Untitled Halloween story - little help? :)

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Yuka
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Untitled Halloween story - little help? :)

Post by Yuka » 25 Aug 2006 01:16 am

I need some advice. You see, a few months ago, I dug up an old short story and decided to recycle it into a halloween story. Of course, it took on a life of its own and grew into something much bigger. The question is, is it good enough to submit or should I just write something shorter? Also, I'm wondering how many parts to split it into. (It's around 6000 words in total.) Either two or three, I think, would be best. :? All opinions welcome, of course!

***


Sunlight, imbued with false cheer, brightened my window early this morning. I hadn’t slept at all; my sleep was filled with nightmarish visions and guilt consumed my every waking moment. Who was I, to become so entwined in foolish ideas that I would abandon my family? Why had I done this? When it got right down to it... I didn’t know. I think I was searching for something, a thing that can be found only through travel and experience.

I wanted excitement; I needed a change, something different and new to inspire me. I wasn’t going to find it in my hometown, in the house I’d shared since the day I was born, nor in the familiar surroundings of the forest, with the same old faces bearing down on me, day after day. It was a selfish thing, this feeling, but it wasn’t something I could help.

And so, three days ago, I had a choice to make.

I chose the evening meal to make my announcement. Celia, the eldest of our little trio, had spent most of the day preparing steak and asparagus stew with carrot vinegar sauce. As such, our small kitchen was humid despite the snow gathering outside, and the air was full of delicious, homely smells.

“Cara,” I said carefully, looking sideways at my youngest sister. Her long pink ears were tied loosely in a bow. “Do you think Celia could take care of this place on her own now?”

“Why do you say that?” she quizzed, eyes suddenly narrow and suspicious. I shrugged.

“No reason. I just think she’s grown up a lot since… well, you know.” At that moment, Celia strode over carrying three plates of stew.

“Dinner’s ready!” she chimed, placing a plate before each of us with infinite care and grace. We were all too hungry to talk again until the meal was finished. I knew I couldn’t keep putting it off. It was today or never and never was not an option; I had made my decision, and would stick to it.

“That was delicious,” Cara said. “One of your best ever, Celia.”

“Yeah, it was great. Thanks.” A lull of silence fell over the room momentarily. “Actually, I have something to say to the two of you.”

“Is it important?” Celia asked, her exhaustion showing in her voice. “I need to get these dishes done.”

“Kind of, yeah. You see, the thing is… I’m planning to leave the village for a bit. There’s a lot out there that I still want to see, and to be honest… I feel trapped.” By the time I finished, both of my sisters were staring at me—Cara in horror, Celia in a mixture of pain and understanding. The fading light cast her pearly white fur into shades of grey.

“Why are you doing this? Why are you leaving us, Fyr?” There was no accusation in her tone, only hurt. Her crystalline blue eyes were glazed, inscrutable. She sighed softly.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time now. I really don’t want to leave you here alone, but there’s so much to do that can’t be done from here. I won’t be gone forever; you know that, don’t you?”

“Well… yes, of course I do.” She smiled weakly. “I’m going to miss you, but it’s for the best. You have to follow your heart, Fyr – seize the moment. You might only get one chance; plenty more don’t even get that.” I recognized truth in her words, and my resolve stiffened.

“But… but,” Cara broke in, tears forming in her eyes. “I thought you’d be here forever! Just the three of us, working together to survive. I thought you liked it here. I thought you liked <i>us</i>.” Despite the light of the candles hanging from the ceiling, the kitchen seemed darker and more threatening than ever before.


“I do,” I said, struggling to explain in a way she would understand. “I love it here; really… it’s just that… well…” I trailed off. “You’ll understand one day.” Tears tracked through her fur, leaving salty stains. Head bowed, she turned and ran upstairs. “I’m so sorry, Cara.”

***

The following day, I packed my most precious belongings into a small bag. My paws lingered longest on the small piece of amethyst, sent to me for my last birthday by the mother I had never seen or spoken to. I wondered what it could possibly mean. That was another thing this journey might achieve—I might be able to dispel some of the mystery that clung to our lives like deadly mist, shielding us from the truth. Even if that truth was worse than ignorance, I wanted to know; for until I did I was trapped with the fear of the unknown, and what it might mean for my family.

Finally, everything was packed, and the amethyst hung around my neck, suspended on a piece of thin black string. As a precaution, I placed a purse full of neopoints in my back pocket. When I turned to face the door, I found my two sisters waiting to see me off. Tears rolled freely down my cheeks despite my vain attempts to hold them in.

