The King of Werelupes: Part Five
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Fanger asked for the seventeenth time.
Apsy turned around and gave him a narrow look.
“Sorry!” he said, holding his paws out in a peace offering. “But you are kinda limping, you know.”
Apsy scowled. She knew very well that she was limping. The pads of her feet still had painful bruises all over them, but she kept going anyway.
“I need to find my family,” she growled.
Fanger looked over his shoulder and let out a small sigh. “I know what you mean.”
The two of them had snuck out of the house first thing in the morning, and they were now on the plains that were the bridge between Neopia Central and the Haunted Woods. Already Fanger could see the dark spiny branches of the trees in the distance, and suppressed a shudder.
Apsy saw the trees as well, and she quickened her pace, even if it was a bit more painful. They walked in silence for another half an hour, and soon the first trees began to line the trial. They weren’t quite as dead as the ones in the Woods themselves, but they had the same thick trunks and gnarly branches.
Gradually the trees thickened and the sunlight became darker and distorted. Apsy walked confidently along the path. Or as confidently as she could with her wounds. Fanger walked beside her, a perfect pet to match the landscape around them, but he was anxious, ears flat, eyes constantly flickering from side to side.
“What’s wrong?” Apsy asked.
Fanger glanced at her, then his eyes flicked away to stare at a tree that loomed out at them.
“I just never thought I’d come back here again. Voluntarily.”
Apsy nodded slowly. “I know what you mean.” She shivered.
The sun began to sink and the already distorted shadows lengthened, giving the woods a creepy look. They passed a few ghost and Halloween pets, who ignored them. There were no normal coloured pets around, but Apsy had a feeling that they were probably hiding until the two Halloween Lupes passed. She wanted to shout out that not all Werelupes were bad, but that would have ruined her healing vocal chords.
“So do you know where the entrance to the Werelupe Burrows is?” Fanger asked her.
“Sure. Ember knows everything about Werelupes, even before I was painted. Except for Shadowheart, of course... We just need to go off the path in half an hour, and then I’ll lead the way.”
They reached the place in the path that Apsy had remembered after spending hours in Ember’s room studying the Haunted Woods. She jerked her head towards it so Fanger could see, then stepped off that path.
She almost expected something dramatic to happen. A few trees reaching out to grasp them, maybe. Or an ambush of Werelupes. But nothing happened, and it put her even more on edge.
After a couple of minutes the trees began to bunch together, and the branches snagged at her fur as she squeezed through. Fanger had even more trouble, being larger than her, and they had to stop several times to find a clearer way through. At last, out of frustration, Fanger shouldered his way through two twin trees and there were several loud snapping sounds as the branches broke clean off, leaving him with spikes all down his back.
“Having fun?” Apsy said, trying to smother a laugh.
“Not in the least,” Fanger growled back, but he smiled, and the Woods seemed to draw back from them.
The sky was beginning to darken when Apsy saw the huge dark entrance to the Burrows appear between a wall of thick trees. They circled around the wall until they found a place where the tree trunks had been snapped in half, leaving a gap big enough for them to get through.
Apsy tried to see if there was a sentry at the entrance, but she couldn’t see anyone. She whispered out of the corner of her mouth.
“Pretend we know what we’re doing. And if anyone asks, use the name that Shadowheart gave you.”
Fanger nodded and they walked forward
Just as they stepped into the entrance a small Werelupe stepped forward. Despite being up to Apsy’s shoulder, he didn’t look like anyone you wanted to tangle with, and he bared his teeth.
“Hurry up and get inside,” he growled.
Apsy sped up at once, and Fanger followed. The guard turned dismissively away from them, but then paused.
“Why aren’t your eyes red?” he asked suddenly, his voice lowering.
Apsy drew herself up to say something, but then another Werelupe burst out of the tunnel.
“Come quickly!” he cried excitedly. “Macejaw has challenged the King!”
The guard pricked his ears up and without looking at Apsy or Fanger dashed down the tunnel after him.
“Come on!” Fanger said, grabbing Apsy’s paw and dragging her along.
Apsy ran, only just managing to keep up with the two Werelupes ahead. It was difficult to see, and three times she would have crashed into a wall in the dark is she hadn’t seen the flicking tails of the Werelupes ahead.
They emerged into large cavern and skidded to halt around the crowd of Werelupes gathered inside. She tried to peer over their heads, and eventually saw them; two large Werelupes circling around each other.
Macejaw faced the King, feeling triumphant. He had everything all planned out. He knew he could beat the King in combat, because he had put a slowing potion in the King’s food. Once he had taken out the King, it didn’t matter if any of the other Werelupes found out, because he had Shadowheart to keep them in line.
