Shadowy Secrets: The Beginning
Please refrain from tossing all tomatoes, potatoes and rotten asparagus until the end of this story.
I stared up at the night's autumn moon.
Almost full, I noted. A few more nights and it would complete its monthly cycle. Noting how late it was, I jogged back to the Burrows; my King was waiting. Arriving on time, I bowed to the dark furred Werelupe that stood before me. The old king smiled at his most trusted adviser, age clearly marking his face.
"There you are, Vrynian. I thought you had forgotten about our meeting," the king teased gently.
I smirked. "No, sir. I merely lost track of time." I glanced around; the meeting chamber was empty except for the king and me. "Shall I go get the others, sir?"
The good-natured king chuckled. "No, I wanted to talk to you alone, Vrynian." He led me outside, to a rarely used path in the Werelupe woods.
"I've notice something these past few years. The Werelupes rely on me. They look to me for help if something goes wrong. And I've noticed a problem as well. I'm getting old. And with no son to take my place, my Werelupes will be left without their king." Here the King stopped. "I couldn't bear the thought of leaving them without a ruler. This is why I've decided to choose you as the next heir to the throne. It is my greatest hope that you will lead them into a new age of peace and prosperity." I stood there, too stunned to speak. It couldn't be; me? The next King of Werelupes? Surely it was a joke. But the King's face revealed nothing to suggest it was.
I bowed. "I would be honored, your majesty."
The old King smiled back fondly. "A wise choice; you shall make a fine king." As we returned home, I noticed how impatient Mystique, the king's wife, was. Pacing, she was outside the entrance to the caves and glancing every few minutes towards the more commonly used paths. The king noticed as well; excusing himself, he ran towards her. She mumbled something and the King broke into the widest smile I've ever seen. Something big was going to happen.
I frowned at the trees overhead, deep in thought. It was several weeks since the King had appointed me heir apparent. And yet, something still bothered me. The King's reaction to Mystique's words; it was completely out of character. Since then, the King had changed. Gone was the Werelupe I'd known since childhood. Now he was keeping secrets, often muttering softly to her under his breath with no chance of being overheard. I tried to shake off the feeling of betrayal. Surely the King had his reasons. He'd have mentioned if it concerned the pack in any way. Hearing footsteps, I looked for the source. One of my pack members, a gangly Werelupe teen, stepped into the clearing. Bowing, he addressed me. "His Majesty is asking for you to join him in the meeting chamber immediately."
Following the teenager, I couldn't help but feel a chill of excitement. The King hadn't really spoken much to me since that fateful night; what was so important? The secret, a small part of me whispered. This had to do with the secret. The king nodded as he approached, a grin wide enough to rival the one from a few weeks ago. He dismissed the teen. "I apologize for my recent behavior, I. I had no reason to treat you like I have been." I waited, silently urging me to continue. "However, I had something come up. Something personal. "As they entered the chamber, I noticed they weren't alone. Mystique was there, giggling at a small squirming bundle of fur. My heart sank to my feet, fearing the worst.
The King, apparently not noticing my sudden mood change, cradled the fuzzball in his arms. It was a Werelupe pup. As the king carried him over, I noticed something. A white crescent shaped mark, the mark of the Werelupe king, on his shoulder. A stab of anger flashed through me; so this was it; the king wanted me to meet his son, my rival for the throne. The King, apparently unaware of my rage, held out the pup to me. I took the baby gently, not wanting the king to get suspicious. Admittedly, it was kind of cute; his fur was a shiny black, slightly darker than his fathers', and was slightly bigger than normal. Dark blue eyes stared at me, a curious expression on the newborns' face.
The infant batted at me playfully, obviously happy to see me. I couldn't help it: I chuckled as the infant smiled at me with his deep eyes. The King took back his son, visibly pleased that I wasn't angry or jealous. "I think of you as more than an advisor, I see you as my own son. I've thought that of you since I first met you; and now I want to ask something of you. Will you join my family? Be the son I never had? "
I listened in silence, thinking. A small voice was saying that I shouldn't be mad; that the king had simply been so shocked at the news that he would have a son; I'd been momentarily forgotten but that the King still cared for me deeply. Another was saying that the King was an old fool and that I'd be a fool too if I accepted: there was no need to add insult to injury. I'd have to obey the orders of a child, and had lost the claim to the throne. That voice seemed to be louder. Nevertheless, I put a strained smile on my face and nodded. The king smiled, entirely oblivious to my internal war. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Mystique frowning. Unlike the king, I hadn't fooled for her a second.
*several months later*
I was in a bad mood; that was plain. Not only had I lost my chance to be king, I had to babysit my usurper; it was a whole new level of irony. I glared at the gaggle of playing Werelupe pups several yards away, my dark furred 'brother' easily identifiable amid his brown companions. At the age of three months, the king's son was as big as the others, though he was by far the youngest of the bunch. As if my thoughts had summoned the little tyke, he turned to gaze at his beloved 'brother' with eyes that had no right to belong to a child.
