It was the 14th day of the Month of Swimming, and the age-old rivalry between Lupes and Chias had just resurfaced in a little old corner of the Haunted Woods.
Nothing was worse than waking up in the morning in your nice, comfortable patch of grass and getting arrested by a couple of cheeky and delicious-looking Chia officers suddenly hovering over you. You wanted to do unspeakably horrible things to them that involved plenty of claw marks, but happened to find yourself cuffed and magic-bound.
"You have the right to remain silent, Balthazar," one of the Chia cops said.
The blue Lupe growled darkly, struggling and fiercely thrashing against the invisible binds. He leveled the Chias with a death glare that threatened to end him, his cop buddy, and all of his posterity.
"You have the right to growl," the Chia's partner conceded, sidling away. He told the other officer, "I'm calling this in and getting the other boys over here. Do you have any idea the amount of paperwork this Villain Rehabilitation Program is going to have!?"
There was the matter of a trial.
There was no panel of judges, for there was only Judge Hog, supreme Kau of justice.
The jury was composed of the Pant Devil, Kasuki Lu, and other various and assorted menaces of society.
The judge argued for a sum of seventy-two life sentences as a Roc.
The jury argued that the Lupe should go free and continue terrorizing faerie-kind as a sort of special public service, especially considering that he frequently donates one hundred faeries to the Money Tree.
After much heated argument, which quickly turned into a full-flung battle of fists and spectral magic, an agreement was reached that the Lupe should be jailed for one year.
"You're my parole officer," Balthazar said. It wasn't a question.
"Why yes, dear!" The Meerca- Ms. Crumpetmonger- hummed, her ruby-red lips curved into a wide grin. She continued ushering him down the low-lit streets of Neovia, her hometown, with a force only officious mothers had. "I work cases that are magical-related for the department- that includes very special projects like you, so count yourself lucky! I've got a success rate of nearly 10%! Do you have a place to stay?"
Balthazar began feeling somewhat peckish. He'd bet she was crunchy, but then again, considering how plump she was, perhaps she'd go well with a pat of butter. Saliva began forming at the edges of his mouth.
"The Haunted Woods," was all he said.
"Oh dear, that's not going to work at all! but Don't worry about it! I've already rented out a nice little Neohome for you in Neovia, right next to the Haunted Woods in case you ever get homesick. Also, as to the matter of your fortune, I'm afraid it was donated to the Villain Rehabilitation Organization. You understand, of course, since it was obtained by stuffing innocent faeries into air-tight bottles."
"My life's work," he growled.
"Now turn that frown upside down, sir! I've got my famous chocolate chip crumpets in the oven right now. I'll bring them over to your Neohome-warming party. And here we are! Home sweet home."
They arrived at the porch of a small, squat apartment in a row of similar apartments. She opened the door to the tiny little Neohome and the ceiling promptly crashed in. Spyders crawled from the wreck and looked up, waving their forelegs in enthusiastic greeting, and a Seece wandered in with a huge hunk of Cheese and cheerfully offered it to the two Neopets.
It was a quiet night, and Balthazar was out furiously pacing Neovian streets, stalking the alleyways and winding paths like a powerful predator, on the alert for any signs of Faerie-light. Other Neovians milled about the town in their fashionable and well-dressed ways, going about their ordinary, sad little lives.
No amount of therapy could stop Balthazar from hunting and selling Faeries, despite the unpleasantry of having the Tax Beast as a cell mate. After he was released, he had reconnected with his old contacts again, picked up his net, and gone hunting. He would rebuild his fortune again and fulfill his never-ending craving to kidnap Faeries.
Then it came out of nowhere.
Hahahahaha. The quiet, soft, melodic cackle sounded distant and yet so close. It sparkled with dark magic and danced on the edges of his mind, recalling memories of when he was attacked by dark Faeries when he was a pup, opening doors that he had locked.
"I hear you," the Lupe hissed quietly, turning around. He was half-cloaked in the shadows of an alleyway, somewhere in between the Baker's place and some Neohomes that lined the street. No one was there.