He snorted contemptuously and the King growled low, but Macejaw ignored him. Shadowheart was powerful with his unique magic, but he was also loyal to the crown, and if – when – Macejaw won, he wouldn’t question Macejaw’s orders to put the Werelupes under a spell to give him unquestioning loyalty.
Of course, there was still Silverfang and Daggerclaw to take care of. All the other Halloween Lupes who had resisted Shadowheart before had been imprisoned. And because they had broken the spell the first time, there was nothing stopping them from breaking the spell this time. But Redfang had told him that both of them were on their way now.
So all that he could do now was beat the King in combat. Which shouldn’t be to hard seeing as the big Lupe was moving with exaggerated slowness.
With a howl, Macejaw leapt forward and struck the King in the temple. But the King jerked his head back enough that the blow wasn’t devastating. He leapt to the side and took a swipe at Macejaw’s legs, tripping him up.
The Werelupes watching howled in support of their King, but Macejaw wasn’t finished.
“You seem to be getting slow, Your Highness,” he taunted as he rolled to his feet and charged into the King’s side.
Before the King could regain his balance Macejaw had socked him on the jaw, sending him staggering backwards.
The Werelupes howled even louder, red eyes glinting.
“Not as slow as you think!” the King roared, surging forward.
Macejaw was taken by surprise, but the slowing potion was working, because the King hadn’t managed to close half the gap between them before Macejaw was out of the way, spinning to slash at the King’s exposed back.
The howling had stopped now. Macejaw looked around and realised that they knew something was wrong. The King was getting old, but even he didn’t go slow-motion through the air. The Werelupes began to close in.
Macejaw growled and launched himself at the King, who had just regained his feet. He bowled the older Werelupe over, and in a matter of seconds he was standing over the King with his jaws touching the King’s throat.
The Werelupes stopped.
Macejaw threw back his head and howled in victory while the King stared up at him with narrow red eyes.
“They know that it wasn’t a fair fight,” he growled.
“But the Law states that if I beat you in single combat I get your crown.” Macejaw said these words loud enough for the assembled Werelupes to hear, but they continued to advance.
“Shadowheart!” Macejaw roared.
Shadowheart stepped out of the crowd.
“You know the Law,” Macejaw said, and Shadowheart nodded his head. “Use your powers to re-enforce it.”
“I know the Law very well, Macejaw,” Shadowheart growled. “You’re King. But you should know that I figured out what you’ve been trying to do. Redfang is my deputy, after all. I’m not stupid.”
Macejaw’s face registered worry as Shadowheart bared his teeth in a feral grin.
“Macejaw, I challenge you,” he said.
Apsy dragged Fanger down yet another hallway, following Shadowheart’s faint scent. They had seen the Werelupe in the watching crowd, and Apsy had come up with the bright idea of following his scent to where he had come from.
She paused and pressed her nose to the ground again, and her eyes widened. “I can smell Ember here, just faintly. Come on!”
She set off again, with Fanger trying hard to keep up.
At last they stopped outside a large boulder, and Apsy sniffed round it for a few seconds before nodding to herself.
“They’re all here. Ember! Anubia! Sky!”
Fanger jumped at her unexpected shouts.
There was a paused. Then, “Apsy?”
“Ember? I’m right here! Are you okay?”
“I’d be better if this stupid great boulder wasn’t in the way...” came Anubia’s muffled voice. “You’re a big strong Werelupe, think you can move it?
Apsy seriously doubted she could do it on her own. But two Werelupes...
“Fanger, help me,” she hissed as she set her shoulder to the rock and began to shove. It began to slide extremely slowly out of the way.
Then Fanger was next to her and shoving with all his strength, and the boulder moved so suddenly that both of them fell over as it rolled out of the way.
“Coordinated.” Anubia grinned as she stepped out. Ember rushed past her and pulled Apsy into a tight hug, and Apsy winced from her burns. Unfortunately Ember didn’t notice and squeezed harder.
“Thanks,” said Sky as he slithered out of the small cave inside. The Desert Hissi saw Fanger and helped him to he paws. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, just helping out,” Fanger said casually.
Sonikki was the last to emerge, and she smiled and hugged Apsy, then nodded her thanks to Fanger.
“Okay.” That was Ember. She was rubbing her hands together. “I’m going to find that big brute Macejaw and giving him a piece of my mind. Anyone want to come with me?”
She didn’t wait for an answer, but prowled down the tunnel with the five pets trailing after her.
To be continued...