“My ferry leaves in a couple of hours,” I said. “Take care of yourselves while I’m gone, okay?”

“You don’t have to worry about us, Fyreth. We’re going to be just fine!”

“I’m glad to hear it, Cara. Never lose that optimism, and things will turn out okay. Belief is a powerful thing,” I said, offering a small, sad smile. I didn’t know how right I was.

Time was ticking; the ferry on which I had a place would be leaving before noon. Luckily the dock was only an hour away on foot. I was almost afraid to leave; this was my childhood home, a place of safety and sanctuary for me since the beginning of my memory. It was also my prison.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” I promised. “You just wait. I’ll bring something special back for both of you.”

“Good-bye, Fyreth, and good luck.” Shouldering my backpack, I turned to the door. As I stepped out, the breeze flung it shut behind me with a creak and a crash. A sea of white covered everything, masking the world and making it beautiful at the same time. A flurry of flakes melted on my grey-black fur, leaving icy dew-drops behind.

It turned out to be less than an hours trek through the forest, but by the time I reached my destination my paws were numb with cold. A serene mist hung over the sea, obscuring the horizon and turning the newly-risen sun milky-gold.

The dock was overflowing with pets of every colour and species, pets from every walk of life, and they all shared a common purpose—to board the boat that would take them to the much larger dock at Neopia Central. A friendly buzz of conversation drifted through the waiting crowd.

At the far end of the wooden pier sat a proud ship--big enough to ferry five hundred, at least—the S.S. Golden Eyrie. True to the name, the figurehead was a gold-painted Eyrie, wings spread as if preparing for flight. Its twin, the Silver Eyrie, had set off for Mystery Island the previous day.

The gathered pets fell silent as the plank was lowered. Those who already had their tickets were ushered on board first; the rest of us had to line up. I knew some would face disappointment. I was determined not to be one of them.

“Tickets! Buy yer tickets here!” I ducked through the throngs of people in the direction of the voice. The ticket vendor was a Krawk in a red-and-gold embroidered suit. I pushed my way to the front, producing a meagre handful of neopoints as I did so. The fierce gaze of the vendor fell upon me momentarily, burning into me, searching, questioning. Finally it fell, and I dared to speak.

“How much is a third class ticket?” I recounted my neopoints nervously.

“Two hundred and fifty neopoints per traveller,” the Krawk stated. It was everything I had. With a soft sigh, I surrendered the coins and was given a small piece of printed paper in return. “Thank you for travelling on the Golden Eyrie!”

Ticket in hand, I left the vendor behind and sought to board the ship before it got too full. The sun grew ever stronger in the sky as I made my way back across to the pier.

“Ticket, please?” A blue Yurble, wearing a fake smile and the same uniform as the ticket vendor, held one hand forward for the ticket. I handed it over without returning his grin. My breath still rose in a pillar of mist, and the last remnants of melting slush clung to the edge of the wood. The bustling crowd, the familiar faces, the snow-covered trees—all that was behind me. Confidence surged through me as I stepped past the plank and onto the deck of the ship.

“Welcome aboard, son.” I whipped around, ears pricked, to the sight of an elderly white Lupe in a blue-and-gold uniform and tri-point cap of similar colours. “Is this your first trip on the S.S. Golden Eyrie?”

I was struck by the way his fur seemed to move in the wind, though the air was still; by the glazed intensity of his gaze as his eyes met my own; and most of all, by his voice. He spoke in a low, rasping whisper, and his words dragged as though speaking pained him in some way.

“It is,” I said quietly, eyes sinking to the floor. He had a certain air of power and nobility; it was easy to see how he had earned the title of captain. “I must say, this is a magnificent ship.”

“Isn’t it?” His gaze drifted away from me and towards the distant horizon. I felt my nerves calm fractionally. When he did not speak again, my mind returned to finding my quarters and acquainting myself with the vessel on which I would spend most of the week, including Halloween night.

As I turned to leave, a familiar rasping froze me in place.

“Fyreth,” the Lupe said quietly, “be careful. I have reason to believe we will run into trouble on this trip.” <i>Wait. Wait just one second. How does he know my name…?</i>

Throwing caution to the wind, I looked him squarely in the eye and said, “Who are you, and how is it that you know my name?” For the first time, his face appeared sunken and sullen, as if a great sorrow weighed upon him.