I flinched and dropped my gaze, anger running through my veins as I did. There was something unsettling about the boy, the way he seemed too aware, too intelligent for a child his age. It was unnatural. Though the boy was lovable to a fault, he carried an almost tangible air of unearthliness that made those nearest to him feel uneasy when he was nearby. Said child was coming towards me, his playmates watching him, wondering what their friend was doing.
In an effort to shake of the feeling of discomfort, I looked at the branches of the tree I'd been sitting against for the past few hours, trying to ignore him. Squinting, I could just barely see the feeble rays of sunshine that managed to leak through the thick foliage. A warm gentle breeze fluttered the branches overhead. Dark blue eyes bore into mine as the world went black; my last conscious thought was that I should be returning the pups to their families soon.
Hours later, I awoke with a pounding headache, feeling confused. It was too dark; it had felt like it had been midday a few minutes ago. How had I fallen asleep like that, so quickly and dreamlessly? I hadn't been tired, bored maybe. I scanned the dimly lit clearing and instantly regretted it. The feeling of fighting through cotton, the disorienting 'where am I' feeling was not enough to numb the shock: the pups where missing. Staggering hastily to my feet, I searched and found nothing. No footprints, nothing to say where they'd gone; their mothers would skin me alive when I returned to the caves without their kids. Mystique...
I took deep breaths, thinking of the possibilities. They were only 2: either the pups, out of boredom, had left or had been taken by something; Werelupes were dangerous but popular game. Poachers and skin collectors never dared venture deeply into known Werelupe territory; the thought that one had gotten bold enough to enter and taken 7 pups from under the nose of their caretaker was laughable. No, they had wandered off to who knew where.
I set off at a brisk jog, hoping they'd gone in deeper into the Woods instead of being attracted by the noise and flashing lights of the Main Woods. All those gawking tourists could be terrifying to the little tykes. They weren't used to seeing much of the woods yet and would probably be scared witless soon enough. And the Main Woods attracted all sorts of people, any of them dangerous to a lone pup. I'd have no one to turn to for help if they'd gone there. At least the residents weren't likely to try to sell them on the black market; they knew how we would react once the we'd find out and were in no hurry to be mauled by an angry pack. They respected and feared us enough to return our occasional lost pup. I'd have to rely on that help.
The woods appeared to thinned up ahead, that wasn't right. The Woods strove to reclaim its lost land; few clearing existed out of the populous tourists attractions. I slowed, thinking I'd actually managed to reach the Shattered Plains. The sound of laughter and the whirring of machinery caused me to halt altogether. The Deserted Fairground; in my haste, I'd run in the opposite direction of the one I had intended.
This discovery was bittersweet; if any of the pups had come here the place would be filled with panicked screaming people. Seven young and possible frightened Werelupes would be a nightmare and nigh impossible to control: even as children Werelupes were strong. However, they already had a head start because of my unexplained nap, and now I'd lost even more time because of this detour. Maybe Edna saw them... I could only hope that as I followed the hidden footpaths to her home. She was kind compared to what lurked in the shadows and fond of the king. If I explained that one of the missing pups was the prince she wouldn't refuse to help. Nor would anyone else, I silently amended. The King would tear the Haunted Woods apart in search for his son. No one, alive or undead would want to risk the good kings' wrath. And Mystique... I'd do anything to escape either of their wraths, especially hers.
While she'd never once raised a hand to defend herself, there was no doubt she could. The air of confidence made that very clear. No one knew where she'd come from: we'd found her nearly three years ago when the pack had been driven from our former home. A Werelupe had foolishly lead hunters into our territory. We, having been taken by surprise, had suffered greatly and left. Even then, she'd shown no surprise at seeing 25-odd, badly scarred Werelupes. Sitting at the edge of the woods, she'd showed no fear as Slabaugh and Bloxam, our two best fighters, had approached her, hostility in their every gesture. As sure as the sunrise, she'd walked past them and halted before the king. With a rushed, whispered unknown demand on her part, the pack had come to find our home. She'd never left, simply stating that she had no reason to leave and wished to stay for a while.
The wind carried hushed voices, subdued and serious, to me. My ears pricked upwards at the tenor of one; it sounded like Slabaugh. My body stiffened with sudden stress: had they noticed that I was gone? That the pups were missing? What would I say to explain to them what had happened? I fell asleep and lost the kids, sorry. That sounded stupid even in my mind. I sighed, deciding I should take my punishment know as to later, when their anger would grow. The whole pack would hate me enough already without giving them time to contemplate. I squeezed myself through two close knitted trees and prepared myself for the worst,
It wasn't shocking to see only a portion of the pack there; they'd have naturally split up in order to cover more ground. What did surprise me was the size of the group: of the 34 Werelupes in our pack at least 15 were there. What shocked me into speechlessness was the fact that not only did they have the missing pups; they didn't appear to be angry. Unconsciously, I scanned the group and saw the most shocking thing yet: Slabaugh was pushing the prince in the direction of the Main Woods, the little tyke struggling to go back in the direction I recognize as home. I stared like a complete moron, unable to form a single coherent though. The auburn Werelupe looked back at me, worry and fear in his eyes.
