The Werelupe Hunter: Part Six
Apsy followed after Jorange, with Fanger running beside her. They came into a clearing to see Jorange being tackled by three other Werelupes while another stood back, staring off into the tree to Apsy’s left.
“Get off!” Jorange shouted, and with a brutal effort managed to shove his attackers off so he could climb to his paws. They closed on him again, but Apsy gave a loud bark and they stopped to stare at her, surprised. When they saw her and Fanger they backed off warily.
“What’s going on?” Apsy asked sharply.
The Werelupe who was apart from the others snapped her head around to stare at Apsy. Then she limped forward, her shoulder bleeding.
“I was attacked by someone – it looked like a Werelupe, but I can’t be sure. But it wasn’t him.” She pointed at Jorange. “Whoever it was ran into the trees over there when they saw my friends coming. I guess he,” still pointing at Jorange, “came at the wrong moment. She paused for a moment, looking them up and down. “Are you refugees too?” she asked.
“Refugees?” Apsy asked, frowning.
“Werelupes who have had to leave Neopia Central to stop their families being taken,” the Werelupess explained.
“In a way,” Apsy said. “Are you?”
“Yes. I’m Viyexen,” said the Werelupess. She introduced her companions, then Apsy did the same. Jorange eyed them, but said nothing.
“Do you think that was the Hunter?” Fanger asked at last.
“Maybe,” Apsy said. She glanced around. “Let’s move on.”
The seven Werelupes began to walk, with Fanger and Apsy in the lead. Apsy leaned over to Fanger.
“What were you saying about the Hunter before?” she asked.
Fanger glanced around. “Let’s wait till we reach the Burrows,” he said.
They reached the Burrows at noon, after fighting through a wall of thick trees. There were at least four Werelupes guarding the entrance, and they moved to block the group as they approached.
“You can’t come in,” said the leader gruffly, folding arms across his massive chest. He was slightly smaller than Fanger.
“Why not? We’re Werelupes, aren’t we?” Fanger growled.
“Huh,” said the Werelupe. “You’re Halloween Lupes, not true Werelupes. The King has given orders not to let anyone in.”
“He’ll let all refugees – even Halloween Lupes – in, after we’ve spoken to him,” Apsy said.
The Werelupe shook his head. Apsy stepped up closer to him and pulled her Werelupe Fang Necklace out of her fur so he could see it.
“I’m Silverfang, and that’s Daggerclaw behind me, so you had better let us in right now!”
The Werelupe’s eyes widened, and he nodded. No bowing or scraping – which would have completely ruined Apsy’s good opinion of him – just a nod. He moved out of the way to let them past, and didn’t stop the others coming inside.
“Silverfang, eh?” Viyexen said, moving up to Apsy’s side. “I thought your name was Apsy.”
Apsy sighed. “It’s a long story. Needless to say they’re our Werelupe names, and we helped the King recently.”
Jorange grinned as he went up to Fanger. “Wow, I didn’t think you were actually telling the truth when you said you knew the King.”
Fanger tried to look angelic. “Does this look like a face that would lie?” he asked.
Jorange raised an eyebrow. “Looks don’t mean anything,” he said. “But yes, it does.”
Fanger scowled. Then the tunnel became too dark to see each other properly and conversation died down as Apsy desperately tried to remember how to get to the throne room. She almost walked into a wall, but Fanger pulled her in the opposite direction.
Finally light broke the darkness, and she could hear the low rumbling growls of a dozen or so Werelupes. They must be close. She rounded the corner and saw ahead of her a massive entrance, with three Werelupes guarding it on either side. They raised their hackles and growled as they saw the group approaching.
Apsy strode up to the larger one and growled back, and he seemed impressed. He cast a glance over the mob, then nodded once to let them pass. Apsy smiled to herself and walked into the massive cavern that was the throne room.
Light shone through various holes in the roof. In any other case it would have been dim, but after the gloom of the tunnels it was just right. Near the rear of the cave stood a bone throne, and sitting on the throne was a dark-furred Werelupe, wearing a bone crown.
He looked up as the group approached, frowning. But then his eyes softened and he rose up to wait for them.
“Welcome, Silverfang, Daggerclaw,” he asked in his growl-tainted voice. He bared his fangs in what Apsy thought was a smile. “Why are you here? And with... all these others?”
“Aren’t you happy to see us, Majesty?” Fanger said, managing a graceful bow that seemed impossible for his size, which was larger than the King by a head.
“Never happy,” the King replied. “I have too much worrying.”
“Sir, we’re here to warn you,” Apsy cut in. “These Werelupes are refuges from Neopia Central.”
