reacted to protect him again. It was humming against his chest, almost triumphantly. It had deflected her attack back at her. Served her right.
But she wasn’t what mattered at the moment. Carefully, Lure eased back towards Wehn, stooping down over his friend to study his face. His body had gone slack, and he was whimpering again. The blue glow of his eyes remained, but his lids were almost closed. He looked like a child.
“Wehn? Wehn, can you hear me? It’s Lure. Look, Wehn, you need to calm down. It’s over now, but you have to calm down.”
He leaned forward more as Wehn only continued to whimper. He dropped his paw onto Wehn’s again, squeezing but to no response. He tried to look Wehn in the eye, but the Gelert wouldn’t lift his head.
“Wehn, it’s all right. Do you hear me? It’s all right. All you—.”
Having shifted forward just enough, Lure’s necklace had swung innocently forward as well, and, with a soft metallic clink, it had bumped against Wehn’s still-glowing amulet. For a moment, it felt as if time had frozen, but then there was a pulse—like a heart—that beat through the air around them, and Lure, for the second time, had been knocked backwards off his feet by the force.
Grunting in surprise, he toppled over as a burst of blue light flashed through the air and then faded. It knocked the breath right out of him, and he made a strangled little noise as he was blinded again. He closed his eyes, not certain what had happened.
Then he opened them again, focusing on Wehn’s throne. He smiled. The blue was gone from Wehn’s eyes and necklace.
Wehn’s voice was soft and weak, but it was the most comforting sound he’d heard in days.
“Are you sure it’s what you have to do?”
Lure studied his friend in the fading light of the evening. Wehn had returned to his normal self, smiling in his aloof manner, holding about him the air of child-like energy. The purple beneath his eyes had faded to a bare blush, the hollows in his cheeks didn’t look so devastating anymore. He was once again a handsome creature dressed in his ruffled Neovian shirt, black pants, and a purple traveling cape. In the folds of his shirt rested the Amulet of Chaos, but it looked entirely innocent now.
“Yes, I’m certain,” Wehn told him.
Lure glanced down at his feet, trying to hide his frown. It was hard to suppress the desire to go with him, but he wasn’t the coward who ran anymore. At his pack, just through the line of trees, roamed his pack, of which he was now officially king. The legendary Javiod was just another, normal Werelupe under his reign now, living out the rest of his elderly age in peace.
“But where will you go?”
Wehn shrugged. “There are other Nuctroffs. Plenty of them, actually. I’ll find them.”
Lure nodded. It was sensible, but Lure continued to feel slightly guilty, for some unspeakable reason, that Wehn was having to relocate and leave the aunt and uncle that had raised him. Wehn seemed to guess at this.
“It’s all right, you know. They’re still my family, and I still respect them. We’ve just come to terms that I’m old enough to strike out on my own now, and it’s best since we don’t exactly see eye-to-eye.”
Lure nodded again. “I understand.”
Wehn smiled and clapped his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Lure. You won’t have any trouble with her. You’re keen to her ways now, and she knows it. It’ll probably be your great-grandchild that deals with her next. You know, enough time for your kind to forget why you mistrust her.”
Lure didn’t know how this was supposed to comfort him, but it still brought a smile to his face for some reason. It was like Wehn to think that this would ease his conscience.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
He would have to make sure that they didn’t get too comfortable with the Halloween Gelerts again. At least, the ones that weren’t like Hallowehn. But he had a feeling that he wouldn’t be seeing much of Mezzanotte for awhile anyway. By the way Wehn had described it, she was going to be sulking in embarrassment for awhile.
“Well, it’s time to go,” Wehn said finally. “Thank you again, Lure.”
His smile was slow and soft, and slightly mysterious in the darkness of the evening. Lure wondered where he’d end up.
“Thank you, Wehn,” he said in return.
They stared at each other in silence for a moment, a ghost of a smile on both of their faces, and then when carefully lifted the hood of his cloak over his glossy black hair and lifted a paw in farewell.
“Until next time,” he said.
Lure grinned. “I look forward to it.”