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Have Hope


by cherishtwilight

--------

Helena strode over the empty corridor, listening to the melody the other nurses passing by made as they traversed the labyrinth of a building. Pale faces passed by, sad smiles shooting over her way, a few hellos and goodbyes following her everywhere she went. The virtues and curses of being a ghost in an asylum abandoned for years was all the same; she was as free as any of the undead will ever be.

      A framed piece of paper was set on the torn walls, a black-rimmed square against the worn whitish-gray patterns. Written in century old ink, the story behind it had already been tired by the powers of time and filth, but the memorable tale had sung like a free Pteri in the back of her mind.

      Welcome To The Meepit Oaks Sanitarium

      Kale Xadum and Bella Chorsicks walked along the cobblestoned roads, enduring the misfortune and awkwardness of a conversation for a conversation's sake. Small talk had never been their strongest ability, nor had it ever been performed until now. For those ten minutes, they'd simply been enjoying the blissful silence, each remark they gave to each other short lived and in vain.

      "Run!" A cry sounded, breaking such silence.

      Xadum turned his decaying muscles to his left, a yellow Ogrin running off into the other side of the street, a crowd following him. "Well," he said with an eye-widened expression splattered on his pale face, adjusting his glasses to see if his eyes weren't lying to him. "I'm figuring that that can't be good."

      "Neovians," Bella replied with a heavy sigh. "Perhaps it's just another monster that rolled into town."

      Xadum's expression barely changed, as he looked back at the origins of the escaping crowd. "Perhaps we should see what this 'monster' looks like," he suggested. "As normal as it may sound, I don't remember Neovians being as afraid as they just were since the Curse." He took a moment of silence, leaving Bella to ponder in her thoughts for just a second. "And we both know what happened that day."

      "All too clearly," she said, turning her heels to the left.

      There was a deafening sound of screams and cries of running Neovians, the distraught revelry as loud as it was absurd. "So, what do you think all of this is about?" Bella shouted, her voice standing out from the crowd. Xadum tipped his hat forward, looking around dubiously. "Perhaps a Werelupe snuck into a poor soul's home; maybe a zombie came out to get a little snack. Really, whatever is causing this fuss; it has to have a good reason..."

      He was interrupted by an explosion, breaking the revelry into a silence. Everyone had still looked as afraid as they were before, their swift motion warning everyone who'd got in their way. They just couldn't hear them all scream.

      "Bella," Xadum said, turning towards the white Usul. "I think I've gone deaf."

      Bella turned to him, and gave out a long, ridiculously loud screech. "Correction," he said, holding onto his ears, "I just did."

      Bella looked at the crowd, their screams still muted, the silence hardly believable with the amount of open-mouthed pets running around. She closed her eyes for a moment, connecting to the area around her.

      It was always a natural ability, to be able to search through the darkest places only the mind could go into; even before a crowd of panicked Neovians, she could always here the silent cries of negativity flowing out somewhere. Whether it was sobbing, screams of anger and anguish, or just a silent force of rue; inside her head, it had always called out for her, making their voices louder than anything around her. Which, in this case, made sure that she'd heard its message.

      "What is it, Bella?" Xadum asked, laying a hand over her shoulder. But his voice was nothing to her, now. All she could hear was singing; a choir of sorrowful singing, its tone rising high, dropping low, or simply having to sing in a monotonous, flat tone. "No one else will hear; The end is already near; The Sickness has finally made its way."

      "BELLA." A scream cut in, the voice hoarse and familiar. "WHAT IN NEOPIA ARE YOU DOING?"

      Bella blinked, looking crossly at the zombie Aisha beside her. The revelry had returned, somewhat more deafening than she could remember it to be. Just as she was about to say something, another explosion broke out, an ear-piercing melody of groans and shrill shrieks following.

      Where the crowd parted, she could see something move in a swift motion, the Neovians who stood their ground taken down one by one. The choir got a little louder in her head, beating her own thoughts in the competition to see who was louder. "Xadum," she called, "can you see what's happening?"

      The zombie's vision had always been cloudy at best; colorless and gray even with the help of a pair of glasses. But he needn't the best sight to see the cause of the panic.

      A red-eyed Werelupe growled angrily, attacking the strong-willed fool who dared get in its way. A blue Poogle was pushed to its back, cringing in fear as the monster nudged its muzzle closer. "Werelupe," he said. "Really, really big Werelupe."

