Reunited: Part Five
Shanna shielded her deep brown eyes from the unyielding rays of sunlight which were pouring through the leaves of the tall trees above her. She was a little anxious about being under the trees again, but perhaps they were more friendly in the daylight hours. At least they hadn’t tried to attack Shanna and Smokey yet.
It was barely past sunrise, and Shanna was certain they would be reaching their destination in a short matter of time, wherever their destination happened to be. Smokey seemed to know where he was going; indeed, it was hard for Shanna to keep up with him, as she had much less strength and her legs were considerably shorter. She couldn’t believe how much Smokey had grown since she’d seen him last. She had always been shorter than him, but now it was as if he was a giant. She wondered if Snow had grown also; he would probably be taller than Smokey.
She was pulled away from her thoughts by Smokey’s voice. “We’re here.”
Shanna hoisted herself up onto a rock. She and Smokey were standing on a sort of short overhanging cliff. About six feet beneath them slept thirty or so Werelupes.
“I really don’t want to hurt any of them,” said Smokey sadly. “So please be very, very quiet.”
Shanna nodded solemnly. “Where is he?”
Smokey raised a black finger and pointed at a little cave just beyond the sleeping Werelupes. “They’ve been keeping him there. They’ve brought him meals and such, they’re not cruel creatures, they just didn’t want me to leave with him.”
“And so they’ve kept him locked up, I see.” Shanna began to estimate just how big of a jump she would have to take to get off of the overhanging ledge. “They’re a bit unwilling to let go, aren’t they?”
Smokey nodded. “Like I said, they’re very protective creatures.” He appeared to be deep in thought for a moment before continuing, “I’ll go down first, then I’ll help you down. No offense, but you’re a bit short.”
Shanna nodded. “None taken.” She hadn’t been all that enthusiastic about the jump down by herself, and was more than happy to accept help from her much taller brother.
Smokey took a deep breath, obviously preparing himself for a job which would have to be both quick and quiet. Then, with one last look back, he jumped from the ledge with surprising grace for one of his size, landing lightly and soundlessly just feet away from the first slumbering Werelupe. He then looked back up and held up his arms. Shanna too took a deep breath, placed her hands on her hips, and took a good look down. She closed her eyes and jumped into her brother’s waiting arms.
Smokey seemed surprised at how easy she was to lift, and nearly dropped her, “Don’t you ever eat?” he scolded her.
Shanna folded her arms as he let her down, “Not all of us are huge muscular brutes, you know.”
“Alright, truce,” he whispered back.
Together they tip toed through the sleeping Werelupes, heading for the tiny cave. As Shanna passed one Werelupe, he grunted a little in his sleep, and she gasped as quietly as she could.
“Relax,” said Smokey very silently. “Look.” He pointed to the Werelupe that had grunted, and Shanna noticed that his eyelids were moving slightly. “He’s dreaming,” explained Smokey, “Now come on!”
Shanna followed, taking care to be much more quiet. Despite what Smokey and Sophie said about Werelupes being merciful creatures, she did not want to witness how angry a Werelupe would be when it was aroused from its sleep unexpectedly.
After what seemed to the brown Lupess like an eternity, they reached the little cave. The Werelupes had rolled a huge stone in front of it, which was covered in the same creepy moss that covered most wildlife in the Haunted Woods. It also appeared very heavy.
Smokey pushed all of his weight against the gigantic boulder, which rolled feebly out of the way. He motioned for Shanna to follow, and then squeezed through the gap he had made when he pushed the boulder out of the way. She followed him obediently.
The cave was much larger than she had expected, from its tiny entrance. Smokey’s head skimmed the ceiling a bit, but Shanna had a good foot or so above her. The chamber inside the cave was perfectly circular, and sitting in the middle of the chamber on the damp floor was...
“Daddy!” she exclaimed, and flung herself into his arms. Alexander seemed flustered for a moment, then took a good look at the Lupess who was hugging him.
She nodded, watching his face break into a smile. He looked older than when she had seen him last, the fur across his jaw and around his eyes was whiter than it had been. His grey eyes also had a gloomy look about them, but that had lessened when he spotted his daughter. He looked from son to daughter, obviously not believing his eyes.
“So I’m assuming I’ve been let go?”
Smokey winced slightly, then helped his father to his feet. Smokey and Alexander were within an inch of each other’s height, Alexander being only barely taller than his son. “Not exactly. We’re kind of going for the sneak out approach.”