Hahahahaha. His ears instinctively pricked forward, and he spun around again to pinpoint the Faerie. It seemed as if her laugh came from the east, perhaps a mere three blocks away. He sunk to all fours and began to run along the streets, ignoring the indignant cries of the civilians he knocked down on the way.
He skidded to a stop at a suspiciously innocent-looking Neohome and viciously tore away the door with his claws.
As he rushed inside, a net and a bottled faerie fell from above, one conveniently landing in each open paw. A deafening alarm sounded and the siren of the Chia police whirred to life outside the Neohome.
Chia cops flooded the Neohome, giving off delicious, tantalizing smells. It was torture. The potential beef-flavored treats swarmed up to him and cuffed him.
"I WAS FRA-" he got out before he was promptly muzzled.
Balthazar furiously writhed and worked the muzzle free with his jaws. "I WAS FRAMED!" he roared.
"Tell it to your prison therapist, buddy. All the evidence is so obviously and conveniently here," the arresting officer told him with a smirk.
"I don't want to talk about it," Balthazar growled.
"Would you like to talk about your parents?" the Gelert asked, shifting his glasses higher up on his nose. He made a few notes on a clipboard tucked into his left arm.
"I don't want to talk about it," Balthazar growled.
The Gelert made another scribble on his clipboard. He looked as if he was deep in thought, although he was secretly finishing a Roodoku puzzle. "Alright, would you like to talk about your obsession with faeries?"
"Faeries are the cruelest little creatures in Neopia," Balthazar began quietly, his expression darkening. "They play games with your mind and tricks with your soul. There is no better feeling than watching them struggle and pound the glass and yell with their pathetic little voices. I was born to seal these cruel creatures away and profit on their misery. It's my never-ending duty!" His eyes took on a maddening gleam, and his lips curled into a sadistic smile, white fangs showing.
"Alright, I'm going to recommend you for a padded cell. Okay? Believe me, it's for the best."
Two Chia nurses walked in and made short work of wrapping the Lupe in a straightjacket and leading him away.
"I'M NOT INSANE! JUST TRAGICALLY EVIL!" he yelled as he was being tugged along by the struggling Chias down the hallway.
"We need some help, here!" one of the panting Chias called before he slumped to the floor in exhaustion.
Freedom was great.
Specifically, the freedom to hunt down the dark Faerie that had put him in jail. Or in other words, to continue committing crimes.
So as soon as Balthazar was freed, he quickly began prowling the night-cloaked Neovia for Faerie-light. He melted into the shadows, slunk along the streets, batted away kids who wanted his autograph, and swept the town for any signs of Faeries. The air was crisp and alive, buzzing warm faerie magic that drove him nearly out of his senses. His eyes glowed ruby red and sharpened his focus in the blackness. His footfalls were soft, silent. His haunches were coiled with power, ready to spring at any moment's notice. A net and a bottle were clutched in one paw behind his back.
After hours of vigilant prowling, it was beginning to look like she'd disappeared when he heard an echo as he was exploring an empty alleyway.
He blinked. His darkly-lit urban surroundings melted into shadows, which grew into fearsome trees that towered over five figures a short distance away. A full moon hung brightly in the night sky, casting broken pools of moonlight through the thicket of branches. A small ball of fur lay shook weakly as he approached four darkness faeries happily pelting each other with fireballs.
"Please... could I have some.... water?" the small Lupe rasped. The Faeries were salvation. Hunger that felt like sharp knives, thirst that parched his throat, and the deep sadness of his abandonment all warred for his attention. The edges of his vision blurred, his eyes fat with tears.
They stopped their game and turned their attention to the child. Their lips curled upwards into ruby-red smiles.
"What happened, little one?" the tallest of the group asked, gliding over.
"I can't find my parents." His face fell, and his stomach grumbled.
"Well, we'll give you something, won't we, girls?" she smiled. The other Faeries giggled.
"Th-thank you, miss."
A stone arced out of nowhere and struck his shoulder. The Lupe went still.