      Bella silenced the maddening cries for help calling her, racing to help the Poogle. She jumped on the thing, pulling its ears up before it could open its jaws and attempt to bite off the poor boy's face, keeping on to its back for as long as she could. For a moment, she'd regarded the torn attire of the Werelupe, a shredded waistcoat with fur sticking out, sleeves torn off of their shirt. But she didn't have enough time to question it. For now, she'd to keep the beast under control.

      Meanwhile, Xadum approached the blue Poogle, who'd look frozen in fear. "Come on now," he said, seizing his wrists, "We have to get out of here, fast."

      "What is she doing to him?" the boy asked, "Is she—is she--"

      "It's alright, child," Xadum assured, his tone not as warm as he'd imagined it to be. "The Werelupe can't hurt you now."

      "The Werelupe wouldn't hurt me!" the boy said, pulling his hand away. "He's my father!"

      Xadum let his colorless eyes widen, looking back at the beast, Bella straining to tame it. Mustering all the sanity she had, she pierced through the block of the beast's mind, pushing aside the curtains of its thoughts. "No one else will hear; The end is already near; The Sickness will make its way."

      Quickly, she struck a blow over to the beast's thick walls, causing it to scream in pain. It held onto its head, straining to keep itself together as her own thoughts replaced its; "Stop this madness, now. You don't want this. You don't want any of this. Just hold still, and give in."

      "Stop this now!" she screamed, finally, forcing the thought into its head. The monster howled, fighting against her. The Poogle screamed his father's name, begging for her to stop. She couldn't hear him. She was too deep inside the thing's thick mind to hear anything, now.

      "Bella!" Xadum cried, attempting to reach her. She heard nothing. "Bella, stop!" No reply came.

      "Get out of my head!" the Werelupe cried hoarsely as it flung its head wildly. Bella disregarded the fact that the monster was able to talk, breaking in deeper into the mind. Tearing through the irrelevant thoughts that cluttered everywhere, she shredded several shells of it, catching a glimpse of something moving in the bitter core. Pushing past the last of the thoughts, she found something underneath it, dormant and undisturbed in peaceful slumber.

      "Wake up! Wake up!" she said, shaking the blue Lupe inside. Outside of her thoughts, the Werelupe had already managed to flung her off of its back; but even then she was too locked into its mind to get out. "Can't you see what you're doing?" she cried, her attempts becoming vain. "Wake up already!"

      There was a silence.

      Something grabbed her by the collar, pulling her out of the monster's mind. Looking back through the eyes she'd usually used, she could see Xadum helping her up her feet, calling her name in a blurred tone. She looked back at where she last remembered the Werelupe to be standing, smiling in relief.

      A blue Lupe held onto his face, supported by the blue Poogle from before. The boy seemed to be laughing, despite what'd just happened, his father whispering something in his ear. "Well, that's sweet," she said, the massive headache she had beginning to subside.

      "There he is!"

      The two looked over their shoulders, seeing the same crowd from before return, armed with the traditional pitchforks and torches. It was a common mob stereotype; if it's different and seems like a threat, kill it with fire and pointy metal.

      The Lupe looked back at the crowd, struggling to put on a straight face. "Jean," he said, "Run. Now."

      "What? No!" Jean said, stiff under his father's weight. "I don't care what you are; I'll never--"

      "Jean." His father shot him a menacing glare, the red eyes returning. "Go."

      Tears began to well up in the Poogle's eyes, but he'd obeyed. As the Poogle escaped, the crowd raged over the Lupe, tears beginning to cascade as they did. Xadum and Bella stood there, witnessing the violence of the crowd, Bella sheltering her eyes when the screams had gone. It was all over.

      I can't tell you what was left of it; it was rather gruesome, what had happened to the poor Lupe. If I had told you, the grownups wouldn't have let you read this in the first place. But I can tell you this; Bella and Xadum weren't the only pets who'd watched the mob attack.

      "Madam, sir," a kind, shrill voice said, "I don't believe it'd be healthy to watch what us Neovians can really do to intruders; why don't you come inside? I have some tea and crumpets to share."

      A shadow Lupe stood from his doorstep, his yellow eyes gleaming subtle kindness. Xadum and Bella exchanged glances, Bella the first one to withdraw. She looked out at the crowd, wincing. They both looked back at the friendly stranger, and nodded. Without any other word of thanks, they rushed into his home.

