Dances With Werelupes: Part Two
The Werelupe King peeked his snout over Terra’s shoulder. “Lady Illusen…” he grumbled. “I was not expecting to see you here.”
“The sentiment is mutual,” the Faerie said, folding her arms and tilting her head, looking down at him like a disapproving parent.
A low growl rose from Isengrim’s throat as he stood up. Illusen was taller and longer-limbed than any normal human, but the Werelupe still easily won in the height and bulk division. “Well, then,” he said, ears still low, “we can both go our separate ways and not trouble each other any longer.”
“Tell me,” Illusen said, drumming her fingers on her arms, “are you planning on stealing the chocolatier’s recipes? You’re quite good at taking things that don’t belong to you.”
Isengrim bared his fangs and snapped at her. “How dare you insult me?!”
“How dare you decide you own whatever land you infest?!” The Faerie’s wings shivered, throwing off green sparks.
“I do not infest things—I am not a disease!” Isengrim snarled.
Terra wedged herself between them. “You guys!”
Illusen glanced down at the girl. “Who is this?”
“My name’s Terra,” the human said firmly, “and I’m Isengrim’s owner. And I’m sorry if you have previous grievance with him, but he’s changed since he tried to take your glade.”
“I know all about his entanglement with Brightvale last year,” Illusen huffed. “Meridell has accepted his presence and claim to territory as well.” She looked over her shoulder to where Skarl had been, but the Skeith had now moved on to the dessert tables. Her green eyes snapped back to the owner and Werelupe. “But that does not mean I agree with it.”
Isengrim snorted. “My authority does not rely on your consent. Do not stick your wings where they have no influence.”
“And you would be wise,” Illusen said, “not to speak so flippantly to a Faerie.”
Terra sighed. “Guys, please. Let’s just talk this out. You’re making a scene.” She turned to Illusen. “Okay, so you’re still upset at him for trying to take over your glade all those years ago, right?”
The Faerie nodded. “Twice. Clearly, he learns nothing from his mistakes.”
“That is not true!” Isengrim barked.
Terra looked over at him. “Isengrim, you feel like she’s antagonizing you unfairly.”
He nodded. “If she would just have the sense to look past her own nose instead of speculating about politics and talking to trees, she would see that I am running my kingdom quite well!”
“I still don’t trust you!” Illusen said. “You willingly align yourself with the Darkest Faerie, and you expect—“
“Excuse me, Lady Illusen,” said a Kougra woman wearing a large, feathered hat. “You’re holding up the line.” A crowd of irritated and hungry guests had accumulated while the two were having their debate.
Illusen flushed and stepped aside. Isengrim snickered and she glowered at him. “You expect me to simply forgive you after that? I am not so easily swayed as Skarl or Hagan, I’ll have you know!”
“Who said I ever wanted your forgiveness?” Isengrim growled. “I’ve not come groveling to you like a puppy, although I am sure you enjoy putting yourself on a pedestal like that!”
Terra grimaced and hugged the Werelupe’s arm. “I think you two just need to apologise and let bygones be bygones. Don’t let this fester. It clearly isn’t doing either of you any good.” She looked up at him. “Please, just say you’re sorry. She won’t budge on this until you do.”
Isengrim looked down at her and his lips lowered back over his teeth. He stared at her for a long moment and then nodded. As though it pained him, he looked back to the Faerie. “Lady Illusen,” he began haltingly, putting a paw to his chest. “I apologise for the theft of your domain and your property. I was trying to find a home for my pack and secure greater means for ourselves. We shan’t bother you again.”
Illusen regarded him dubiously. “Apology accepted. I—“ She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I forgive you, Lord Isengrim. And I apologise for treating you with such disdain. Your owner is right—this is a happy occasion, we should not ruin it with our ill feelings.”
She puffed out one cheek and glanced around. “Oh—there’s Fyora—I’ve been meaning to talk to her about… soil alkalinity…” Those were her parting words to the two as she grabbed her food plate and swept away.
Terra and Isengrim watched her go. “Well,” Terra said, “I’m glad you got that resolved.”
Isengrim sighed. “I do not feel like I have made much progress.”
“You have.” Terra put a hand on one of his bone bracers. “It’s hard to see when you’re on the inside looking out, but you have. I mean, you actually got Illusen to apologize, and you know how she holds her grudges. As do you.”