“Refugees?” the King asked. He sank back down into his throne, having honoured them by rising.
“Yes. There’s a brown Lupe that calls himself the Werelupe Hunter, but his name is Shilo. He caught Macejaw—”
She was cut off as the King let out a snarl.
“Serves him right,” spat the King. “I won’t forgive him for what he did.”
“Let me finish,” Apsy said. “He caught Macejaw and painted him green.”
The King looked astonished, and the dozen Werelupes that had drifted closer since Apsy’s arrival hissed in outrage. The King’s red eyes flashed as he finally took in her words, and he let out a savage growl.
“I would not wish that upon even a traitor like Macejaw,” he snarled. “His whole identity, taken away.”
And he threw back his head and howled. His subjects joined in with him, and Fanger seemed eager to join in, but instead he waited a few minutes until the last echoes had subsided. Then moved to the throne and turned, surveying the gathered Werelupes. Apsy shook her head at his wish to be dramatic, but she still needed to know what he was going to say.
He took a deep breath, then said: “The Werelupe Hunter is Shadowheart.”
He stopped talking let the Werelupes vent more anger to the skies (or the cavern roof). The King held up a paw and the Werelupes hushed as one.
“How do you know?” he asked.
“Macejaw told us,” Fanger began.
“Macejaw told you?” the King interrupted, eyes narrowed.
“Yes, he did. He turned up on our doorstep and warned us about the Hunter, but he left so that he wouldn’t draw the Hunter to us.” The King shrugged his shoulders, not satisfied with the answer, but waved for Fanger to go one.
“Macejaw told us that when he met the Hunter, the Hunter wanted to be recognised. But Macejaw couldn’t recognise him because the Hunter had no scent. And then, in Defenders Headquarters, we bumped into Judge Hog, and he had red eyes. He’s bewitching Neopia Central, just like he did to almost everyone here.”
The Werelupes in the cavern muttered among themselves. Fanger watched the King. The near-black Werelupe looked thoughtful as he leaned back against his throne.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if this Hunter was Shadowheart,” he said after a moment. “After we banished him, there’s no way he can join us again, so why not destroy us.” He chuckled, and Apsy wondered why. “He has guts to try and eliminate all Werelupes.”
“And all Halloween Lupes too.”
The King turned to look at Viyexen, who stared defiantly back. “He’s convinced Neopia Central to capture all Halloween Lupes and their families. That’s why we had to leave.” She gestured to her three companions, who nodded with her.
“And you are...?” the King said.
Viyexen introduced herself and her companions also said their names. Apsy looked around for Jorange and saw him standing to the side with the Adventurer Hat tipped over his face. She could just see his eyes, watching the King.
“This is Jorange,” Apsy said, gesturing to him.
The King glanced at him and took in the bandages that he still wore. He seemed to appreciate that they were there and gave a slight nod.
There was a loud roar from farther down the tunnel, and Apsy saw a few stones fall from the ceiling. The next moment, a giant Werelupe bounded into the room on his back legs. If his size wasn’t startling enough, the fact that he had four arms was. He had a limp blue shape slung over his shoulder, and he strode up to the King and placed it at his paws, going down on one knee and bowing his head. He still managed to be taller.
“Gnarfas?” the King said. “What is it?”
Gnarfas rose up, and his eyes flashed with anger.
“I went to look for Sharpeyes like you told me to, after he went missing,” he said in a barely understandable voice. “And I found him.” He pointed a paw at the blue shape lying on the ground.
The cavern erupted into chaos as the Werelupes began to bark, howl and make other outraged noises. Apsy angled her ears away from the sound, but it wasn’t very helpful. Gnarfas was trembling with anger. Apsy knew he was the King’s right-paw Lupe, but he was extremely dangerous when angered.
It seemed like hours before the noise died down. The King made no move to quieten his subjects, only stared at the unconscious blue Lupe at his paws. His eyes were closed.
At last it was quiet as the Werelupes waited for their sovereign to speak. A full minute passed before the King’s eyes snapped open. Some of the red in his eyes had darkened, and the dark tendrils were swirling. He let loose a snarl that sent a shiver up Apsy’s spine and filled the entire cavern.
Then the King stood up on his hind legs, drawing himself up to his full height. He clenched his paw, then slowly unclenched it again.
“Shadowheart has been at large for too long!” he shouted. “First he committed treason, and now he seeks to take away our colour, our birthright, our pride. He seeks to turn Neopia against us, but he cannot stand the might of the Werelupes forever. With your permission, friends, I myself seek to hunt the Hunter. Together we will take Shadowheart down forever.”
A cacophony of howls greeted his words.
To be continued...