“I can tell you no more. It’s not the time, and unfriendly ears gather around us.” A quick glance around the deck revealed that no one else was near enough to hear us talking.

“What are you talking about? There’s no one else here.”

“Don’t be so sure about that,” the old captain rasped. I could have sworn I heard laughter in his voice, but I did not dare contest it. Suddenly all the superstitions I had discounted as idiocy over the years came flooding back with new and inexplicable credibility.

“I’m going to explore the ship now.” He remained silent and made no move to stop me, so I broke into a run and didn’t look back until I was halfway down the stairs. Thankfully, I had not been followed.

Below deck, the Golden Eyrie was a hive of activity—musicians and bards lined the hallways, and everyone seemed relaxed and cheerful. Flames ensconced in brackets on the walls cast a dusky ambience over everything. A carved sign on the wall said,

FIRST CLASS – FOLLOW RIGHT CORRIDOR
SECOND CLASS – FOLLOW LEFT CORRIDOR
THIRD CLASS – DOWNSTAIRS

I passed the lavish first-class cabins and the reasonably well-decorated second-class hallway without looking too closely. A narrow passageway led to a dark, slippery staircase carpeted only with dust and slime. I kept one black paw on the banister during my descent to guard against a fall. Again, once I reached the bottom, I found myself alone.

Third-class turned out to be a series of sparsely blanketed wooden bunk beds lined up against each wall. The damp, encroaching smell of mildew permeated the air. <i>This is what I get for 250 neopoints? I’ve been saving up for months!</i> With a sigh I collapse on one of the beds and try to forget my frustration. <i>If what that Lupe said has any basis in reality, I’m going to need all of my strength and wits…</i>

***

I spent three hours on the bed, stretched out fully, and allowed my mind to wander. It was a meditation technique my sister taught me when we were both much younger. The gentle roar of surf carried me away into a waking dream, an alternate reality. Gradually, I became aware of a soft singing – a voice of silken beauty that rose and fell in time with the waves. As it grew stronger in my mind’s ear, a terror grew within me; the terrible certainty that the ship was sinking. Everyone on board would drown. I tried to breathe, tried to swim, but the current was too strong. The waves were no longer allies; they had become the monsters that haunt nightmares, with row after row of sharp teeth and a cruel, inhuman, suffocating strength.

<i>No!</i>

Breathing hard, fur on end as if charged with static, I pulled myself from the waking nightmare and collapsed in a panicky heap beside the bed. It was quiet; almost too quiet. During my rest someone had been in and placed a candle on the shelf beside my bed. Night had fallen. I was still the only pet in the room—obviously, no one else was travelling third class.

At least the waves had settled again, for the time being. At least the monsters had returned to their shadows. That was something to be grateful for. Instinctively, I felt around my neck for the amethyst. It was gone, string and all. I felt the panic rise again in the form of a nasty voice in the back of my head. <i>What if that dream came to you for a reason? What if you were meant to prevent a disaster? What if you’re too scared to say anything?</i>

<i>But I won’t be.</i> Cautious as ever, I took the candle from the shelf and held it before me to light the way. In this fashion, I made my way up the two flights of stairs and onto the deck of the ship. I saw a few pets gazing at the full moon; they were all alone, never in pairs or groups. They were the loners, the individuals. The dim light of the moon made every shadow seem more malevolent. Immediately I cast my eyes around for any sign of the captain, but (to my great relief) I was the only Lupe on deck.

“Excuse me?” I called to a blue Shoyru in a long black cloak. “Have you seen anyone wearing a piece of amethyst on a string?”

He did not respond. I drew closer; his eyes were wide and blank, the eyes of one caught in the depths of a waking dream, and they were fixed on the horizon. I followed his gaze. Nothing but the stars and the ocean. Nervously, I moved from one pet to the next. They were all dreaming. Even more disconcerting, it seemed they had lost the ability to respond to anything I did. I yelled, waved a paw in front of their faces, even shook them by the shoulders— it was as if they had been paralyzed.

“What’s going on?” I wondered aloud. I was ready to run back down the stairs--maybe to hide, maybe to find help—but something stopped me. Something in the form of an insidious creaking; the sound of laboured breathing and the steady step of padded paws on wood.

“That’s a fair question,” came the rasping voice. “I know the answer. The question is, do you want to know?”

