The time for humans had long since passed when I discovered Cornelius's betrayal. No one remembers exactly what happened to the humans, but it didn't take long for canines to rise and establish territory among the abandoned buildings. It also didn't take long for the creatures of fantasy, serpents and unicorns for instance, to come out of hiding.
I am a half breed, a cross between a wolf and a calopus. A calopus is a creature with the body of a wolf, the face of a cat, the hind legs of a dragon and large serrated horns that could cut down full grown trees. Other than the horns, I have none of these features and look like a regular black wolf.
My name is Rhinestone, for my silver colored eyes. I live in a large abandoned (most likely Arabian) human palace on the edge of a dense forest. Continental drifts have caused the deserts to disappear, and for trees that would have previously been strange to see in this area, to grow. The pack of dogs I live with is large and ruled by a labrador who is on the brink of death. At his age he currently can't tell a cat from a squirrel.
I used to be a servant for a white dog named Cornelius, a miserable job that was like sitting in an algebra classroom for twelve hours. On that fateful day I was busy setting up tables for a party that would take place later that afternoon in one of the great halls of the palace.
Of course dogs can't pick up things with their paws like humans, so it was made that instead of glasses and silverware we have bowls of wine and food that were found deep in the cellars of the palace. I had been given the task to gather the bowls and beverages as well as set up the tables for them.
I didn't have the taste for wine and thought freshly caught deer sounded better then turkey, but of course I had no say in the matter.
I stretched a long white cloth over one of the tables, straightening the edges with my teeth and paws. Suddenly, another paw thumped me on the shoulder and someone began to laugh very loudly behind me. I didn't need to turn around to know who it was.
"Hard working as always, eh Rhinestone?" Cornelius grinned with a mouthful of white teeth.
"Yes, sir." I began placing empty bowls on the table.
"I trust you've gathered everything for this afternoon?"
"Yes, sir." I cut him off.
"You didn't even know what I was going to say!" Cornelius hit me on the shoulder again, this time in annoyance.
I looked up from my work, my silver eyes meeting his green. "The wine?" I asked, a mischievous grin forming on my lips.
Cornelius appeared shocked for a moment before once again bursting into obnoxious laughter. "Ha ha! You truly are my most faithful servant!"
I nodded quietly, careful that my horns didn't go near his face. Cornelius was next in line for the throne, and even the tiniest act might look like a threat.
Behind us, other servants were busy preparing for the oncoming celebration. What we were celebrating was a holiday us canines had made up ourselves to honor the spirits of our dead. It had no name, but was commonly referred to as 'the carnival', 'the festival' or simply 'the party this afternoon'.
Cornelius's smile grew wider when he noticed two dogs approaching. The first, a collie with an arrogant and uptight attitude named Edward. The second, a pitbull named Gregory whose personality was the exact opposite of what you'd expect from his breed. Both were old friends of Cornelius, and neither had much liking for me.
Gregory frowned at the sight of my horns and decided to stay behind Edward.
"Fashionably late I see." Cornelius continued to smile.
"Gregory here had to take a side trip to the restroom on our way in." Edward scoffed. Gregory looked at the floor.
Knowing it wasn't my place to speak, I kept my mouth shut.
"I hear your father's brother died recently. How is your family coping?" Cornelius asked while sneaking a piece of turkey from a tray another servant was carrying.
"He was my father's step-brother. A reptilian half breed. We barely even noticed." This was followed by yet another chorus of laughter. The three of them reminded me of hyenas, laughing as a zebra is devoured by a lion. "No offense of course." Edward barked, looking at me.
I nodded, used to this sort of talk. The three of them soon forgot about me and wandered away, talking about various affairs of the kingdom and rumors flying around. I walked over to a pile of supplies that had been laid out and was about to pick up some brightly colored leaves to scatter about the tables with when there was a slight cough behind me.
I turned a little too quickly, and my horns nearly whacked the golden retriever standing behind me. She took a step back before saying in a timid voice "Mr. Rhinestone?"
I knew this dog. She was a servant to Edward and had the lowest amount of self-esteem I'd ever seen. She was quiet pretty, with her golden fur and chocolate colored eyes, but servants were only aloud to marry who their master chose for them.
