Return to Lynwood
L exora’s tail bushed and she looked down as if she could see the curse on herself, putting her paws on her blouse. “I—what?” she gasped. Mr. Fitchet sat up in his chair and leaned toward the others anxiously.
“You can see curses?” Suhel asked Pharazon. To her Werelupe vision, nothing looked wrong with Lexora at all.
“Well, they are a type of magic,” the faerie Draik said. “Magic to me is what smell is to you. I could see Connor’s curse on him, plain as day.” Pharazon did have an uncanny sense for magic, Suhel thought, even for a faerie-coloured Neopet. She did remember him calling out Connor’s curse earlier.
“I don’t understand—“ Lexora said, looking over her shoulder at her father. “I don’t remember ever being cursed. I don’t have much of anything to do with magic or magic users. Our shop doesn’t specialise in ensorcelled items—mages have dedicated secondhand shops for that sort of thing.”
“Hmm…” Pharazon rubbed his chin. “Not all curses are created through spellcasting. There’s something called a spontaNeous curse.”
Lexora tilted her head. “Do go on.”
“Well, I’m not super knowledgeable about curses,” Pharazon said. “I haven’t done much research on them—I know the Lost Desert magicians specialise in them, but my ties are more to the Brightvale sorcerers… anyway, I have at least done a bit of reading.”
The diminutive Draik got to his feet to pace in front of the fire, like any proper scholar. “There are theories that if enough negative energy is concentrated in one place for too long, a curse may be spontaNeously generated. Those are a lot harder to break than spellcast curses.”
Beoffrey trundled out of the kitchen with a tea tray. He handed one cup to Lexora and one to Suhel. The Werelupe sniffed the steaming liquid—it smelled earthy and bitter, but as she was a rather earthy Neopet herself it was not an unpleasant smell. The cup seemed comically undersized in her large paws, but she daintily lifted it to her muzzle and sipped. The tea was hot and pungent and felt good going down her raw throat.
Out of the corner of her eye, Suhel saw her packmates snickering at her. She shot them a sharp glare. “I’m allowed to drink tea if I like,” she snarled.
“Aye, but you just look so ladylike all of a sudden,” one of them said with a laugh.
Suhel growled. “I’ll do whatever I need to keep this cursed cough at bay, thank you.”
“Will you need to wear lace gloves, next?” someone else asked.
“I’ve heard enough from you lot,” Suhel groaned. “Find someone else to pick on.” She ignored them and kept nursing her tea. Besides the warmth it gave her innards, it did seem to help calm her lungs a bit.
“Why are spontaNeous curses harder to break?” Lexora asked.
Pharazon stopped his pacing to finger one of his whiskers, his other arm bent behind his back. “I should probably start by explaining how curses work. They’re a different sort of magic than things like elemental power and sorcery. Curses seem to bend reality itself—they alter their target’s fate. So when you say someone is cursed, it means they are fated to have something happen to them. Sometimes it’s instantaNeous—“ He looked over at Connor, who was still an unmoving bundle on the floor. “Other times, the fate manifests itself after a certain timespan or under certain conditions.”
He glanced over at the others to see if they were following. Mr. Fitchet gulped down the last of his borovan and nodded. “Go on, boy,” he said.
“The other main thing about curses,” Pharazon said, “is that they come with contingencies. Nearly every curse comes with an ‘if-then’ condition that stipulates the breaking of the curse. For example – purely hypothetically, of course – I could curse you to turn into a Sludgy on Wednesdays, but if you climbed to the top of Edna’s Tower and shouted the alphabet backwards, then the curse would break.” He paused. “Although most conditions aren’t that arbitrary, I don’t think.”
“That makes sense,” Terra said. “It’s neat how much magic is like science sometimes, at least in the methodology.”
Pharazon rustled his wings, sending sparks of faerie dust flying, and sighed. “The problem, though, is that, like all magic, curses ultimately play by their own rules. Spellcasters don’t always have control over curse-breaking conditions, and sometimes might not even know what will break a curse. That’s what makes them so dangerous. So spontaNeous curses are even worse, because no one ever pronounced the curse conditions. Like Lexora here, you probably won’t even know you’re cursed.”
Suhel grimaced, her ears sliding back. She hated the idea of magic out of the caster’s control, especially rogue magic out of anyone’s control. Still holding the teacup, she leaned away from Lexora as though the Kougra’s curse was contagious. Talking about dangerous magic was the last thing Suhel wanted to do right now.
“And that’s why curses have gotten such a bad reputation in Neopia at large,” the Draik continued, not seeming to notice the Werelupe’s discomfort as he was so caught up in lecturing. “There are actually plenty of curses that alter fates in beneficial ways, but of course it’s the misuse of curses that gets all the attention.”