The pirate colored Lupe rubbed his hands together as if this was all good fun. “Ah, sneaking, my favorite game...” A mischievous twinkle had come to his eye, making him look far younger. Shanna couldn’t help but smile. Her father had always loved sneaking around people without them noticing it, though Shanna never understood why. It was good to know at least that there were some things that just never changed.
“Follow me,” said Smokey in his deep whisper, and the other two Lupes followed close behind. They made it out of the cave, but now they faced a bigger problem, as Shanna had been expecting. Why was nothing ever easy?
One of the Werelupes had woken up, apparently supposed to be on guard. Why couldn’t the guard just have slept a little over, so the exit would have been as easy as the entrance?
“What now?” whispered Shanna and Alexander simultaneously.
Smokey glared at them both. “Why are you asking me?”
Shanna shrugged, “Aren’t big brothers supposed to have an answer for everything?”
“I was sort of assuming that you were the head of the operation, seeing as you know the Werelupes better than Shanna or I,” chimed Alexander.
Smokey let out a sigh of exasperation. “Well, I suppose I could distract him enough to get him to follow me, then you two would be free to go and I could catch up with you.”
Shanna rose her eyebrows, not really liking that idea in the least. “So we can just lose track of you again? No thanks.”
“Hear, hear,” agreed her father.
“What then?” Smokey whispered fiercely.
From her spot beside her father just inside the cave’s entrance, she heard something, as if someone was moving up beside her. She shushed her brother and father and pricked up her ears, listening closely. Smokey and Alexander didn’t make another sound, but were also listening.
It was a very faint snapping, not anywhere near the snaps she had heard before they had been attacked by those strange trees, but still, it was a sound. Almost like a boot stepping on a twig.
The silence was unnerving. All Shanna could hear was the rather fast beat of her heart pounding against her chest, and the snapping of the twig. Whatever it happened to be, it was very close.
Shanna turned quickly, and would have screamed if a hand had not covered her mouth.
“Keep it down won’t you, child?” said a familiar voice.
When the hand was removed from her mouth, Shanna exclaimed quietly, “Sophie! You were following us?”
Alexander interrupted, “Wait a moment, you two know Sophie the Swamp Witch?”
It was Smokey who answered, “Shanna does, but with all due respect, this isn’t the time for questions, Father. I don’t know what to do.”
Sophie let out the most quiet laugh she could muster, “You’ve forgotten, I am a witch.” The Ixi began pillaging through a sack at her feet. Moments later, she emerged, but looking fearful and furious at herself. “I don’t believe it,” she said through gritted teeth, “I’ve forgotten my staff!”
“We’re just going to have to wing it then,” said Alexander. “On the count of three, we’ll all try to sneak past that Werelupe.”
They all agreed, a bit reluctantly, but they saw no other alternative.
Carefully the four meandered their way between the Werelupes, Shanna with a growing sense of dread. She knew this wasn’t going to work. She didn’t know how, she just knew.
Sure enough, a moment later, the guard Werelupe turned swiftly on the spot and noticed them. A chill ran up Shanna’s spine as the Werelupe let out a deathly howl.
As one, the Werelupes woke instantly from their sleep, spotting the four in the center. They didn’t appear to want to attack, but were circling them slowly, menace in each step. Alexander had taken a cautious step forward, and a nearby Werelupe growled and said, “You’ll not be leaving here. Unless you leave without the shadow one.”
Shanna gasped. She had never known that Werelupes could talk. It must have been true what Smokey had said earlier, about the Werelupes being intelligent creatures.
“Brifondel, let us pass,” said Smokey. Shanna assumed that Brifondel was the Werelupe who had spoken.
“Let you pass? We’ve chased you for days and you expect us to just let you pass?” His voice sent gave Shanna shivers. It was deep and rough and unpleasant. “We took you in,” continued the Werelupe, “when you were just a cub, and now you seek to just leave us, after all we have done for you?”
Smokey sighed with the air of explaining something he had explained many times before. “Brifondel, you know that it’s not like that. I am grateful for everything the pack has done for me. I am close to many of you; you were the only friends I had for a very long time, but...” He sighed again, gesturing toward Shanna and Alexander. “But I have my own family. My real family. I’ve been searching for them for such a long time; I’ve told you all the story. Sometimes you just have to move on...”
The Werelupes had not liked this in the least. Many snarled and bared their teeth, shocked by his apparent ungratefulness.