"Yes?" I asked in a soft voice.
"Um, do you know where the candles are kept? I can't find them anywhere and if I don't get them soon Edward will-"
"I'll get them." I said and her eyes widened.
"Oh no! I couldn't let you do that! It's my job to do."
"It's alright, really. The candles are in a restricted area anyway."
Her ears tiled back in concern. "But won't they catch you?"
"I'd be surprised if they did. Those guards wouldn't know stealth if it bit 'em on the nose." I thought I caught the slightest hint of a smile on her face. I walked past her, towards a hallway that led to a staircase that would take me down to where the candles were.
"B-be careful!" She called after me, and I wondered how much sucking up I would have to do for Cornelius to at least let me talk to her more often.
The corridor was as lifeless as a school room in the summer. I walked slowly, enjoying the chilled breeze that seeped through the cracks in the walls. The human artwork along the walls caught my attention for a moment, and as I stopped to gaze upon them, a group of voices reached my ears.
What were Cornelius and his friends doing here? I thought of simply taking another route and avoiding them altogether, but the ominous tone of their voices sparked my curiosity. I quickly dived behind a man-made sculpture of a lion and peeked out at them.
Cornelius looked frustrated and angry. Gregory and Edward trailed behind him, their faces full of nervousness and uncertainty.
"We have to keep this quiet, no matter what the cost." The white dog snarled and paused in front of the lion statue.
"But if you knew who his father was, why didn't you just kill him?" Edward asked and winced when Cornelius turned his cold eyes on him.
"What a brilliant plan." My master growled, his voice bitter and sarcastic. I had never seen him like this; whatever had upset him must have been pretty bad. "Let's tear out his throat and call it an accident shall we? No one will suspect a thing!"
"It was only a thought." Edward muttered.
"And a dumb one at that. If we do anything to him, the others will start to get suspicious and then what? Suppose one of them gets ahold of an elder who recognizes him? I'll be ruined and the throne will taken by that… that… half breed!" My heart skipped a beat. "If Rhinestone finds out he's the true heir, this kingdom will fall and take us with it." With that, the dog and his followers disappeared down another corridor, and silence began to creep up on me.
At first, I wasn't sure of what I'd heard. No, I thought, He said someone else's name. Roger maybe. However, deep down, I knew that it was my name he had uttered, and that I had been lied to my entire life.
Rage began to wash over me like flood waves. I found my heart speeding up and my eyes narrowing. I opened my jaws and clicked my teeth together, imagining them closing on Cornelius's neck. I wanted to race down the hallway after him, my horns giving off a deadly gleam as I prepared to pierce his heart.
The I remembered where I was and how dangerous that would be. It didn't matter if I was an heir; murder was murder. I couldn't tell anyone about it either, Cornelius was crafty, and would probably make me out to me a liar.
I was, for the moment, at a dead end. I snarled in frustration, leaped out from behind the statue and tore open a bag of decorations that had been forgotten. The bag that had been sitting against the wall, was filled with confetti, and seemed to explode with paper. It was like some cruel joke, celebrating my misery and helplessness.
I sat there for a long time, my mind a whirlwind of anger, hurt and confusion. When I finally remembered the candles, it was getting dark and the party was soon to start. I returned to the female servant with the candles, a dazed expression on my face.
"Are you alright?" Her voice was distant, unimportant.
"I'm fine." I didn't mean to growl at her, but at that moment I wasn't entirely aware of my actions.
I found myself wandering towards the front doors of the palace. One of the doors had fallen down long ago, and lay like a corpse on the ground. I leaped neatly over it and continued, the cold wind slicing my black fur. Slowly, the chill began to clear my thoughts and drive me in the direction of an old friend.
He was, ironically, a calopus, with long white fur and yellow eyes. We had met one day when I was out looking for a rare plant that made any dish irresistible. Cornelius had specifically requested this plant, and wouldn't eat his supper without it.
I had found the plant beside a small stream, and was preparing to gather a small quantity of it when I heard a twig snap behind me.
