The King of Werelupes: Part Seven
It was rather comical to see a giant six-limbed Werelupe trying to squeeze into one of Jenn’s armchairs. But laughing was out of the question, as Gnarfas’ eyes roamed around the cosy living room of the Neohome.
Jenn had excused herself to the kitchen, and everyone else except Minotaur and Sonikki was in the living room, draped on the furniture or lying on the rug. The King had the place of honour by the crackling fireplace, examining a pink plushie on the mantle with evident suspicion.
“So where’s Daggerclaw?” Gnarfas growled.
Fanger was watching the King closely, but at the name he looked up, startled. Kieavin was stretched out on the coffee table, and she immediately answered.
“Well, Fanger’s Daggerclaw, of course,” she said.
The King’s head swivelled round to stare at Fanger.
“Well, why didn’t you say this before, in the Burrows?” he growled.
“Because I feel more comfortable here,” Fanger replied smartly.
Gnarfas gave a low growl at the back of his throat, and Apsy suppressed a smile from where she was seated on the couch. She didn’t know if Fanger had brought the two Werelupes back here on purpose or not, but it was definitely worth seeing them in a regular Neohome.
“And I’m Silverfang,” she piped up, resisting the urge to go check her teeth out in the mirror. She still didn’t know how she had got that name.
“So you’ve both resisted Shadowheart’s magic before?” the King said, frowning. Then his brow cleared. “Then we have twice the chance of beating Shadowheart.”
“That’s if we can find him.” Gnarfas vacated his chair and prowled around the room, his four arms swinging by his sides.
“He’s with a great big host of at least a hundred Werelupes. How hard could it be to find him?” This was from Anubia, tucked into the far corner of the couch and almost hidden from view.
“I don’t think they’re in the Werelupe Woods anymore,” said the King. “So they’ve probably moved on to the Haunted Woods. It’s easy to hide in there. Even with a hundred other pets.”
“I have an idea,” Apsy said slowly, thinking back. “Fanger, do you remember the clearing with the jagged rock? That was where Shadowheart’s base was before. Maybe he’s gone back there.”
“It’s a slim chance,” Fanger said.
“I wouldn’t go back to a place I’ve already used before,” Gnarfas said in a low voice.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Gioama. “Do I get to come along?”
Fanger gave a wide grin and reached over to ruffle his little brother’s fur. “I don’t think so, G. There might be some big, bad Werelupes around.”
“You’re big, but I can still get you any day,” Gioama objected, launching himself into Fanger’s stomach and proceeding to tickle him.
Sky studiously slithered out of the two brothers’ way, smirking. “I should try that with you sometime, Apsy,” he teased.
Apsy shot him a feral look and joined the King in pacing the room.
“I think it could work,” she said.
“Me too,” he agreed, stopping and leaning on the mantle. The pink plushie fell on to his foot and he jerked it away as if burned, reaching out to pick the plushie up with his long claws.
Instantly Kieavin was there, glaring at him.
“Mine,” she said, hiding it behind her back.
The King looked taken aback, as if not used to having things taken off him in this fashion. But then he shrugged.
Apsy wasn’t sure how she was going to convince Ember to stay away from the Haunted Woods, but then Gnarfas spoke.
“Of course, it will just be us four. We don’t need anyone else.” He glared at the room at large.
Ember glared back, but she didn’t object.
“When do we leave?” Apsy asked.
“Stay for the night,” Jenn said, coming into the room, holding a tray of sandwiches. “Then you can go in the morning. Shadowheart won’t be going anywhere. I have Minotaur looking out for any news. And Sonikki is with him.”
Apsy looked at the King and saw his suspicious frown as he stared at the food. Then he reached out and grasped one in an oversized paw. She smirked and turned to see Fanger finally fight off Gioama and back away, out of breath.
“You win,” he said to the fire Kougra, paws up in defeat. Then he saw the tray. “Mmm, food.”
Trying to fit ten pets and two humans in a house only built for four and one was a bit of a squeeze. Apsy had stayed in the Loft above the house with Ember, lying on a few bean bags, and her body ached all over.
Most of her bandages had finally come off, but she still had enough to chafe at her fur with every step she took. At least travelling with just Werelupes had its advantages; they travelled almost twice as fast.
The King was slightly in front, walking silently with Fanger a few steps behind. Fanger had a pack slung across his back filled with food. Gnarfas was walking circles around them, constantly changing sides, eyes glaring in all directions. He was carrying the King’s pack as well as his own. Apsy wasn’t carrying anything at all, but she was too sore to feel guilty.
They had entered the Woods just a bit after noon. Once again Apsy felt the chills running down her spine as old memories came back. She resisted the urge to growl at the ever-shifting trees and tried to keep her gaze straight ahead. But she could just imagine them watching her, wondering how tasty she was... or would be without all the shaggy fur.
“Do you want me to lead from here?” Fanger said to the King.
The King half turned his head and nodded, falling a little bit behind so that he was walking next to Apsy.
“So how did you break the curse?” he asked her.
Apsy shrugged. “Well, Fanger broke the curse first, but almost straight after he was gone, I woke up. That’s what happened to most of us. I can’t believe I was mind-controlled in the first place. It’s embarrassing.”
“It’s hardly embarrassing. Shadowheart has just proved he can control a hundred Werelupes in one stroke. Him controlling you is hardly anything.”
“Thanks. That makes me feel better,” Apsy said, actually meaning it.
The King gave her a weird look. “I was just stating the facts,” he said.
