Reunited: Part Three
They had been traveling for three days, silently following the trail the Werelupes had left. Sophie had no tracking ability whatsoever, so Shanna did most of the work. The Lupess didn’t mind, however, as she had a gift with spotting things most others would miss. The Werelupes had no skill at all with stealth, and therefore it was easy to follow footprints. The Werelupes also carried a strange smell, which Sophie couldn’t seem to smell at all. Shanna supposed it was only because of her extra-sensitive Lupe sense of smell that she could smell it.
Still, despite Shanna’s good tracking, they had only just caught up with the Werelupes. Shanna warned Sophie to keep a good distance, as the Werelupes’ sense of smell would be greater even than her own.
More than once that day the Lupess thought she saw a blur of black sneaking through the trees in front of the Werelupes, but it might have merely been her imagination.
They decided to stop for a while at around midnight. The Werelupes had also stopped, their noses held high in the air as if sniffing something out. Had they lost him?
If they had, that meant he would be far ahead of them by now, and perhaps Shanna would never know about her brother.
As if reading her mind, Sophie spoke softly in the darkness. “There’s simply no way he could be too far ahead for them to lose him. His injuries were bad, and he’d be getting tired. He can’t be too far ahead...”
Then, it hit her. “He’s backtracking!” Shanna guessed.
The green Ixi’s eyes narrowed. “Why would he go back? I know Werelupes, and that’s only part of a pack. There could be hundreds more waiting back that way! Werelupes are not unintelligent, despite what some claim. They will have sense enough to know he may begin to go backwards.”
Shanna gritted her teeth in frustration. “Then we need to catch up with him, don’t we?”
The brown Lupess gracefully got to her feet and began sprinting in the opposite direction.
Sophie groaned, getting up from her rather soft spot on the ground reluctantly. “Wait up, Shanna!” she said as loudly as she dared, for the Lupess had already disappeared from her sight. She envied Shanna and her full energy. Sophie hadn’t been that energetic in years!
She then broke into a run to catch up with the Lupess, muttering all the way. When she finally caught sight of the Lupess, she allowed herself to slow down slightly. She clutched the searing stitch in her side and moaned.
“I’m getting too old for this.”
She would never admit that to Shanna, though. Indeed, she had never wished to admit it to herself.
Shanna took a look back at the panting Swamp Witch. It had been unkind of her to just take off like that without any warning, and Sophie wasn’t as young as she used to be, after all. She appeared to be muttering to herself, which she did often, and Shanna reluctantly came to a halt to let the Ixi catch up. Sophie had helped her this far, and she couldn’t just leave her behind now, no matter how much she wanted to find her brother.
To her great surprise, however, when Sophie caught up, she ran right past Shanna.
“Well, why did you stop?” she hollered back. “We don’t have all night you know!”
Shanna shook her head at her strange friend and began running again. Soon she and Sophie were side by side, sprinting through the trees. Again Shanna was disturbed at how very hostile they looked. Their branches still reminded her of outstretched hands, waiting to grab the unsuspecting passer-by.
Surely she had imagined the sound. She stopped dead in her tracks, as did Sophie.
Okay, maybe she hadn’t imagined it...
But where was it coming from? Not behind them, not in front of them. Where then?
Her ears stood straight up as she realized the sound came from above her!
She took a cautious look up, to see an extraordinary sight. The branches above her were moving! “Sophie, RUN!” she howled, just as a branch swung down at her, narrowly missing her head. She and the Swamp Witch ran for their lives, dodging branches all the way.
They came from every direction. Up, down, right left, forward, backward. Shanna had no idea how she managed to dodge each of the blows, but somehow she had not yet been hit. For that matter, neither had Sophie, though she was looking more scared than the Lupess had ever seen her.
Shanna made a wild sort of jump rope leap over a branch that had almost taken out her knees, Sophie rolled underneath it and rolled expertly back to her feet, still running. Shanna somehow managed to give her a bewildered look.
Sophie was now laughing as if this was all just great fun, the fear had completely disappeared from her bright green eyes. “I may be not be as young as you, sweetheart!” she yelled over the sound of the creaking branches, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t have class!”
The Lupess probably would have laughed if not for the dire seriousness of the situation, yet Sophie seemed to be having the time of her life. The Swamp Witch was indeed very strange. Moments before she had been terrified; now she had gone completely bonkers. As she dodged under another branch that swung for her head, she wondered if the Ixi had been hit in the head by one of the branches. Perhaps that would explain Sophie’s odd glee at a near death situation.
They were almost out of the clump of trees now, Shanna could see the exit...
A branch swooped down and hit Sophie, rather comically, in the backside, sending her soaring through the exit. Shanna worried for a moment if she was hurt, but the Swamp Witch had been laughing when it plunged her into the air. She needed to worry more about herself, she had not yet reached the exit.
She was almost there! Just a little farther!
A branch swung down, she had not seen it coming. She gasped, fear rooting her to the spot. It was going to hit her!
Well, something had hit her, but surely it couldn’t have been the branch. It wasn’t wooden, for one thing. A dark blur crashed into her, sending her rolling for the exit. Whatever had run into her had rolled along with her, and she clutched it in fear. Once she was out of the trees, they stopped moving and returned to their normal nature of staying put and only looking very scary. She let go of whatever it was that she had grabbed, and opened her eyes to look at the trees. Her ears had told the truth; the trees were stationary and calm once more.
She heard movement behind her, like someone standing up and brushing themselves off. So it had been a pet that ran into her, not some random object! She stood up slowly and carefully, her sides hurting and her vision fuzzy. She wobbled a bit but strong arms kept her held up.
“Easy, now,” said a deep voice. Shanna could also hear Sophie in the background, calling the tree some very rude names. The Lupess could still not see, though, and did not trust her legs to support her on their own just yet. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to regain her balance. When she was satisfied she would be alright, she turned slowly, opening her eyes, to thank her rescuer.
And she came face to face with her brother.
Shanna gasped as she recognized the tall shadow Lupe, then threw her arms around him.
“Smokey!” she exclaimed with jubilance.
Smokey sounded very flustered as he pushed himself away from the brown Lupess. “I’m sorry, but do I know-” he stopped in the middle of the sentence as he got a good look at the Lupess. “Shanna?” he asked, as if not really believing it.
At this, he hugged her tightly. “I can’t believe it’s you! After all these years...”
Shanna smiled wider than she had in years. Her dream had finally come true! She and her brother were finally together again.
She heard Sophie clear her throat, and both she and Smokey turned to look at the Swamp Witch.
“As touching as this really is, you two, I really think we’d better get back to my hut before the Werelupes pick up our scent again. We can have the sappy reunion when we’re not in danger of being eaten.”
Shanna couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t forget getting thwomped by some evil trees.”
Smokey nodded. “Gee sis, I expected you’d be different, but I didn’t expect you to be friends with the famous Swamp Witch. I also didn’t expect that the famous Sophie would be kicked in the backside by a tree; maybe you should turn it into a dung beetle or something.”
Shanna laughed. Sophie’s little soar into the sky had been very funny.
Sophie only shook her head in a troubled sort of way. “Great,” she said dryly. “A comedian.”
To be continued...