A raging storm of twigs and sharp stones followed. The Faeries pelted away with wild glee, dancing and jeering and surrounding him on all sides. The leader of their group taunted him loudly and aimed the most viciously. Joy electrified their bodies and faces as they continued to add bruises to the Lupe. He whined and yelped and cringed and curled in on himself. The edges of darkness and cruelty closed in on him.
The grin on the leader's face suddenly widened. The Faerie paused her torrent for a moment and opened her palm. A nascent fireball sprang to life. The Lupe yelped in surprise and started to run.
"Stay still, little one!" she giggled. "Hahahaha!" She aimed the fireball that missed him by a mere hair.
Veins coursing with adrenaline, he ran on his tired paws, and they gave chase.
He ran and stumbled, tripping. He crashed and recovered and ran again, numbly dodging trees and rocks. Eventually, he outran them and collapsed in a clearing that opened to the moon. The Lupe sobbed freely, tears streaming down his face. He howled pitifully. He was cold, hungry, thirsty, injured, and he had no one in the world.
Hahahaha. Her voice was a lifeline that his body automatically responded to. He craved it as if he was a dying Neopet stranded in the Desert. He sprinted in this direction, that direction. His muscles were on fire. His senses exploded, red-hot with anger and magnified beyond proportion.
Around this street. Nothing. Down that way. Nothing. This street. The next street. This Neohome.
He viciously clawed the door from its hinges, not bothering with the doorknob or eventual needed repairs, and barreled inside.
It was his own Neohome. A Spyder crawled by and waved a foreleg in welcome, blinking innocent beady red eyes.
The Lupe glanced upwards, sensing movement. A note fluttered down from above, sparkling with dark magic.
Haunted Woods, tomorrow tonight.
He ferociously crushed the paper with a balled paw, flying into a rage. He became a mass of snarling teeth and sharp claws and destroyed the broken, wooden heaps that passed for furniture in his Neohome. After he became exhausted, he ran outside and howled at the moon.
Shadows played together across bizarrely-shaped trees and flowed across the uneven forest floor. Moonlight did not break through the midnight cloak of the Haunted Woods. The Lupe was standing up against a tree, all was quiet, and he was waiting.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," Balthazar growled softly, a smile playing on his lips.
A voice came out of nowhere. "Didn't think you'd show." A purple glow approached and slowly materialized in the form of a grinning, elegant Dark Faerie. "Only a fool would."
"It is you who have fallen into my trap. I've captured thousands of Faeries over the years. If you're a good little pet, I might even be generous with air. But I can guarantee that whatever I do, it will be slow," he whispered lovingly.
The Faerie laughed. "One problem. I refuse to do battle with an ugly opponent. It'd ruin my reputation, you know." She fluffed her deep violet locks of hair and smiled.
"Surprise is on my side, then," Balthazar growled as he jumped forward and swung his magical faerie-binding net at his opponent.
In one moment, the net snapped into two broken halves and clattered from his paws. "That net so did not go with your outfit. I did you a favor," she said primly. "Now, Neopet or ex-villain, none are a true match for a Faerie. I will have so much fun avenging the thousands of sisters that you've caught over the years," she promised. A smile spread across her face. Small fireballs sprang to life at her fingertips and she whipped them at a volley at the Lupe. He easily dodged the flurry, and any magic that struck fizzled away against his thick fur.
The Lupe's eyes glittered coldly. "You may be bigger than my typical merchandise, but you are so special. Because when I capture you, you'll never see the light of day again," he growled softly. A craving to inflict scarring pain upon this creature ran deep and raw through him. He howled, then rushed at the Faerie, swinging claws that would bring down lesser Faeries, rushing with madness and pure energy.
"Foolish Lupe, you are no match for my magic! Hahahaha!" she cackled wildly and spread her arms out wide, sparking violet magic flying outwards from her fingertips. It materialized in the form of a glowing rope and snaked swiftly around the Lupe's form, tying him up in a convenient little bundle before he could blink.
