Curse of the Werelupe: Part Four
Jenn sighed as she faced the hundredth shopkeeper that day. The cocky shadow Gelert glanced nonchalantly in her direction without a smile, as if daring her to buy the goods. Not that they were worth it; the owner probably lived off whatever they fished out from the Underwater Fishing Hole.
There were a dozen sandals, three quarters for the right foot, and the rest for the left. Jenn wondered how it could be so uneven. Littered around the floor were a few globs of seaweed, and squashed behind the counter was a giant squid.
Jenn kicked them all aside, except the squid, which she avoided carefully. When she had finally reached the Gelert, she sighed again.
“Do you know anyone who sold a Halloween Paint Brush a few days ago?”
The Gelert looked incredulously at her for a few seconds, then burst out laughing. “You have got to be kidding,” she gasped. “No one in their right mind would sell and Paint Brush like that in a normal shop. It would be too underpriced.”
Aside from the laughing, Jenn thought she had found the most useful information for days. At least this shopkeeper could understand her. She made a mental note not to make a baby pet as her Shopkeeper, as she couldn’t understand a word they said. She also decided to change her shopkeeper from a Meepit to something else, because petpets couldn’t talk in general. It was proving to be infuriating.
“Well, thanks,” Jenn said, turning to leave.
The Gelert shrugged and turned away. Jenn managed to extract herself from the shop and stood in the street, looking down the rows she still had yet to traverse. She sighed and gave up, heading back for the Neolodge. She could give up trying to find the person who had sold her the paint brush, but maybe she could chat with one of the locals.
She sat down in the lobby, on a rather rickety chair that matched the shabby décor of the entire hotel. Opposite her an old grey Kau sat dozing. Other than that the lobby was empty. Suddenly she jumped as the Kau’s eyes snapped open.
“Do you want something?” the Kau asked.
Jenn looked away hastily. “Nothing, don’t worry.”
The Kau continued to stare at her and she began to feel unnerved. “Well, aren’t you going to ask my name?” the Kau said sadly. “Because that’s what polite people usually do.”
Despite the Kau’s sad voice, common for Grey pets, her words had a scathing undertone. Jenn flushed.
“I’m Jennifer,” she said, holding out her hand. “But you can call me Jenn.”
“Pleasure,” the Kau said, shaking firmly. “My name is Fyri. I live in the Woods, but I usually stay here when I need a break from the darn Werelupes.”
“Werelupes?” Jenn asked, perking up at once.
“I’m guessing by your tone that you want some background on Werelupes,” Fyri said wryly. “And if you want my advice it’s this – never get one. They’re more trouble than they’re worth.”
Jenn began to feel uneasy. “Why do you say that?” she asked.
Fyri grinned sadly.
* * *
“Ouch!” Kieavin yelped as she stepped on a shard of mirror that she had missed the night before. “You would think that Fanger would have at least cleaned up the broken mirror before he went to bed!”
Gioama came down the stairs, giggling. “Another shard that you missed?” he asked sarcastically.
“Be quiet, you little beast,” snapped Kieavin, limping to the closed doorway. “I don’t know how that thing got smashed, but I’m going to ask right now.” She flung open the door.
The bed was empty. And it hadn’t been slept in either.
“G, did you see or hear Fanger this morning at all?” Kieavin asked slowly.
The Kougra shrugged. “Why?” He stepped inside the room, and stared around uncomprehendingly for a second. Then he sat down unsteadily.
Kieavin took another look around the room, making sure that there were no signs of inhabitation before starting to panic. She began pacing, wings fluttering irritably.
“Where could he go? He can't just disappear!” she growled to herself.
“I think you’ll find that he can,” Minotaur’s condescending voice said as the Yurble trotted into the room. “I saw him run out of the house last night. But you were too busy thinking about yourselves, and he obviously didn’t want to be followed, so I left him to it.”