I turned to face one of the most frightening scenes I would ever see. The calopus had been stalking my, and was now studying me with a grin as wide as the Cheshire Cat's.
"What do we have here?" his voice was like a snake's, and his teeth were caked with the faint scent of blood. His claws, like daggers, dug into the ground as he watched me, ready to pounce at any instant.
"Are you blind?" I bared my fangs. I had little chance against this monster, who came up to my shoulder, but I figured I could talk him out of killing me if I tried. "I am your kin. See these?" I shook my head like a bull, my horns pointed at him.
"I suppose." The calopus sounded disappointed. "But I should still know why you're invading my territory."
"I…" I wasn't sure what to say. Would he kill me anyway if he found out I was in the lower class? I finally decided lying to him would probably be a worse idea. "I'm a servant. My master told me to find this plant for him." I gestured behind me. "I'm sorry if I disturbed you."
The calopus looked at me for a moment before saying "I see. Such a shame it is for people like you and I to have to suffer under the rule of others."
I was a little astonished at his sudden change from savagery to philosophy, but still I found myself agreeing with him. "Yes, so true."
"Why don't you run?" He asked suddenly.
"I've thought about it." I said. "But this is my home and I cannot leave it behind."
The calopus sighed but nodded. Despite my inner instinct to run from this creature, I began to enjoy his presence more and more as each minute passed. I also began to wonder if he ever got lonely living in this forest by himself.
"Say," I began, smiling a little. "Where do you live?"
"In a cave in the direction of the mountain. Why?"
"I happen to know of some leftover ham that will go to waste in a few days if no one eats it." I grinned when his eyes lit up with excitement and anticipation.
From then on, I took it upon myself to bring my new friend whatever meat I could. He greatly appreciated it, saying that "freshly caught meat is good, but you dogs really know your spices." In return, he taught me how to fish and hunt, but it was much more then that. I could talk to him without being constantly insulted or ridiculed, and I didn't feel like we were entirely different creatures. I also began to notice he was careful to keep his horns upright and away from me.
I never realized how much I longed for a friend before I met the calopus, and now that I was once again walking towards his cave, my thoughts were clearer. A plan was forming in my head, one that revolved around my cat-faced friend.
He was crouching at the entrance, devouring his latest kill with sickening crunching noises. He paused, probably catching my scent, and looked back at me. His face was covered in blood. I didn't want to know what he had caught.
"Rhinestone? What are you doing here?" He asked.
"Stopping by, that's all." I sat down next to him, trying to keep my eyes off his 'dinner'.
"Well if you're here we might as well talk. Follow me, there's no telling what sort of creatures might be out tonight." He grinned, and I caught a whiff of the many carcasses he had eaten on his breath.
We walked deep into the cave, our paws silent on the cold rocky floor. At this point, the sun had been swallowed by the horizon, leaving behind only a purple haze. My friend turned to me, his yellow eyes glowing like a pair of fireflies. I was randomly reminded of the hungry look he had given me the day we met.
"You know," I began, carefully placing my words. "You've been a loyal friend to me since the day me met."
His eyes gleamed. "True. And you're not so bad yourself."
"Such loyalty deserves a reward, don't you think?"
The calopus licked his chest, trying not to look too excited. When I said nothing he spoke up. "What kind of reward?"
"A big one. Almost as big as me."
I heard his razor sharp claws digging into the ground and his long, bushy tail sweeping across it. He said a single word. "When."
"Tonight. Midnight." I stood up and turned towards the entrance. I could feel his eyes on the back of my head. I began to remember why the calopus is so feared, why stepping on to it's territory was suicidal. The calopus is a killer. It longs for human flesh but cannot get any so it turns to whatever else it can find, killing and devouring without end, forever hungry.
I knew what I was about to do was worse then murder, but what choice did I have? Besides, it was about time someone got rid of Cornelius.
I walked in silence. The forest was alive with insects and nocturnal animals, ones who did not fear the dark. I spotted a unicorn drinking from a small puddle and thought of the female golden retriever. The moon shone bright that night, casting a white blanket over the forest. Somewhere, a wolf howled. I thought of howling back but didn't.