Heart sinking, I turned myself to face the captain. His shock-white fur stood out like a beacon against the dark surroundings. I considered his question for only a moment before answering.

“Yes.”

“Ah, but how do I know I can trust you?” he said, eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Speaking of which, one of my staff found this in the third-class bedroom…” he reached into one of his many pockets and withdrew a darkly glittering amethyst suspended on a string.

“That’s mine!” I leapt up and tried to snatch the amulet, but he was too fast; before I knew what was happening, I was on the floor, and the amethyst had been spirited back into the pocket. Now the Lupe was laughing—a low, booming laugh that seemed to make the deck tremble.

“Nice try. Now, I want you to make me a promise.” I felt so helpless. The fiend had me cornered—he must have known what the amulet meant to me when he had it stolen. How could I have been careless enough to let this happen? What would he ask me to do?

“If I share this knowledge with you, it must remain a secret between us. If you tell anyone else, anyone at all, the amulet—and your soul with it—will shatter, leaving you an empty shell at the mercy of wandering spirits.” He grinned wickedly. “Secondly, you must agree that under no circumstances will you oppose anything I do, lest you and everyone on board be cast into the ocean forever more.” His face was twisted and somehow feral; his hissing voice more terrible than ever. “In return, I will answer every question you care to ask and return your precious amulet. Do we have a deal?”

I took a deep, steadying breath. It seemed like a bad idea to disagree with this Lupe, whoever—whatever—he might be; it seemed like a worse idea to trust him. I pulled myself to my feet and backed towards the railing. The amethyst was the one thing I had that linked me to my mother, to the past I knew nothing about. If I gave it up, there would be nothing left but to return home, lost and without purpose. I could not let my most treasured possession fall into the hands of this monster. So, against my better judgement, I said:

“I accept your terms.” And held out a paw to receive the amulet.

“You may feel a slight shock,” the captain snarled. “Don’t be alarmed – it’s only the amulet forming a connection with your soul, so that should you ever break the promise…” he trailed off. I knew what he meant, and he knew that I knew. In one quick movement, he lifted the stone from his pocket and dropped it into my outstretched paw. A momentary coolness shot through me. It felt like a part of me was being stripped away, even as I placed the stone around my neck and fought to control the shaking that had taken hold.

“Now,” I said, determined to make the most of what control I had. “What have you done to them?” I gestured with my paw to each of the other pets, all of whom had remained eerily still.

“I made certain that they would not be in the way.” I looked at him quizzically.

“In the way of what?”

“The transformation.” He was no longer grinning.

“If this is true,” I said carefully, “Then why was I not treated in the same way?”

“You are one of us. Our blood runs in your veins. It would have been wrong to deny it.” His eyes glimmered with anticipation. “We are the werelupes.”

***

At first, I didn’t dare believe him. To do so would have been to surrender my sanity. To save myself, I thought back to the werelupe legends I had read as a child. None of them seemed possible. Tales of magic and corruption, hatred and love, fear and respect—but they were all just fantastic stories.

“I don’t believe you.” My voice was low, determined, but remarkably steady. “This is a joke. A half-baked Halloween joke.”

“Believe that if you want to,” he said. “Right now, you, me and three members of staff are the only ones not entranced. Tomorrow night is Halloween. Tomorrow night, we will rise again.” A harsh laugh escaped him. “If there is nothing else, I must retire. There is much to be done tomorrow, and you will help me.” He turned, and began to pad back towards the door.

“Wait.” The old Lupe froze in his tracks and turned to face me again. “When we first met, you spoke my name. How did you know what to call me?”

“If you must know… your mother was a friend of mine. She saved my life a long time ago, before any of this happened.” I opened my mouth to inquire further, but the Lupe was gone.

I cast my eyes at the sky. Thick black clouds like billowing smoke covered the stars and moon and deepened the shadows of the night. A sleek tongue of lightning whipped across the sky. <i>Maybe I’d better turn in, too.</i> The candle had been extinguished when I dropped it. Cold and frightened and with only the thunder for company, I loped the length of the ship and began the long journey back to the third-class cabin.
***

I couldn’t sleep that night. The storm crashed around me, creating chaos parallel to my troubled mind. Less than a day after setting out, I had met with an acquaintance of my mother, who had stolen her amulet from me and traded it back for secrecy. Not to mention the possibility that werelupes were real, that I was one of them, and that great danger lay ahead for all of us. I wished that everything would go away, fade like the shattered remnants of a dream—but then, wasn’t this what I had wanted, deep down? Adventure, and excitement, and the opportunity to learn more about my own past?