“You WHAT?!” Kieavin shouted, turning on him and pulling herself up to her full height. Being of a much taller species, and having wings in her back, she was a giant shadow looming over him. “You just let him walk out after he was so sick?”
“Well, he obviously wouldn’t have run off if he was sick. Sick people don’t run that fast.” Minotaur was unperturbed.
“He could be anywhere!” Kieavin said exasperatedly. “And I’m supposed to be keeping the house under control for Mum.”
Minotaur gave something just short of a snort and said with false sincerity, “Great job, sis.”
Kieavin twitched at the way he said sis, then she stomped out of the room, gathering up the neopoints left over from the night before and scooping them into a small bag.
“Come on, G,” she called over her shoulder.
Gioama stared after her like she was crazy. “Um... where are you going?” he asked hesitantly.
“Well, I’m going to find Mum, of course. I don’t have a clue where Fanger could be, and she might.” She lowered her voice so that only he could here her. “And he” - her thumb jerked at Minotaur- “is driving me up the wall.”
Gioama grinned. “Point taken. But do you have any idea where Mum is? The Haunted Woods are huge.”
Kieavin smiled down at her brother and carefully rearranged her wings. “Not a clue. But that’s half the fun of it.”
* * *
Fanger’s pawsteps slowed and he came to a jerking, breathless halt. His chest was burning, and his lungs were on the verge of collapse. But now he had reached his destination. But... where was he?
He stood amongst the blackened trunks of trees, their branches embracing overhead to create a canopy that strangled the sunlight and made it seem like night instead of day. All around him there was a cold silence, and a prickling ran down his spine as he felt eyes watching him from the shadows.
He stood tall, letting whoever was watching get a good glimpse of him, while at the same time he waited for his lungs to gain some semblance of normality and his breathing to become smooth once more. Then he picked his way through the trees, trying to figure out where he was.
Not that it wasn’t obvious which part of Neopia he was in. The Haunted Woods had so many strange, scary fables about it that any pup would have to know what it at least looked like. The brooding trees, the perpetual darkness – all sure signs of a place with the word ‘haunted’ in the name.
His paws parted the undergrowth, and he peered ahead. Then he blinked painfully as light seared through his vision, leaking through a large hole in the overlapping branches above. He was in a large clearing, and in the centre was a tall, sharp rock, curving over slightly like a wave and with a serrated edge that reflected sun in all directions.
It was the rock he had imagined the night before. Almost like a claw that had pierced something and was now jutting through on the other side. It fitted in with the atmosphere as easily as Fanger himself did with his dirty brown coat and fierce appearance.
He jumped as something detached itself from the rock, a stocky, uneven silhouette that failed to gain any recognisable shape as it came closer. Then it stepped into the light, and a Werelupe stood there, looking alien and out of place in the sudden brightness.
A huge, streamlined jaw turned to him, and fangs parted to jeer at him. Fanger stood his ground, shocked at the size of the Werelupe, at least twice as large as he was. Blazing red eyes regarded him coolly and with what seemed like satisfaction. Then it spoke, its voice grating past Fanger’s ears.
“So, another Werelupe comes to join us,” it growled softly, menacingly.
Fanger found the courage to speak. “I-I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I don’t even know why I came here...”
“You do know,” the Lupe said placatingly, eyes gleaming. “You came here because you wanted to escape from your old life. You were scared that now that you were a Werelupe that they would not like you anymore. That they would reject you.”
Fanger tried to remember, but all he cold see was fuzzy moving images, nothing he could get a grasp on. The other Werelupe spoke again, his voice going from gravely to deep and rich.
“But we won’t reject you. We are your new family. Right, everyone?”
There were low, soft growls of confirmation, as more Werelupes threaded through the trees, forming a tight circle.
“You can join us if you want.”
Fanger nodded slowly, not even realising what he was doing. There was something about that voice, something compelling that made him want to believe everything that it said. The other Werelupe nodded with him, slowly, carefully. The other Werelupes turned towards each other, smiling evil smiles.