      "So," the Lupe—Kendall Darkling—said. "I saw what you just did, with that Werelupe creature." Bella's eyes widened, looking past the rim of her tea cup. "I assume you specialize in—oh, what's its name—The Gypsy Eye?"

      "Mind Magic," she said, setting her cup on its saucer. "A branch of the Eye—is it of any importance to you, Mr. Darkling?"

      Kendall gave a chuckle, slumping back into his chair. "No, it isn't," he said, smiling. "You see, it's called 'the Gypsy Eye' because it was made for gypsy blood. As in, headbands, shawls, jewelry; I've always imagined a gypsy to be like that. I never thought I'd see the day I met a gypsy who'd rather trade a life of dancing with idly strolling the streets of Neovia."

      "Well," Xadum said, recoiling from the crumpets served on a silver platter. "Bella isn't one to be defined in such stereotypical way."

      Kendall gave a laugh, Bella shooting a glare. "Neither are you, Mr. Xadum," he said. Xadum's eyes widened. "Word has spread about you; a zombie that's smarter than the average man! I honestly have never thought it would happen—not to offend your kind, of course." He picked up his cup, taking a small sip. "I've always seen zombies as the simplest and most adaptable kind yet; all they do is walk around idly, defending themselves by munching on brains and such, becoming one of the most feared figures around without doing anything. It's genius!"

      If he could, Xadum would've flushed.

      "Why were those Neovians attacking that innocent blue Lupe?" Bella quickly asked, driving the conversation somewhere else.

      "Oh, you know how Neovians are." Kendall shrugged. "They're a mix of Brightvalians and Meridellians; smart bookworms who are welcoming to weary travelers, merciless slaughterers who won't take any exceptions for attackers." A cut-glass smile slid by him, an evil reflection appearing on his tea. "It's absolutely delicious to watch them as they are."

      Delicious. You know there's something horribly wrong with someone if they describe slaughter as delicious.

      Bella took note of the Lupe's healthy (and somewhat disturbing) array of weaponry, hung all over the walls; reddish-rust crusting over the metals. "Yes, but, it isn't like he's an actual threat anymore," Xadum said, filling in where Bella left off. "They could've just exiled him from Neovia, if it's that big of a problem; but what they did—what they may be doing..." He almost looked sad. But that had been impossible; he'd always had that solemn feel to him. "That man had a son."

      "The blue Poogle?" Kendall said, sounding disinterested. "It's quite alright; he's going to lose his innocence one day, isn't he? So why not?"

      "He looked barely twelve."

      "My parents went off to Shenkuu and left me here when I was eight," he said, "I'd say he's lucky to have had a loving father or mother for twelve years. And besides, who said that he didn't have a mother?"

      Xadum's mouth tightened, his eyes narrowing. Kendall smiled in triumph. "The Lupe had a disease," he said, afterwards, "a disease that he could've spread to everyone around him. In my opinion, it was common sense to be rid of him; even if we exiled him, how would we know that he would stay exiled? He could always come back ten years later, and then we'll have a much bigger problem than we have now."

      "Couldn't they cure him?" Bella asked, sounding dumb. "I've read somewhere that there was a potion--"

      "That's just a story, dear Bella," Kendall cut rudely, "The kind with happy endings and such. The Haunted Woods is nothing like that. The denizens here don't spit rainbows and dance in peaceful meadows; quite the opposite, really. There is no luxury of being spared by monsters just because of mere friendship; it all depends on them if they want to spare you or not. And really, the cure of the sickness..." He sipped on his cup, as if they were conversing something that was normal. "It doesn't exist."

      Xadum looked uncomfortable of the man's words, mainly because he knew it was true. There was a silence. A time for him to reflect on what he'd seen, heard, and done; the first two, to the least.

      "There isn't a cure," Xadum admitted, causing Bella to shoot an eye-widened look. "That is true."

      "Painfully, for you, Mr. Xadum," he said, setting his cup on a saucer. Xadum looked thoughtfully at his cup of tea, not a sip taken, the steam that once escaped it beginning to subside. "Once the damage is done, the victim cannot be saved," he said. "Once they've become what faith made them into, it's their decision what they do. To destroy, to help, or to move on; that is their choice." He looked up, his colorless eyes frighteningly calm. "But that does not mean they are to be destroyed."