<i>No. Not at this price.</i>

As much as I tried to deny it, though, there was some truth to it. Sometime between night and early morning, I realised that fighting fate would do more harm than good, and that whatever was due to happen was already in motion. If anything remained to be decided, it was in the future.

“Rise and shine, Fyreth.” A young silver Lupe stood by the staircase, holding a tray of breakfast. I rubbed my eyes and hopped out of bed. “The captain needs you on deck as soon as you’ve finished eating.” Without another word, the younger Lupe was gone.

“So,” I said, addressing my reflection. “It’s just one weakness after another with you.” I wolfed down half the breakfast and, leaving the rest, loped away up the stairs. The harsh morning light forced my eyes to close as I stepped out onto the deck. As promised, he was there waiting.

“It’s nice to see you’re up early,” he said, flashing me a white-fanged smile. “I could use some help with this.”

In the middle of the wooden deck, there sat a series of small boats. Several of them were dilapidated wrecks that would have sunk in the shallowest of puddles. Three of the staff were clustered around the nearest one, working away to fix the holes and replace the mouldering wood. In the end, I think it might have been easier to build new ones. I had the sense to keep my mouth shut.

The captain’s fur danced in the breeze; that awful smile stuck to his face. I wanted to wipe it off. But I couldn’t. I had made a deal, and some promises were not made to be broken.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked, trying to keep the anger in my voice to a minimum. He could tell I was losing my patience.

“Just go over there and help them. They’ll tell you what to do.” So I went over and offered to help fix the boats. The worker handed me a pile of tools without a word.

“Charming.”

For the rest of the morning, I slaved away to make the boats seaworthy. All the time, in the back of my mind, I wondered and worried and feared about what could be coming, what all this could mean. The repairing proved to be thirsty work. Several of the men collapsed, exhausted, only to be replaced by new ones. Eventually, I started to notice that some of them were passengers, still in their trances. It was only when I became too exhausted to continue that I let the tools drop to my feet and returned to the captain.

“You have worked well, and I can tell that you’re tired. Very well. Get some sleep now, while you have the chance. You’re going to need the extra energy.”

***

On the way back to my room, I saw something that made me stop and look twice. It was a black door. There was nothing particularly remarkable about this door, save for the fact that it had most definitely not been there before. I hesitated, one paw hovering near the handle, then pressed it down. The door swung open soundlessly to reveal a deceptively spacious room with varnished wooden walls and a luxurious red carpet. A round desk held a blue book in the far left corner. But without a doubt, the centrepiece of the room was a rather comfortable-looking bed, decorated in red and gold.

“Wow,” I said softly. “Who would have the money to stay in this room?”

“I would.” A surge of pure terror hit me as I realized that the captain I had known was no more. On the outside, he was almost recognizable. His face was longer now, with more shadows; his eyes were round and vivid yellow with thin slit pupils; his claws were deadly curved scimitars, glinting cruelly in the low candlelight.

And he looked very, very mad.

“I-I,” I stuttered, stumbling backwards, trying to find something to shield myself with. I could hear his breathing from the far side of the room, where I took shelter behind the polished table.

“I didn’t know this was your room!” I screamed desperately. “How could I have known?”

“Silence,” he hissed. “You may go. But if I ever find you here again…” There was no need for any elaboration on his part. I understood very well what would happen.

“Sorry,” I said quietly, turning back towards the door. The dark walls seemed to bear down on me, dragging me into a pit of fear and despair. My amethyst felt like a ten ton weight tied to my neck with a heavy chain. After this, I could feel the demon’s eyes on me everywhere I went, no matter how many doors were between us.

I am a part of this now. There is nothing I can do about that.

***

After the incident, I returned to the run-down third-class dormitory, where I slept for what must have been hours. I dreamed in that time; dreams of terror and screams, dreams that became nightmares as they progressed. Every time I woke up, it was with a cold sheen of sweat on my fur, heart beating like a bass drum, paws clenched into futile fists. It went on and on. In fact, it got worse; even meditation did nothing to soothe my terror. In the end, I gave up on getting any more rest, and returned to the scene of my undoing: the deck of the S.S. Golden Eyrie. There were no staff workers left. Those who had fainted were piled unceremoniously in one small corner. Three ships had been fixed in total; now there was only one left to do, and daylight hours were dwindling. The single comforting thing was that the captain was himself again.