Fanger suddenly turned off the path and Apsy had difficulty negotiating her way through the gnarled undergrowth. The trees seemed to be leaning together just to get in her way. She irritably brushed through them.
Eventually it became a routine. She charged through the groping branches until they snapped off, paused and winced at the pain it caused her, then kept going. Fanger was just up ahead, and he managed to forge a bit of a path. The King had no such troubles; Gnarfas simply snapped the trees out of the way.
Fanger paused as they neared the clearing and lifted up his nose to sniff the air. Apsy saw that he was uneasy. He gave her a grim smile.
“I just don’t like being back here again,” he admitted. “It gives me the creeps.” He frowned. “Something’s wrong.”
“Well, there’s no one here,” Gnarfas growled. “So we might as well turn back.”
“We might as well make it to our destination, just in case,” Apsy argued.
Gnarfas snarled, but the King stepped between them, then followed Fanger as he started off again. Gnarfas shrugged his four shoulders – which looked extremely weird – and went after them.
They broke into the clearing and Apsy stared at the oppressive rock in the centre. It was taller than the trees, and curved evilly at the top to look like a single claw. Fanger padded slowly over to it and stared at the tip broodingly.
“See, nothing here,” Gnarfas growled. “We’re going.”
“No, stay,” said a female voice.
Redfang appeared at the edge of the clearing, glaring at them. Apsy saw that her eyes were still a bright red, which meant that wasn’t under Shadowheart’s spell.
“How come I couldn’t scent you anywhere?” Fanger said, turning. He didn’t look surprised.
Redfang grinned. “Perhaps because I haven’t been here yet. I’ve simply been following you.” She stopped to give three loud coughing barks, then grinned. “And now I’ve called for reinforcements.” She waited expectantly.
Apsy crouched, ready to flee, but the King shook his head sharply at her.
“We won’t run. If we run they can easily split us up and take us out one by one.”
“But they can do that anyway,” Apsy protested.
“But it will be harder for them.” The King backed into the rock at the centre of the clearing, and Gnarfas followed his example. When Apsy didn’t follow he frowned. “Get in the circle,” he snapped.
Fanger was glaring at Redfang. “Where’s Shadowheart?” he growled.
“Oh, he has better things to do than waste his time fighting you. He’s got bigger plans. But he considers you important enough to be wiped out, so you should feel lucky.”
“Like what plans?” Fanger pressed.
Redfang snorted. “I’m not into the whole diverge-plans-of-world-domination thing, even if you are about to be removed as a threat.”
“World domination? You aren’t being serious, right?” The King’s eyes were narrowed so far you couldn’t see the red glint of his eyes. “Your type is the reason Werelupes have a bad name.”
“As least this time it will be deserved.” Redfang shrugged.
A Werelupe barked across the clearing and Apsy swung her head to face the sound. Fanger nudged her.
“I’ll cover this side. You concentrate on what’s in front of you.”
“How many do you think there are?” Apsy whispered.
Gnarfas, who was on her other side, overheard her.
“Enough,” he said with a snarl, a satisfied smile on his face as two Werelupes prowled out of the trees on his side.
“Keep close to the rock,” the King said from behind the rock.
Redfang grinned and strode up to him as another half a dozen Werelupes appeared. That was nine Werelupes overall. Too many to take on.
Two Werelupes approached Apsy, and she crouched down, waiting. The first one came at her, and she swiped a paw at him. It didn’t do much, except give the other Werelupe a distraction to get closer and headbutt her in the side. She twisted round and bit down hard, not caring about the taste of fur in her mouth.
She was losing; that much was obvious, but she continued to struggle. Until the first Werelupe was suddenly lifted off her and dangled in the air by Gnarfas, whose opponents were keeping a good distance away from his flailing paws.
“Thanks,” Apsy gasped, shoving her second assailant off.
Gnarfas grunted. Even with only one opponent Apsy found it hard to fight properly. She growled savagely and pushed hard, and suddenly the Werelupe was off, howling with shock. There was the smell of singed fur.
Apsy frowned and squinted upwards. Kieavin was hovering just above her, waving her Rainbow Gun around wildly and sending of coloured bolts in all directions.
“Be careful with that thing!” Fanger shouted as he ducked.
“Whoopsies,” Kieavin said. She stopped firing and used the gun as a club instead, sending a dazed Werelupe reeling backwards.
Apsy looked at the fighting. Two Werelupes had raced into the trees to escape the bolts, and the stunned one lay at the edge of the clearing. Another lay at Gnarfas’ paws as he fought three others consecutively. Redfang and the last Werelupe were battling the King, but Fanger jumped in and sent them tumbling backwards. Apsy hesitated as she looked at Gnarfas, wondering whether to help. A coloured bolt shot past her and hit one in the side.
“Teehee,” said Kieavin as she aimed a second shot and fired.
Both Werelupes stopped as they realised their fur was on fire and began to roll on the ground. Apsy noticed that their eyes were no longer pure black, but sort of brown. A moment later the colour had faded away again.
Redfang realised that she didn’t have enough Werelupes to continue to fight and drew back, her yellowed teeth bared.
“You have an hour to run,” she warned. “Because when I come back, you won’t get away again.”
She glared at them, and the King took the lead and padded to the edge of the clearing. Fanger moved towards his sister.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “And how did you know where to find us?”
“I’ve been here before,” Kieavin said. “Minotaur and Sonikki were asking around Neopia Central for any information. But it turns out they didn’t need to. Shadowheart’s just made what he’s planning public. He’s decided being the King of Werelupes isn’t enough. He wants to be King of Neopia.”
To be continued...