I began to hear the sounds of the party ahead of me, and it didn't take long for me to reach the front doors of the palace. Dogs, servants and masters alike, were wandering the halls with drunken expressions on their faces. I hopped to find Cornelius the same.
He wasn't drunk, but he wasn't exactly sober either. Red wine covered his moth, giving him a strange red smile. "Rhinestone!" He crowed, giggling.
"Cornelius!" I answered, returning his wide smile.
"Where have you been? The party started an hour ago."
I had to think fast. "I was out in the woods looking for unicorn horns." It was a really bad lie, but I hopped he had enough alcohol in his system to believe it.
"Yes, unicorn horns. I wanted them for decoration and magic. However, instead of horns, I came across a cave filled with diamonds and jewels! But..." I looked at him guilty. "I got frightened and ran off. I don't think it'd be wise to let those jewels go to waste, so I thought maybe... maybe you would return with me? You being so much braver then I."
"Diamonds." Cornelius repeated. I waited, praying he would buy it. He did. "Of course I'll come with you!" He turned, rubbed most of the wine off his face in a cloth, and looked back at me. "Come."
I followed him out the large doors and into the night air. When we entered the forest, it was like a completely different world from when I'd last seen it. Other then Cornelius's noisy blundering, all was quiet.
I strained my ears to hear even the slightest noise; the chirp of a cricket, the scuttering of a mouse. Nothing. I looked up. The moon had been consumed by dark storm clouds, and the stars were nowhere to be found.
Cornelius seemed oblivious to all of it, speaking only to ask if we were going the right way. I gave a feeble answer and we continued.
The trees, most of them pine, surrounded us completely. I suddenly felt as if they were closing in on us, reaching out with their branches so that they might ensnare us. I whimpered quietly, my paws feeling like they were made of lead. I wanted to go no further, to turn and run back to the safety of the palace.
"Maybe we should turn back." I said, not at all sounding like myself.
"What?! And lose those precious jewels? No." Cornelius growled and we continued once again.
I suddenly hated him more then I ever had before. He knew he was torchuring me with every step, every moment we stayed in these godforsaken woods. Somehow, he had He had discovered my plan to kill him, and was leading me straight to the underworld, where he would laugh in my face before sending me into eternal torchure.
My heart was hammering in my chest, surely he must have heard it? I clenched my teeth and my claws dug into the soft earth. I would have to kill him now, now before he could turn on me. I stopped walking, my eyesight fogging over. I crouched down, imagining myself burying my fangs in his throat.
"Is this it?" Cornelius looked back at me.
I stared at him, trying to register what he had said. Behind him, the calopus's cave loomed over us.
"Yes." I managed, shaking slightly.
"Are you alright? You look sick. Wait here while I go inside."
I watched him disappear into the blackness, my mouth dry. I almost screamed at him to come back.
For a while there was nothing, nothing but my heart and my breath, synchronizing like some kind of strange music. Then, I heard a sound.
Footsteps, a muffled scream, then nothing again. I stared at the cave, waiting for... what? Cornelius to be alive? The guilt to consume me? I searched my emotions, but all I could find was relief and... satisfaction.
"Hey wolf!" The calopus called from the darkness. "Got anymore of these tasty doggies with you?"
"Nope." I answered my lips curling into an odd smile. "Not at the moment."
I realized then that I truly was part calopus. I had killed without mercy and enjoyed it. Near me there was a small pool of rain water. As I looked into it, the moon revealed itself once more, making my horns glow an elegant silver to match my eyes. Unicorn horns I thought as I lightly tapped the pool with them.
The next day the sun rose as usual, and there was no indication that something was wrong. It took almost the entire day for anyone to even notice Cornelius was missing. When asked, I always answered I didn't know and continued with my business.
When it was finally realized that the heir to the throne was gone, immediate search parties were sent out. No results. I pretended to be concerned and often joined the frequent search parties that paraded the area but never set foot in the calopus's territory.
I began to notice Edward and Gregory giving me suspicious looks. I ignored them.
Sooner or later I would get them to confess that they knew I was the true heir. That, or I would give them the option of visiting a friend of mine.