What happened next was very fast. The Werelupes suddenly closed in on the four, grabbing for each of them. Shanna screamed and tried to get out of the way before the Werelupes got to her. She ran into something very hard and fell to the ground. She felt huge hands picking her up around the waist, then holding on tight. Shanna screamed again, knowing it was a Werelupe who had grabbed her.
She looked up into his deep red eyes in fear. She noticed it was none other than Brifondel, the Werelupe with whom Smokey had argued. Unable to look at the blood red eyes, she sought out her brother, father, and Sophie.
The three of them were also being held by different Werelupes, each one looking more furious than the next. The Werelupes also sounded like they were arguing about something, but too many were speaking at once in their rough voices that she couldn’t make out what they were saying. The longer they held the three Lupes and the Swamp Witch, the louder the argument grew, until it actually hurt to listen to it. Soon, a few of them had started fighting.
Shanna winced as she watched. Those Werelupe claws and teeth were very sharp, not to mention how heavily muscled each and every one of them appeared to be. She imagined that those who were fighting must have been very agitated to want to hurt themselves so badly.
“Stop!” Shanna yelled, for it was getting out of hand, “Stop!”
Suddenly, another extremely loud voice added to the chaos, “STOP!” And then, something very odd happened. A large blast swept the through the large crowd, knocking them all to the ground. Shanna let out a muffled yelp as Brifondel fell right on top of her, then quickly picked her up again. Shanna looked around to see what had caused the blast, and noticed Sophie. She was standing in the very center of the crowd, and the Werelupes were backing away from her. The Swamp Witch looked out of breath and confused.
Shanna was feeling a bit confused as well. She had never seen Sophie do magic without her staff before. Perhaps it was true what the locals said about what happened when witches lost their tempers. According to the stories, when a witch lost her temper, her bottled up anger came forth from her in sudden surges of power. Shanna had not been sure if that was truth until now.
“Now, will you all kindly shut your yaps and stop killing each other?”
Shanna had an idea that the Werelupes would do whatever the witch asked.
“You need to listen to what Smokey is trying to say,” continued the Swamp Witch, whose temper was threatening to burst forth again. “If you really cared about Smokey here, you’d want him to be happy, and he’ll be happier with his family.”
Smokey nodded. There was still a Werelupe holding him as well, but not as tightly as before. “Listen, you can’t imagine how thankful I am that all of you took me in as a pack cub, but I can’t stay here; I’m not a Werelupe. Let’s face it, I never really fit in here anyway.”
Almost all of the Werelupes seemed to be nodding, ashamed of themselves. Then, the Werelupe holding Smokey let him go with a look of sadness that Shanna would never have imagined on such a sinister looking face. Brifondel did not slacken his grip until a much larger Werelupe gestured for him to do so. Soon Alexander, Shanna, Smokey, and Sophie were all free and standing side-by-side. Smokey was staring at a Werelupe who had fallen to the ground in the fight.
It was then that Sophie ran back to the cave. When she came back, she was carrying the potion Shanna had packed. She carefully poured some on the Werelupe’s wounds. Soon, he was just fine.
“This is a very effective healing potion,” explained Sophie. “I had made it in case one of us were hurt, but it appears that we didn’t need it after all.”
The Werelupe she had healed grunted in thanks, and then the four departed.
“So, what now?” asked Smokey.
Alexander laughed. “Isn’t it obvious? We need to find a way out of these Woods, then we can find Snow and Teradell, your mother that is.”
Shanna nodded in agreement, but was focusing on Sophie. Soon the Swamp Witch could no longer continue to pretend not to notice, and said, “It’s really great you’ll be with your family again.”
“Yeah,” said Shanna with a little smile. “But I’m gonna miss you, Sophie.”
“Pah!” said Sophie. “Don’t talk like you’ll never see me again. You’ll have to come for a visit sometime. If you're ever passing through, I’ll be here.” She hugged the brown Lupess.
Shanna hugged her back. “Thanks for everything, Sophie!”
Sophie smiled. “Don’t get all mushy on me.” One last hug, and they both went their separate ways. Shanna hurried to catch up with her brother and father. As they passed through Neovia, several people stared. The elusive brown Lupess who seemed only to come out at night was out in broad daylight! And she was not wearing a cloak. She was also grinning from ear to ear.
“You know we’re going to get back to them,” said Shanna to Alexander and Smokey. “I just know it.” The other two smiled, and together the three of them began their journey.