The Werelupe’s tail lifted. “Yes, that is true… thank you, Terra.” He patted her head. “You are so small…” he murmured. “Come, let us sup, and then we shall test this chocolate-maker’s mettle.”
As they ate their light dinner, they chatted with Kings Skarl and Hagan, Isengrim’s closest neighboring rulers as the Werelupe Woods was sandwiched between Meridell and Brightvale.
“It’s an honour to finally meet you,” Hagan mentioned as Terra curtseyed to him. “When last you visited my kingdom, you were under a grievous curse. You must return sometime, I’m sure you would enjoy our libraries.”
“Pharazon and Celice have told me wonderful things about the palace and the university,” Terra said. “I would like to be conscious during my next visit to Brightvale, yes.”
Skarl snickered as he practically inhaled his salad. “Aye, and then you’ll have to stop by for that banquet I promised Isengrim! I shall have double the roasts made!”
Terra’s smile grew politely strained. Before she could say anything, Isengrim put an arm around her shoulders. “Terra does not eat meat,” he explained, “but I shall be happy to help you with those roasts, Skarl.”
“Oh?” Skarl looked at the girl like she was a curiosity. “Do you like potatoes, then?”
Terra grinned in relief. “I love potatoes! Eating them, that is. Not so much counting them.”
Skarl placed a paw on his belly and laughed. “Then you’ll fit right in, lass!”
They chatted for a while about the state of their kingdoms and affairs between them. Lord Darigan popped in for a bit, giving Isengrim a chance to get acquainted with the Citadel’s reclusive ruler as well.
When they had eaten their fill – except for Skarl, who never really quite seemed to be full – they went their separate ways, and Terra practically dragged Isengrim to the chocolate buffet. The tables were piled high with all manner of fantastic cacao creations, from artfully decorated bonbons to bars of unusual flavours such as Carnapepper or mincemeat.
One display even featured an assortment of dark chocolates made with cacao harvested from various areas of Neopia. “I hear Kiko Lake cacao beans are the best,” Terra said, taking one of the bite-size bricks, “since that’s where chocolate originated.”
“They’re good for all-around richness,” a Mutant Usul gentleman across the table said with a nod, “but if you’re looking for more of an earthy taste, do try the Lost Desert chocolate.”
“Oh—okay,” Terra said, reaching for one of those.
The Usul stroked his black neck ruff self-importantly. “And don’t miss out on the Mystery Island chocolate—the abundance of plant life on the island infuses the cacao with a unique floral note.”
Terra grabbed a Mystery Island chocolate. “Neat.”
Isengrim, who had removed his helm again, furrowed his brow in confusion as he picked up a handful of truffles and stuffed them in his maw. “Do you go to school for this?”
“No, some are just blessed with a refined palate,” the Usul said, closing his three eyes as he folded his paws behind his back.
Terra, meanwhile, was taking careful nibbles of each chocolate in turn. “Hm… yeah… I can kinda taste the difference.”
“Perhaps,” said the Usul, “but I doubt you could fully savour and appreciate the subtle nuances the way I can.”
Isengrim leaned over and stuck his nose up to the assortment. “I can smell the difference.” He glanced down at the Usul and grinned roguishly. “How is that for a ‘refined palate’? I do not even have to taste them.”
The Mutant frowned and straightened his waistcoat. Purple tail flicking in agitation at being one-upped, he cleared his throat as though he wanted to say something, but ultimately walked away and began lecturing a nearby Wocky on how different preparation lengths resulted in different chocolate textures.
The Werelupe King chuckled. “I will never understand pets like him.”
“Like you don’t do the same thing with combat,” Terra replied, nudging his ribs with a teasing smile.
Isengrim snickered. “Let’s change the subject.” He looked down at her dress. “You have such a nice gown, I am worried about getting chocolate stains on it.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Terra said. “The high-class Neopia Central hotels have laundry facilities staffed by water mages. They can get out any stain.”
“Mm, that is fortuitous.” Isengrim reached for a chocolate-dipped Doughnutfruit. “It is too bad my ambassador is a fire mage. She would be less than useful for such a thing.”
Terra laughed. “At least she’s great for pyrotechnics shows.”
Isengrim turned the fruit over in his paw, inspecting it. “Do you ever think they will discover a Doughnutfruit Chia…?”