One slightly smaller than the leader, but no less fierce, stepped up to join them. Her smile was lazy as she exchanged a long look with the other. He nodded slightly to her. Then he turned to face Fanger.
“Tell me, newcomer. What is your name?”
“Fang...” Fanger began, not even sure what he was saying.
“Fang? Well, that won’t do. If you’re going to be part of our family, you need a new name.” His voice was false sweetness. “And you shall need to know ours.” He lowered his head. “I am Shadowheart of the Werelupes, and this here is my deputy Redfang.”
Fanger nodded. Somehow he couldn’t remember anything. But he had a gut feeling that there was something wrong about this. The Werelupe’s voice was so... unreal. Like he was using some sort of magic. He looked up and saw Shadowheart’s eyes flash as if he could perceive his thoughts. The Leader stared down at Fanger.
“From this day forth you shall be known as... Daggerclaw,” he cried triumphantly.
Instantly the other Werelupe’s lifted their heads and howled to the sky, Redfang with them. Shadowheart joined in, his howl drowning out all the rest. Suddenly Fanger forgot about all his doubts, being caught up in the thrill of the Werelupes’ call. He let back his head and joined in, releasing all thoughts of his past life, if there were any left.
Then the forest fell silent, and Shadowheart smiled.
* * *
“What’s wrong with Werelupes?” Jenn asked again.
Fyri’s sad smile vanished instantly to be replaced by a frown. “There are a lot of bad tales of Werelupes, and most of them are true.” Her brows furrowed at Jenn’s sceptical expression.
“There is one tale that is going around that is true,” she said harshly. “A pack of Werelupes have joined together, led by one who calls himself Shadowheart. They attack travellers in the Haunted Woods at random, and it is said that Shadowheart uses his voice alone to trick other Werelupes to his cause. Once they join him, they can’t turn back. Or so it is said...”
“Oh,” Jenn said politely, not sure what to believe or not, but sure that this was not helping Fanger in any way.
“You don’t seem to want this kind of information on Werelupes,” Fyri observed casually, settling back in her seat. “What would you like to know?”
“I’d like to know if there is any sort of illness that happens to Werelupes once they’ve been painted.”
Fyri frowned again, the permanent downward curving of her mouth becoming even lower. “I have heard something...” she said softly.
“What?” Jenn leaned forward eagerly.
“Well, it is well known that Werelupes rely on the moon, yes?” Jenn nodded. “If a Werelupe is does not see the moon’s light they can become ill. And when they are ill they go into a sort of trance. It is said that Shadowheart can speak to them in their dreams and convince them to join him.”
“You mean they can be... uh, tricked into joining Shadowheart while in this trance?” Jenn asked.
Fyri nodded. “But it might not be true.”
Jenn felt a rush of panic. “But Fanger!” she said. “He was in the trance.”
Fyri glanced up sharply. “When did you last see him?”
Jenn thought. “A few days ago. I came here to get help. Do you think?”
The Grey Kau shook her head. “I’m not sure. But as long as he felt welcome and safe in his family – That is if he got along well with everyone in it – he wouldn’t even have heard Shadowheart’s voice.”
Jenn thought of Minotaur and Fanger, and her thoughts began to whirl away...
* * *
Shadowheart watched Daggerclaw closely. “I think he’ll make a fine part of our pack,” he said to Redfang beside him.
The other Werelupe leered, showing her stained teeth. She was the only one who had joined Shadowheart without him using his voice on her, but her eyes were still a deep crimson. “I can see that. But are you sure he’s forgotten? Your voice is magic, but still... his eyes still had a hint of green when he came.”
Shadowheart smiled and inspected his claws. He gazed across the clearing, where Daggerclaw was watching everything curiously. His eyes flashed scarlet in the gloom. “Don’t worry, friend. I’m sure.”
To be continued...