He swiveled around to keep pacing. “The sorcerers of the Lost Desert are some of the only magicians who have studied curses enough to be able to use them with a high degree of reliability…” As his gaze passed over Suhel, he trailed off and his eyes narrowed, then widened again. “Um… Suhel…”
Her snout wrinkled. “What?”
“You…” Pharazon winced. “I think you’ve got a curse on you, too.”
“What?!” Suhel passed her teacup to Lexora and leaped to her feet, putting her paw on her sword as though it was something she could fight off. Panic rippled through her body and her heart slammed in her chest.
The Draik looked at Lexora, and then back to Suhel. “It’s the same curse as Lexora’s, actually,” he said.
The two old schoolmates stared at each other. “How is that possible?” Lexora asked.
“Why didn’t you say anything sooner?!” Suhel yelped. “We’ve known each other for years, runt! But you’ve been staring at Lexora since we came in!”
Pharazon shook his head. “I didn’t notice it on you before! I’m not sure if it’s because you’ve just always had the curse, or what—but magic does some odd things sometimes, it doesn’t always make itself readily apparent. Talking about it probably made me more attuned to seeing it on other Neopets.”
He glanced around the room. “Er—for the record, none of the rest of you have curses on you.” The others breathed a sigh of relief. “Except Connor, obviously,” the Draik added. “Oh, and you were cursed into a Werelupe, right?” he said, pointing to one of Isengrim’s female thanes. She nodded. “Other than that, no one else,” Pharazon said.
Suhel stared at her paws as though she expected to see foul magic oozing over them. “I don’t understand—how could the same curse affect us both? We’ve not seen each other in years.”
Lexora gathered her skirts and stood up, handing the teacups to her husband. “Pharazon… you said there’s a time delay on some curses, correct?” She looked up at Suhel. “Where was the last place we were together, Caradoc?”
The Werelupe’s jaw dropped. “Lynwood,” she said as Lexora’s muzzle mirrored the word. “You think we were cursed at Lynwood?”
“But if no one actively cursed us – although I’m sure those teachers and older girls would have loved to – it was a spontaNeous curse,” Lexora said. She put a paw to her mouth, the tip of her tail twitching. “Actually… it makes sense, given what we know about curses. If they can be formed from too much negative energy built up in a place over time…”
Suhel had to force herself to keep breathing. She felt as though darkness was crawling all over her and she wanted to find some way to run away from it or wash it off, although rationally she knew that just wasn’t possible, and that made her even more anxious.
“I’d say there was more than enough negative energy at Lynwood to create a curse,” she muttered. “The teachers hated us girls, and us girls hated each other, and the whole school was a fat mess of stupid rules and unfair punishments, and they expected us to sit inside all day, for goodness sake… it wasn’t a very pleasant place at all.” She finished with a cough.
“How can you be sure it’s Lynwood that’s cursed you?” Beoffrey asked.
Lexora looked over at him. “I’ve not heard of anyone else in town with my symptoms, have you? But—I’ve kept in touch with some of the other girls from Lynwood over the years… and they’re all sick, too. Some of them have gotten so ill that they can’t even get out of bed anymore.” Her voice wavered.
“Sounds like this curse fated you all to get sick now,” Pharazon said. “Suhel probably is just only starting to feel it because she’s a Werelupe and they have an immune system like a brick wall.”
Lexora let out a choked sob. “Oh, I can’t—I don’t want that to happen to me. I’ve got a family to take care of, a life to live…”
“So have I,” Suhel said. “I don’t like this idiotic curse business any more than you do.” Now anger started to take over from the fear. It enraged her that one stupid little week at a secondary school had stayed with her over the years and was now affecting her health and changing her fate. But it still terrified her that magic had gotten her and she could not use swords or claws against it.
Lexora clenched her fists. “How do we break it?” she asked Pharazon. “There’s got to be a way, right?” She stood tense, her pupils wide like she was stalking a meal.
Hesitantly, he nodded. “In theory,” he said. “The problem is, I have no idea what the curse-breaking condition is. No one does, probably.”
“But it’s breakable,” Lexora said.
“In theory,” Pharazon stressed. “I did make sure to study up on breaking curses—never can be too careful, after all. Scholars say that the method of breaking spontaNeous curses usually has something to do with how the curse was formed. So if we want any shot at fixing this thing, we should probably start with searching Lynwood for clues.”
Lexora hit her fist into an outstretched paw. “Then let’s go!”