      Kendall smiled. "So what are you going to do about it, Mr. Xadum?"

      Xadum didn't dare answer the question. But he had the answer. Bella could tell when he was doubtful; the second the question was cast, no doubt had filled his translucent expression. He had an answer. She just didn't know if his answer was good or bad.

      ***

      Bella walked across the graveyard, patting the headstones she passed apologetically. She lifted her paw, buttoning up the black buttons of her red coat, her fingers straining to be of use through the red gloves.

      Somewhere where the fog that had been hovering above the gray ground parted, a building told a barely breathing tale of the bitter past. With broken windows, peeled off paint, and falling roof tiles, it seemed more like a haunted house than a mental asylum.

      The door was opened just ajar, inviting as it was warning. Without any hesitation, she pushed it open, the sound of it creaking silently echoing through the lobby. A feeling of nostalgia had filled in; she could remember the first time she visited the Meepit Oaks. When the walls weren't dingy and the singing floorboards were once grand, the place was actually quite comforting. For visitors, at least.

      Passing the pest infested desk, she cracked open the other door, entering a long and echoing corridor. The sound of pacing bounced all around; the kind that would've proved most to be eerie, frightening even. But she knew very well what the source of it was. Taking the door she remembered, and hoped, to where the pacing may've come from, she opened it, her guessing correct.

      "Xadum," she said, "what are you doing here?"

      The room was bare, an arched window on one wall, a silhouette staring at it. The zombie Aisha looked over his shoulders, looking rather worn out for a zombie. Under the moonlight, he looked vaguely like a normal white Aisha, the sickly green lumps and sewn scars no longer visible. He was even close to being called handsome—a handsome young man. Then again, he'd always looked that way.

      "Bella," he said, finally. "What would you do if you knew the cure?"

      "The cure?" She stopped for a moment, looking thoughtful. "I'd cure everyone who has the disease, I suppose. But—you said there was no cure, right?"

      "Yes," he said, turning back to the arched window. "There is no cure. But there is a choice."

      "You said something about it earlier, didn't you?" she said, remembering. "To destroy, to help, or to move on; quite a thing to say, for a zombie. But then again..." She smiled subtly. "You were never a normal zombie."

      "Mainly because I made the best choice I could've made," he said. He looked at his white sleeves, pulling them back to his shoulders. Under it, a fading bite mark that had never healed, turning slightly purple after some time. "When I was bitten, I'd thought that was the end for me. I would've been a drooling brainless zombie with nothing to do but idly wander the graveyard, attacking whoever passed my ground. But then I discovered, I had those three choices to make." He pulled his sleeves back on, removing the wrinkles. "And I chose to move on."

      "That still doesn't explain why you're here."

      "Exactly," he said, "Why am I here? What is the reason for me to be the way I am? Where is my place in this world? It's strange how questions like these make everyone all soul-searching; but it's even stranger still what the answer can be." He looked back at Bella, meeting her eyes. For the first time in years, he smiled. "I made the wrong decision, Bella. I'm not supposed to move on; I'm supposed to help."

      "How are you supposed to do that?" she asked, sounding rather dubious.

      The first smile was strange enough. The second was eerie. "I've decided to reopen the mental asylum," he said. "The cost of it is admittedly pricier than I'd anticipated, and the repair will be a pain; but I've found it very possible. With help, of course."

      "What help?" Bella asked, beginning to remind him of pets who say that zombies and Werelupes didn't exist. "It's not like any living creature would dare enter this place."

      "You're right," he said, spinning himself around. "Not any living creature."

      Bella's eyes widened, but she got what he was saying. "I have friends, Bella," he said, "friends with experience. Friends who want to see the dead become something more than drooling creatures of the night that plot the demise of trespassers. And I can assure you, they're not afraid of this old place."

      "I don't know, Xadum," she said, after a moment of thought.

      "Trust me," he said reassuringly, "after a few months of repairs, this place will be brought back to life in no time. Just in a different way."

      But though he made her more dubious about it than ever, after some time, his words came true.

      ***

      Helena smiled, and returned to her regular strolling, a sense of safety filling in the empty void being a ghost had made. There was hope behind all the gloom, after all.

      She had hope. They all did.

The End

 
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