"It's-! It's not your voice!" he roared wildly as he viciously struggled against the binds.
"Hmm?" the Dark Faerie paused in reveling in her triumph and leveled him with a suspicious look, as if to say that HE was the crazy one.
"You weren't the one who set me up," he growled.
"Oh, darling, don't waste your breath if you're not going to beg." She sighed boredly, rolled her eyes, and pointed her finger at the bindings. They shrank on her command. The Lupe's lungs began to beg for air. His eyes became frenzied and bloodshot and saliva ran from the corners of his mouth.
"Shut up! Why did you leave that note for me?!" he roared. "Why did you frame me?! Why did you attack- TELL ME, you disgusting Faerie!"
"To play a game with you, of course. It's ever so fun! Easy, too." She began examining her fingernails. "So help me Fyora, if I've chipped a nail you'll wish you were never born."
He writhed again, muscles bulging with effort from underneath the ropes, claws unsheathed. "I WILL HAVE MY REVENGE-!"
"Oh darling, I was just joking," she grinned. "A little Beekadoodle came by earlier and told me that the infamous Balthazar was going out to the Woods tonight and I couldn't resist. Shhh...." She leaned down closer to the Lupe, her cheerful lavender face mere inches away from his, and placed a slender finger to his muzzled snout. "I won't tell if you don't. It's so nice to meet you, Mr Balthazar! I'd shake your paw if you weren't all tied up and ready for some magical... experiments."
She drew away and spun around, throwing her captive a smirk from behind her shoulder. Her hands crackled with restless magic, eager to be shaped and deliver pain and misery. "Lupes are such ugly, stupid creatures, aren't they? So... slobbery, bulky, furry. Truly despicable." She laughed. "I have so many ideas for a new species. Real vision. So! Should I count to three first, or are you an impatient little pup?"
Chia cops suddenly flooded the scene like a sea of chubby yellow blobs, armed with flashlights and tactical weapons and sunny smiles. One officer aimed a silver high-tech gun at the Faerie and pulled the trigger, bringing her down with some sort of invisible energy. She spasmed and shrieked shrilly, throwing a tantrum.
"Vanity, you have been arrested for crimes including illegal transmogrification, mischievousness, pranking small children, and stealing shampoo from the Beauty Store. You have the right to remain silent."
"Ooh, I'll get you for this, fool Lupe! Pain and abandonment isn't enough for you!" the dark Faerie cackled gleefully, her wide ruby grin plastered on her face. "Watch your back, Balthazar!"
She magicked a mirror that floated in front of her face and checked her makeup from all angles. "Make sure my mugshot gets my good side," she spat at the Chia cop.
The Chia nodded and waved at the other officers to take the Faerie away, then pulled out a note pad and began filling out a report. "Funny story. This old lady came down to the Station with GREAT cookies and wouldn't leave till we got a squad out here. Uhm, is she your grandmother?"
"Well, you ought to thank her later because we completely saved your hide," the cop smirked.
The Lupe growled menacingly.
The cop glanced at him nervously in response. He cleared his throat and continued scribbling away at the clipboard, although he was secretly working on his latest cop-turning-super-spy novel underneath the report. "So... uh, Balt-"
The Lupe growled menacingly.
"-thazar... you did pretty good back there. Uhm... how's living the honest life, eh?" he finished casually.
"I've got a Faerie to hunt down," he answered gruffly.
The Chia stopped writing, looked up, and got a mad, power-hungry gleam in his eye. "Now, we can do this the hard way or the easy way. Personally, I prefer the hard way." He smirked gleefully and instantly traded the clipboard for handcuffs. He preferred a baseball bat, but being a Sergeant had its rules, you know.
"Put those away before you handcuff yourself. Does the Villain Rehabilitation Program have a job for an evil faerie catcher?"
"What?" the Chia spluttered incredulously. He flailed around. "YOU? Working for the POLICE? Not in a MILLION-"
The Lupe growled and grabbed the Chia by the throat.
"I'll-I'll see what I can do," the Chia squeaked.