The others let out noises of surprise. Suhel put a paw on the slim Kougra’s shoulder. “What do you mean, ‘let’s’, Fitchet? Surely you’re not thinking of going.”
“Of course I am,” Lexora said. “I want to help. It’s my curse, and I’m not going to sit around and wait for someone else to break it.”
“It’s my curse, too,” Suhel said. “You’re in no condition to travel.”
Lexora folded her arms, her tail lashing. “I can manage. Lynwood is just a few days’ journey from here, and the weather hasn’t turned quite so cold yet—“
“Hold on,” Isengrim suddenly said from the sofa. Suhel was ashamed to realise that in all the fuss about curses, she’d nearly forgotten he was there. His eyes were open and he reached up to rub at his face with one paw, although Terra still had a death grip on the other one. “Don’t forget about why we’ve returned to the Woods in the first place,” he said.
Lexora stuck out her chin, but looked up at Suhel. “You never did get around to telling me that,” the Kougra said.
“Right,” Suhel said. “When we moved to Meridell, we accidentally left behind a dangerous magical artefact. It may still be in the ruins of our old keep, and we need to retrieve it before anyone else does—or at least try to figure out what happened to it if it’s not there.”
To the Werelupe’s consternation, Lexora clapped her paws together. “Smashing!” the Kougra said. “That sounds like jolly good fun!”
Terra grinned. “I know, right?”
“I am all for breaking this curse,” Isengrim said, “but I believe our first priority has to be retrieving that artefact, and I will not return to Barrowmere any time soon considering what has just happened. We will depart for the keep, determine the location of the artefact, and then go to Lynwood. Lexora, you may accompany us if you wish, but we travel on foot and our supplies are sparse. You will not have all the comforts of your home.”
“But you can ride with me and Pharazon on our Ganuthor,” Terra said. “It’s the only way we can keep pace with the Werelupes, anyhow. We’ll be glad to share what supplies we brought with you. I always pack extra, just in case.”
Beoffrey shifted his weight. “I’ll come with you,” he said. “I don’t want Lexora out in those woods without any protection.”
“Dear,” Lexora said, “someone’s got to stay here and take care of Daddy and the children, and manage the shop. Besides—“ She glanced over at the Werelupes, bristling with weapons as they were. “I do believe I’ll be quite well protected.”
Suhel nodded with a smirk. “You’re never safer in the Haunted Woods than when you’re with Werelupes, I can guarantee that,” she said.
With a heavy sigh, Mr. Fitchet eased himself to his feet, using his cane for support. Although he was still quite a bit shorter than the Werelupes, he easily towered over the other occupants of the room, and it was clear by the way he held himself that this was a time when he wanted to look imposing. “Lexora, sweetest,” he said in a tone that was kind yet firm. “Do you understand what you’re getting into? I’m concerned about you going out on an expedition in your condition. You’ve never done anything like this before.”
Lexora wrung her paws and glanced over at Suhel before looking back at her father. “I know, Daddy, but—that’s exactly why I want to do it, you see.” Her eyes moved to the room’s décor.
Suhel had been too busy playing medic to notice much about the parlor before, but now that the situation was less urgent, she could take the time to look around. Although the sitting room took much inspiration from the school of Neovian interior design, with oval-framed family portraits on the walls and elaborate shades on the oil lamps, scattered about the room were interesting curios from other places. A Lost Desert vase stood in one corner, holding long multicoloured feathers. Tribal masks from Mystery Island hung by the stairs to the third storey. On top of the mantel was mounted a long, curved sword from Shenkuu with an ornamental, gold-worked sheath.
Lexora turned about to regard all of these exotic mementos. “When I was a girl and we were rich, your business took you around Neopia,” she said. “You had all sorts of splendid adventures, seeing incredible things and bringing wealth and success to those you traded with.” Facing her father again, she interlaced her fingers. “But I never got to go… I always had to stay at home with my nanny, or I was stuck at secondary school. I always wanted to have marvelous adventures like you, Daddy. And now’s my chance.”
She hooked an arm around Suhel’s and said, “Caradoc and I are the only ones here who know anything about Lynwood, and Caradoc was only there for a week while I went to that school for a year and a half. If anyone can figure out how to break our curse, it might be me. I’m not throwing away this opportunity.”
For a long moment, Mr. Fitchet looked at her. Suhel could only guess at the emotions running through his mind that echoed in his face. There was a great deal of sadness and dismay there, at the prospect of letting what seemed to be his only child travel into the heart of the Haunted Woods with a band of Werelupes. But there was also a gleam in his green eyes that spoke of the Grarrl’s own love of adventure and a deep sympathy for his daughter.