Partially hidden by the shadows, a tall faerie stood behind them. She had a surreal appearance to her, looking more like a hallucination than anything else. A smile spread across her beautiful face as she spoke to a hooded stranger that had certainly not been there before. Long, whiplike ears indicated it was a Gelert with a long, heavy broadsword held in a black leather scabbard and, he too, appeared ghostlike, unreal. Both of them were staring as the boy tried to escape his captors' grip; the little tyke shivered when their eyes fell on him.
Slabaugh coughed as several of the pack began to edge nervously towards the close trees, clearly intent on retreating. The two voices in my mind increased their volume, the whispered arguments that had started when I'd seen the Faerie now grew louder. The retreating members paused before stopping, eyeing the prince warily, as if they expected him to suddenly harm them. Not just random members either; several of the king's subjects were here: I saw Bloxam, Amata, and Asha shuffling towards the fringes of the trees.
My internal voices were now having a fully fledged shouting match: one demanding I go straight to the king, the other telling me to encourage them. In a vain effort to ignore them, I turned to the prince. His eyes, terrified and upset before, now looked to me in the most trustful expression I'd ever seen. The moment his gaze met mine, I had to look away; his strange eyes still managed to make me uneasy and dizzy.
I turned to Slabaugh, intent on answers. He had noticed the expression on the prince's face; now the worry and fear were evident in his face, as well as uncertainty. What had he been thinking? That I wouldn't worry when I saw the pups were missing? Or that I would simply let them stay lost? Sighing, he released the prince, who ran to me. The little boy was smiling, unable to mask the happiness of having his 'big brother' with him. I didn't look away from the auburn Werelupe who was looking around nervously, as were the others. Seeing as no one was going to answer, I opened my mouth to speak.
A diminutive ginger Werelupess near me cringed: Asha's normally meek, gentle nature shied away from conflict; no doubt she expected me to alert the king of this inexplicable behavior. "Please, Vrynian, don't jump to conclusions. This isn't what it looks like; we're trying to help the pack. If you just let us explain...' she trailed off nervously.
"I-How could you... What in the name of blazing fire faeries are you doing?" My voice, slightly muffled by shock, sent her cowering. "We-we just want to help the pack... Vrynian, please. Don't jump to conclusions. She looked to Bloxam for help. The muscular mahogany Werelupe came over, placing himself in front of her like a shield. I ignored the tall Werelupe as best as I could with him less than six inches in front of me. Peering under his elbow, I saw Asha roll her eyes. "Not what I meant," she growled. A chocolate brown Werelupess, Amata, stepped in for her. "Vrynian, just-"
I held up a hand to silence her. The dark Faerie was speaking and I didn't want to miss what she was saying. "Don't fight them," she crooned, "this is what you want. See how they're getting rid of your competitor? They are loyal to you, not a baby barely old enough to understand what's going on." Her sickly sweet voice washed over me, soothing as I pondered her words. A slow smile crept across my face, my decision was clear, my internal war at an end.
I nudged the little prince toward the populated tourist trap called the Game Graveyard and the two silent, unearthly guests. Unlike before he offered no resistance, merely looking at my smiling face before toddling forwards. "He's so gullible," crooned the Faerie," surely you wouldn't leave your Werelupes in the hands of him." It bothered me that no one was looking at her. Indeed, they were all staring at me like I'd gone mad.
Amata looked at the Faerie, before turning to me, frowning. "What are you staring at? The Graveyard?" I gestured to the Faerie, but she was gone. In her place was an old Werelupe, dark brown fur streaked white with age. His milky white eyes hovered over the group, before chuckling softly. He slanted a clawed bone scepter, casting a meaningful glance at the prince, who having his path cut off, stopped to wonder at the newest guest in the (now rather cramped) site.
The others around me began to whisper, uncertainty in their voices. Only two words repeated themselves in each conversation: Werelupe Sage. The Sage's unseeing eyes bore into mine, making me feel as uncomfortable as the princes' had. He meandered over, the scepter held in his hands and stood before me. A slow smile crossed his wizen face as he held out the scepter to me, no one dared to speak. "There are more efficient ways to usurp a prince, your majesty." His resonant voice echoed in the silence.
A cruel smirk stretched itself across my face as I took the Werelupe King's Scepter. Other Werelupes smiled as well, knowing that they had both their rallying point and the Werelupe Sage on their side of the skirmish. In my peripheral vision, I saw the Faerie, much clearer than before, smiling a smile that sent shivers up my spine. I could feel the power of the Scepter as it course through me; no one could stand in my course to become the Werelupe King, not even the foolish King himself.
The End (for now)
Author's note: This story is loosely based on my first neopet, Shade. It will probably make more sense when I get around to finishing my next story. Thanks to Lizzie, Tay, Kal, Alianne, June and all the other Plotters for their support, help and commentary. Special thanks to Dragonair23. Dragon, thanks for helping a wannabe NT writer work up the courage to write, finish and submit this story. To the poor bloke reading this, don't worry; I'll pay for your therapy. Do they accept asparagus as payment?