“The time is drawing near,” the captain said to me, voice lower and more deadly than ever. “I think you had better leave the heavy work to the others. In their present state, they have no idea what they’re doing, or how exhausted they are becoming. You do. And I need you to help me tonight. You can’t be exhausted.” He was muttering half-coherently, now, eyes narrowed in anticipation.

“What does this all mean?” I asked. My black fur stood up on the back of my neck. Far from looking feral, the captain now appeared to be less of a monster than ever. His long, white fur was shorter and brighter now, and his uniform and hat looked completely new. His eyes hadn’t changed, though; they betrayed his anger, his loathing, his greed.

“I am to be crowned King of the werelupe nation tonight, at midnight exactly—and you… you will be the prince.” He examined his sharpened claws critically. “You will be in charge of our army. I can train you to be the finest warrior in our ranks. Together, we can take Neopia by force.”

“Why?” I asked, suddenly feeling bold. “What good would it do?”

“As if you have to ask,” he laughed. “We could have everything. The world would be a much better place with us in charge. I have to say, werelupes are a very… misunderstood… race.”

“I see.” I breathed in deeply, trying to stop myself from screaming or going flat-out crazy. “Who else would benefit under this scheme of yours?”

“Everyone would benefit,” came his reply. “There would be no need for money. The strongest pets would be the best fed, and they would share their prizes with poorer pets at their discretion.”

“Many would starve.”

“There would be fewer weak pets in the world. The fewer weak pets there are to drag us down, the further we can evolve, as a race and individually. Perhaps you think this is harsh. Sometimes, harsh is the only way. What is easy to do is not always right.”

“How can you think that way?” I spat. “There is more than one kind of strength, you know. Think of those you are condemning… they are the ones who would save you, given the chance, despite what you are. They are the ones who could make this world great. You… you are nothing but a monster.” He had no reply for this. I was still afraid, but it was a more… dream-like fear. The amethyst trembled and grew hot against my fur; I fell to the ground, suddenly weakened. A triumphant smile broke upon the muzzle of the captain.

“You can’t do it,” he said. “Because of the promise you made to me. You can talk all you want about how much you hate me, but the moment you try to do anything, <i>snap</i>!” His smile grew into a laugh that shook the ground beneath my paws.

“I will find a way,” I snarled. “Somehow, I will find a way.”

***

I did not move from my position until night was upon us. Instead, I simply watched and thought. <i>There has to be a loophole somewhere</i>, I reasoned. But as the shroud of darkness grew to cover the sky, hope began to slip away.

“It is done.” The droning voice of one of the passengers drifted to me where I sat. In its own way, it was worse than the voice of the monster that controlled it. There was something awfully lifeless and corrupt about it, and that was what really scared me. <i>I could end up the same way</i>.

“Most excellent. We can begin to lower the lifeboats into the water.” <i>Lifeboats.</i> More like death-boats. The two exchanged a few more words, then the wakeful-dreamer scurried off to prepare the first of the smaller boats for launch. I didn’t notice the approach of the captain until he was beside me.

“So,” he hissed. “After your little outburst earlier, I have decided that you should be kept in the largest lifeboat, where our best fighters can keep watch over you.” I didn’t trust myself to say anything. “If you are not going to help, you can board the ship now, before we lower it into the jaws of the ocean.”

Wordlessly I struggled to my feet and followed him to the boat, which would be my prison until we landed. I pretended not to notice as he placed steel chains around me and tied my paws together. As he and his men lifted me onto one of the ships and placed me in a cage of steel, I closed my eyes and feigned sleep. He knew that I was seething inside; he took joy in the fact that I was powerless.

“I know you’re trying to fight it,” he said. “You can’t hold back forever. It feeds on your anger, and soon it will take control.”

“Never,” I spat, knowing full well that his words were true. I was out of control already. There was no way to know how bad it would get, or that I would have any of my own mind left by the end of the night.

“Launch boat!” I could hear the heavy breathing as they laboured to lower the vessel into the salt-water embrace. I only hoped that it was seaworthy enough to get us to our first destination. After that… after that…

Splash!

The steady roar of the ocean drowned my thoughts, and I fell into a peaceable silence. One by one, I heard the other boats follow us down. It was going to be a long night.

***

It was nearing the hour when we drew towards our destination. I felt the boat lurch beneath me. Then, stillness and silence.