The old Fitchet smiled. Hobbling over to Lexora, he reached out with his free arm and wrapped her in a hug. “Of course, my dear,” he said. “I’m just sorry I never thought to bring you with me, all those years ago. I was a different man then—I spent most of my attention on money when I should have been giving it more to my family. I will always regret not giving your mother more of my time before she passed on, all too young. But life seems to have given me a second chance to make it up to you, and I can only hope I have done well.”
“I couldn’t have asked for more, Daddy,” Lexora said, hugging him back. “You’ve been wonderful. I know you were trying your hardest back then, and I just appreciate that you listened when I wrote to you about conditions at Lynwood. That showed you cared.”
“What about me?” croaked a voice from the corner of the parlor.
Suhel turned around. Connor had been quiet for so long that she’d nearly forgotten what he sounded like—only his accent jogged her memory. The young Werelupe sat with his arms wrapped around his legs, his ears still low, his snout buried in his knees as he looked up at everyone with a doleful gaze.
“What about my curse?” he asked, his golden eyes flicking from Suhel to Isengrim. “I want to be a normal Lupe again. I want—I want to go home!”
The two lead Werelupes looked at each other. Suhel knew Isengrim had been dreading this conversation just as much as she had. Neither of them wanted to break the news to Connor. Suhel especially did not really feel up to having to bear the brunt of the boy’s emotions. But someone had to tell him, sooner or later.
She opened her muzzle to reply, but before she could, Isengrim gave Terra’s hands another squeeze and let go to prop himself up on his pillow. “Connor,” he said, “you can’t be a normal Lupe again.” His crimson eyes bored into the pup, not unkindly, but with great gravity. “There is no reversal for a Werelupe transformation.”
The room fell silent, all eyes on the oversized pup in the corner who looked like he was going to be ill. “But—it’s a curse,” he said, sounding as if he was trying to talk through treacle, like it was suddenly a great effort just to get his mouth to form words. “You can break curses.”
Pharazon took a deep breath and shook his head. “Not all curses can be broken. The reasons why are still being researched, but… once a Lupe becomes a Werelupe, there is no turning back. Whether it happened naturally—“ He paused to look up at Suhel. “Or via magic. It’s a one-way thing.”
Suhel watched as the shock in the boy’s eyes turned to anger. With a start, Connor leaped to his feet, his lips curling to show his fangs. “But that’s not fair!” he snarled. “I don’t want to be a Werelupe! I want to be me again! How come you’re all so set on fixin’ Lexora’s curse, and you’re tellin’ me to just give up?!”
“Believe me, if there was a cure, I would want to help you find it,” Pharazon said. “But there simply isn’t. It’s got less to do with magic and more to do with some inherent property of Lupes. Your situation is different than Lexora’s and Suhel’s.”
Connor scowled. “Then I’ll find a blasted cure meself!” Fists clenched, he broke away for the stairs.
Suhel’s nostrils flared. With a few swift steps, she lashed out a thick arm and caught Connor around the shoulders. Angling her elbow, with another thrust she sent him slamming onto the floor. Before he could recover, she rolled him onto his stomach and pinned him down with a knee on his spine.
“You,” she growled, “are not leaving this building. Are you really that witless to not realise what just happened out there? Your townsfolk hate Werelupes. What do you think they’ll do to you if they find you wandering the streets? And you could very well give away our position, too.”
The young Werelupe let out a bark, struggling beneath her weight. “Let me go, you big brute!” he said. Reaching out with his claws, he scrabbled for purchase on the floor, carving curls of wood out of the planks. “Unhand me! I want to go h-home—“ His voice broke and he collapsed into sobbing. Suhel watched him impassively, still holding him down, not trusting him to stay put.
Lexora hesitated for a moment, then approached the two Werelupes. Kneeling down, she placed a paw on Connor’s head. “There, now,” she said gently, smoothing back his fur. “I’m sure it’s not as bad as all that.”
“It is bad,” Connor grunted between sobs. “Me own parents hate me! Me own town hates me! I’m a m-monster!”
The other Werelupes looked as uncomfortable as Suhel felt. Isengrim sighed. “Connor, you will have to stay with us for a while,” he said. “I cannot leave you to the mercy of the townsfolk. I would feel better knowing you were under my care, and my thanes and I can teach you how to adjust to life as a Werelupe.”
“But I don’t want to be a Werelupe,” Connor hissed. “I want to be Connor O’Keefe—I want to be a chemist—“
“Mother?” a girl’s voice called from the stairs to the third storey. Peering down from above was a young grey Ogrin in a nightgown. “What’s—“ She saw the Werelupes and froze.
To be continued…