“Augh.” Terra grinned in mock exasperation and leaned her arm against his back, into his fur cape. She rested her forehead on it. “You’re incorrigible.”
The Werelupe King smiled as he snapped up the Doughnutfruit. “I know.”
“Oh, do pardon me,” said a Grey Zafara as she reached for the stacks of chocolate.
Terra drew in a breath and pushed off of Isengrim. “Oh, man. I totally forgot.”
“Mm?” said Isengrim through a mouthful of chocolate and Doughnutfruit.
The owner watched the Zafara nibble daintily at the confectionery. “Blynn wanted me to bring home some chocolate for her. But we can’t take any of this out of the factory.”
Isengrim put a paw on her shoulder. “We will get her some chocolate. Legitimately,” he added upon seeing the sceptical look on Terra’s face. He smiled. “Please do not worry, just enjoy tonight. I will take care of it.”
Terra nodded. “Thanks.”
The musicians suddenly struck up a lively waltz and the dynamic of the room changed. Neopets began flocking to the dance floor and twirling around like a field of multicoloured pinwheels.
Isengrim lifted his head and observed them for a moment, his ears high and alert. Slowly his tail began to wag. “Can we try dancing, please?”
“What?” Terra looked up at him and then over at the dancers. “Really? I mean—do you know how? Because I don’t.”
“Celice gave me a few lessons when I told her I was attending the Ball.” Isengrim put his helmet back on and held out a paw to his owner. “It looks like fun. Please?”
Terra swallowed her last bite of chocolate. “Well…” With a nervous smile, she put her hand in his. “Okay, let’s give it a shot.”
Isengrim gave her hand a squeeze. “It will be fun, I promise.”
He led her over to the open floor space, where the other dancers gave them a wide berth. They seemed less than willing to step so close to someone wearing armour covered in horns and fangs. Terra looked around at them and then turned back to her escort. “Um, yeeeaahhh… I have no idea what I’m doing,” she muttered in embarrassment.
“One hand goes here,” Isengrim explained gently, placing her hand on one of his pauldrons. “And we hold the other out like this.” He clasped her other hand and stretched their arms to the side. Leaning down, he whispered, “Do not be nervous. I am a beginner at this as well.” Beneath the muzzle of his skull-helm, he grinned, showing a bit of fang. “And if anyone has anything to say about it, they will have to answer to me.”
Terra laughed. “I’m sure no one is that stupid.” She looked around Isengrim at the dancing pair behind him. “So uh… now what?”
“Now, we… er… move in circles. I think.” The Werelupe King began to lead her in a slow, swaying pivot.
Terra took a moment to get used to the footwork. “Hm… I think we’re supposed to be moving to the rhythm of the music.”
Isengrim glanced up at the musicians. “Oh. Right.” The two adjusted accordingly.
“This isn’t too bad at all,” Terra said as they began to ease into it. “When you read about it in books, it always seems so much more complicated—“ Isengrim suddenly let out a small yelp and Terra jumped. “Did I just step on your foot?”
“Yes.” Isengrim chuckled. “It’s okay.”
His owner blushed. “Sorry…”
“I assure you, it was not the worst wound I have ever received,” Isengrim said. “Keep going, you are doing great.”
Although they weren’t exactly graceful compared to the more seasoned dancers, gradually the two became more and more confident, and caught up in the sweeping melodies of the music. “Should we try swinging out from each other?” Isengrim asked. “That seems like fun.”
Terra grinned. “Okay!”
On the next upbeat, as the waltz reached its finale, the Werelupe and his owner let go of each other and flung their free hands outward.
“Gah!” A green Lenny stumbled back from beside Isengrim, clutching his beak. “Watch where you swing those paws, you—you ignorant oaf!”
The Werelupe King suddenly bristled and snarled, turning to loom over the unfortunate Neopet. “And you had best watch your tongue, you—“
“Okay!” Terra pulled him back. “This is the part where you apologize and just brush it off.”
Isengrim’s ears turned down and he snorted. He seemed to war within himself for a moment before turning back to the Lenny, who was complaining loudly to his plump Ghost Draik companion. “My apologies… sir,” the Werelupe said, trying to keep a civil tone through gritted teeth.
The Lenny and Draik looked him up and down. “Yes, well,” the offended Neopet finally sniffed. “It’s nice to see you’ve got some manners in you.”