“Look. They wait for us.” I struggled against the chains; tried to stand, to see what he was referring to. It was utterly futile. Laughter echoed around me as I continued to struggle, clawing and biting and straining to be free of the shackles that bound me. The only thing it achieved was making me angrier and less rational. Exhaustion threatened to drag me down into an unwilling sleep. “Stop,” the captain growled. “You will need that energy, as I have told you already.”

How did he dare taunt me, knowing what was inside me, growing and festering by the second? I felt angry tears forming in the corners of my eyes. With no warning at all, I felt my strength return; and with it, my fury became more intense than ever. There was only one thing left to do, and that was to destroy. I think, in those few seconds, the old Lupe saw something familiar reflected in my eyes. He backed away, eyes narrowed, snarling viciously.

“Don’t underestimate me.”

Fur flew, wood burned, the ocean churned below. I cleaved the air in three swift strokes, cutting the chains that held the shackles in place. My captors watched in awe as, with one heavy paw, I tore the pillars of steel from around me and cast them aside with a resounding <i>clang.</i> Three of them ducked in time. The others weren’t so lucky. And the worst was yet to come.

“Not so fast.” The three lucky werelupes stood before me, teeth bared in invitation. I felt my own lips lifting to reveal a monstrous snarl. I won’t lie—it was exhilarating, fighting back after being bound in a metallic prison with nowhere to go and nothing to do but brood. Oh yes, I was bitter and I didn’t care who paid for my misfortune, as long as it wasn’t me.

One after the other, they tried to flee, and one after the other I brought them down. Their mercy had been their downfall. They had dared to underestimate me, and they had paid the price. Vicious rage still twisted, hurricane-like, in what passed for the remainder of my soul, but it was beginning to fade. In my anger, I had destroyed the small boat; there was nothing but the ocean now. Lucky, then, that I had taught myself to swim a long time ago. I let my breath out in a long, low howl, and launched myself into the icy waters.

My fur, once neatly trimmed, was now long, thick and decidedly raggedy. If it had been black before, it was like charcoal now. Using my new muscles to propel me through the water, I turned towards the nearby shore, where a gathered crowd was waiting. None of them made any sound. They had seen my battle with the other Lupes, and knew exactly what I was capable of.

I cast my eyes around for the other boats, realised they must have gone in different directions and turned my attention to the distant coastline. Even with my newfound strength, it would be a difficult thing to accomplish. I became more and more tired, once again, until I wished I could fall asleep—but the beach was in sight, and the crowd is watching me with a mass of green and yellow eyes.

Finally, with a gasp of relief, I find myself upon the beach and before my fellow Lupes. A brown Lupe rushed forward and, taking my paw, pulled me to my feet.

“Our leader has returned!”

A great howl rose from the gathered crowd, who now stood around me in a circle. In all, I counted at least twenty; probably more than that. One by one, they bowed before me respectfully. They all looked stronger and more feral than I; most of them were much older, too.

“I have returned!” That voice. It was like a thunderclap in the darkness; it came from nowhere and filled my heart with terror. <i>They meant him, not me!</i> Before I really knew what was happening, I had been lifted into the air and slammed back down with incredible force.

I’m going to pass out, I thought sleepily. I tried to lift my head. It didn’t respond. Every sound was suddenly amplified to five times the usual volume; the words I heard were strangely slurred, like they had been slowed down somehow. A burst of light came into view, half-blinding me. A crackling sound, almost lightning but not quite. Muffled screams. Then darkness reigned.

***

By the time I woke again, daylight had returned to the skies. A quick glance told me I was the only pet around for miles in either direction. The ocean lapped at my paws, as if trying to cleanse them of the night’s events.

“Wow.” I felt much better than I had even before setting out, as if something in me had been set right after years of being broken and useless. The air around me was fresh, the ocean pleasantly cool. With nowhere else to go, I simply sat there, and thought about what I had witnessed.

<i>Evil lurks just below the surface of our everyday lives; it lurks in every one of us, just waiting for the opportune moment to arise. What I saw, and what I felt, was a particular brand of evil. Darker than most, maybe, but not indestructible,</i> I thought. <i>No, I know it can be beaten, or at least controlled. I know I’ll survive somehow. I have hope, after all, and a home to go back to. What does he have that’s worth saving?</i>

<i>Nothing,</i> I thought. <i>Nothing at all.</i>

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