When Isengrim turned back to Terra, his ears were still down and his tail limp. “Maybe this was a bad idea,” he said under his breath.
“Nope.” Terra took his paw. “This was an awesome idea, and we’re going to have fun, and you’re not going to let other people’s poor decisions control you.” She looked into his eyes. “Okay?”
Past the empty eye sockets of his helm, his own crimson eyes searched her face for a moment. Then he broke into a grin and patted her back. “Okay. Thank you, Terra.”
She nodded as they started to get back into dancing. “That’s what owners are for.”
“Aye, small though they be,” he mused.
They danced through the next two pieces of music and enjoyed every bit of it, although they were a little more conscientious of the space around them from that point on. Thankfully, they had no further mishaps, and everyone else let them alone.
When they decided they needed a breather, they retreated to the courtyard outside. It was a surprisingly well-kept little area, neatly-trimmed gardens surrounding a semicircle of benches and the ubiquitous chocolate fountain.
“I’m surprised the chocolatier has all of this here at his factory,” Terra said as she and Isengrim ambled leisurely along the hedgerows. “It really doesn’t look it from the outside.”
“Yes, well, appearances can be deceiving,” Isengrim said with a chuckle. “I ought to know.”
Terra smiled. “I wonder if that fountain is always full of chocolate, or if he just replaces the water with chocolate for the Ball. I can’t imagine him using these areas any other time of the year.”
“Perhaps he enjoys sculpting the shrubbery.” Isengrim pointed a claw to bushes that appeared to have been trimmed in the shape of chocolate bars and bonbons.
His owner laughed, sitting down on a nearby bench. “Somehow this doesn’t surprise me.” As Isengrim came to sit beside her, she folded her hands in her lap. “This was really fun. Thank you so much for inviting me. If you need someone to go with you next year, I’ll definitely keep my schedule free.”
Isengrim took off his helmet and set it down beside him. “I would like that very much. I do not think Suhel would have been able to withstand the allure of the Chias, either.” Terra giggled.
They spent a few moments sitting in silence, watching other attendees moving in and out of the courtyard. Finally Isengrim reached over and patted Terra’s head. “You are so small,” he said again softly, seeming bemused.
Terra started out of her own thoughts to look up at him. “Why do you keep saying that?”
“Because you are my superior,” Isengrim said with a tilt of his head. “I should not have to look down on you.”
His owner leaned in and hugged him. “You’re not my inferior just because I’m your owner. We’re equals. We’re friends.”
Isengrim put an arm around her shoulders. “I think I like that best.”***
The rest of the ball went without a hitch. Terra and Isengrim danced a little more and then mingled with some of the more prominent guests, catching up on news from various Neopian lands. And Illusen stayed well away from her new favourite Werelupe—“favourite” being a relative term. Once they had done everything they felt like doing, the Werelupe King and his owner headed back to the hotel, exhausted but satisfied. This venture had been a success in several ways.
They ended up staying in Neopia Central for a week after the Chocolate Ball, as the travel time to their homes was so long that Terra and Isengrim wanted to take full advantage of their miniature vacation. The two explored what felt like every interesting nook and cranny of the bustling metropolis, from the sprawling museums of the Deep Catacombs to the eclectic shops and cosy hole-in-the-wall restaurants of the Marketplace.
Isengrim even took the opportunity to arrange some ambiguous dealings down at the docks with a raspy-voiced green Skeith who turned out to be Malkus Vile, the infamous crime lord. While he couldn’t disclose the details to Terra, Isengrim promised it wasn’t anything bad and she was in no danger—Vile was just one of the Werelupe King’s oldest associates and his main contact in Neopia Central. It was the Skeith and his network who supplied the Werelupe Burrows with imports from the hub city.
The day before they left for their respective homes, Isengrim took Terra back to the Chocolate Factory – to the shop portion this time – so Terra could show him all of Blynn’s favourite candies. They bought nothing, but Isengrim assured his owner that Blynn would get her chocolate.
And so one sky-ship trip later, Terra burst through her front door with nothing but her luggage. “I’m home!” she shouted, letting her voice echo off of the marble and tile in the foyer.
“Terra!” Blynn scampered out of the kitchen, scrambled toward her owner, and leaped at the girl. “Welcome home!”
Catching the Zafara in her arms, Terra staggered back from the force of the impact. “Thanks!”
“How did it go?” Blynn placed her paws on Terra’s shoulders and pulled back to look at her, tail swishing excitedly. “Did you have fun like you promised?”
“You bet I did!” Terra replied as she carried Blynn toward the north wing of their villa. “How was your Chocolate Hlab?” she asked, using the Zafara’s pronunciation.
Blynn threw up her paws. “Oh man, it was amazing! We decorated the great hall and invited a ton of people – Sasha the Dancer even showed up – and I booked a Sticks N’ Stones tribute band!” She stuck out her tongue. “Because you don’t even wanna know how much the real Sticks N’ Stones charges for gigs.”
Terra rolled her eyes in mock disgust. “Like a bajillion Neopoints?”
“Close, two bajillion.” Blynn sat up in her owner’s arms. “Oh! And Pharazon tried to use some magic to help with the decorations—and he ended up accidentally making chocolate gush out of Hyren’s antennae!”
“Let us never speak of this again.” The blue Grundo in question came walking down the hall to meet them, clutching his antennae like they were garden hoses. “Thankfully one of the guests knew enough magic to cast a counter-spell. But my mouth has tasted like chocolate for the past week.”
Blynn turned around and gave him a curious look. “And… that’s a bad thing, why?”
“I said I was sorry!” Pharazon fluttered down the hall on his delicate Faerie Draik wings. “I was just trying to help!”
“You did help!” Blynn insisted. “It was hilarious!”
Terra grinned. “Sounds like it. You guys should do this every year. Pharazon, I’m sure next year, you’ll be practiced enough to find even cooler ways to pick on your brother,” she said with a wink.
The Draik grimaced. “I wasn’t trying to—“
“Sure, sure,” Hyren said, patting his younger brother’s shoulder. “No harm, no foul. But this chocolate taste had better wear off.”
Pharazon fingered the Lupe Moon Charm around his neck. “I’ll ask Celice if there’s anything I can do about that.”
Blynn watched them in amusement and then turned back to their owner. “Speaking of that, where’s my chocolate?”
“Umm… yes… that…” Terra scratched the back of her neck. “See, uh, the Kiko chocolatier said—“ Before she could finish her sentence, the bell at the front door jangled merrily.
The four gave each other confused looks. “Were you expecting anyone?” Hyren asked.
Terra shook her head. “No, were any of you?”
“Nope…” Blynn jumped out of Terra’s arms and scurried back down the hallway. “But I do love a good surprise!”
“Yeah, I don’t,” Hyren muttered as he jogged after her, his brother and owner in tow.
They got to the foyer in time to see Blynn open the door and stick her head outside. “Weird,” she said, “there’s nobody—hoooooooly Kau.”
The other three ran to the door to see Blynn staring out at three large carts parked in front of their villa, each fully loaded with crates bearing the Chocolate Factory’s stamp. The Zafara’s eyes were as wide as Kreludor as she stumbled over to the wagons as if in a trance. “Is… is this what I think it is?” she whispered reverently. Closing her eyes, she sniffed the air and licked her lips. “’Cause it sure smells like it is!”
“Uhm… surprise!” Terra said, looking rather surprised herself.
“Where are we going to keep all of this?” Hyren asked. “We definitely don’t have room in the pantry.”
Blynn jumped onto one of the wagons, standing atop the crates like a mighty ruler of chocolatedom. “Well, we’ll just have to use the great hall as a chocolate storage room! It might as well see some use the rest of the year, right?”
As the Zafara pried the lid off of one of the crates and wriggled inside, Terra took notice of a nondescript envelope leaning against the side. She opened it and unfolded the letter within. After a cursory glance, she smiled.
“Who’s it from?” Pharazon asked.
“’To my family,’” Terra read. “’Worry not, for your year’s supply of chocolate was legally acquired, I assure you.’”
“Thank goodness for that,” Hyren groaned, running a hand down his face.
“’May we meet again soon, and may the fates smile upon you, as they have upon me for granting me such a wonderful family. All of my love, Isengrim.’” Terra looked up and leaned against the cart. “He does spoil us.”
Blynn popped back out of the crate, nibbling on an Orange Chocolate Nova. “That was sure nice of him. He miscalculated, though.”
Terra glanced up at her. “Oh?”
“This chocolate should only last me a month, at most.”
With a snort, Terra reached up and gently shoved her Zafara back into the crate.