The King of Werelupes: Part Six
The main cavern looked much the same as it had when Apsy and Fanger had left before; a crowd of Werelupes watching two others circle cautiously around each other. Except Apsy recognised Shadowheart and her eyes narrowed.
Ember was pushing her way roughly through the crowd of Werelupes, who stared down at her, startled, then began to rumble low in their throats as they realised that she was just a human.
Apsy started forward to divert them, but Fanger was already there, pacing steadily behind Ember and baring his impressive white fangs. After a moment Macejaw had leapt onto Shadowheart, and the Werelupes lost interest to watch the fight.
Apsy had no idea what they were fighting about, but it looked brutal. She had always imagined fighting to be graceful; a series of well-practised and refined movements. But instead it was clumsy and rough. Or maybe that was just the combatants’ fault.
Shadowheart had the advantage of size and weight, and he rammed Macejaw into the cavern wall; the Werelupes blocking the way simply melted to the sides to give him a clear path.
But Macejaw recovered quickly and made a series of swipes with his claws, which Shadowheart ducked under as he backed away to the centre of the cavern again. He leered at Macejaw with yellowed fangs.
“You will lose, Macejaw,” he growled.
Macejaw gave a feral snarl and darted forward, but Shadowheart tripped him up and pushed his back to the ground, paws pushing down on his shoulders.
“I’ve won, Macejaw, face it,” he said in a calm voice.
“No,” said Macejaw, but his voice was uncertain.
The Werelupes surrounding them closed ranks silently, with none of the howling from before.
“Yes, I have,” Shadowheart said again, his voice taking on an inviting tone.
“Yes, you have,” Macejaw repeated.
Shadowheart grinned and let him up, backing away, and Apsy heard a loud hiss from next to her. She looked and saw Fanger’s eyes wide.
“What is it?” she whispered.
His nostrils were flared and his luminous eyes were wide.
“Macejaw’s eyes are turning black,” he said in a low tone. “Look.”
Apsy looked and her eyes narrowed. The Werelupe’s glowing red eyes had black swirls in them, slowly overtaking the red.
“What’s happening?” she asked Fanger, unconsciously moving towards him.
Fanger dragged his eyes away. “I think... I think Shadowheart’s using his magic on him. My eyes turned from green to red under Shadowheart’s influence, but Macejaw’s eyes were already red, so they’re just getting darker and darker.”
“Well, I don’t care!” said Ember from just in front of Fanger, and she pushed through the last of the Werelupes and marched right up to Shadowheart.
He turned and narrowed his eyes at her, but then his gaze drifted over his shoulder and he saw Apsy and Fanger. He smiled crookedly.
“Silverfang, Daggerclaw, what a pleasant surprise,” he said. “Have you come to witness my triumph over the Werelupes?”
“Triumph?” A Werelupe at the edge of the circle stepped forward, scornful. “You challenged someone fresh out of battle. It was not a fair fight.”
“Yet placing a potion in the old King’s dinner was fair?” Shadowheart’s voice became calm and convincing again. “I think what I did was fair. I’m sure you see that now.”
“...Yes...” Apsy looked at the other Werelupe and saw with a shock that black tendrils were swirling in her eyes as well.
“I thought you might think so,” Shadowheart said conversationally, gloating in his voice. He turned to Apsy and said in a confiding way, “I never thought it would be so easy to influence Werelupes already untamed.”
Apsy narrowed her eyes at him as he turned and addressed the cavern.
“My subjects. You accept me as your King.” It was not a question, but a statement.
Apsy spun full circle and saw the other Werelupes’ eyes darkening as they murmured their assent.
“Then the first thing you can do is seize these two Werelupes here. And that human,” Shadowheart paused as the Werelupes swarmed forward. “And the three pets in the corner.” From the corner of her eyes Apsy saw her siblings being seized. Shadowheart looked satisfied. “I’ll show you where to put them.”
Apsy didn’t even bother struggling amidst the mass of Werelupes, but she saw Ember kicking and punching. Shadowheart led the way through the passages until it opened out and revealed a small cave with a metal grill on the floor.
It was only when Shadowheart stopped by the entrance that Apsy realised that underneath the grill was a pit twenty five metres deep.
Shadowheart motioned two Werelupes to heave the grill up, then shoved Apsy unceremoniously down. A single rope trailed down the side of the pit, and she grasped it desperately with her paws halfway down, stinging the already burnt pads. She slid for a metre or so down the rope, then her grip loosened and she fell heavily onto the floor. The rope had saved her from serious injury by slowing her fall.
She looked up and scrabbled out of the way as Fanger came down. He managed to hold on for longer because of his uninjured paws, and his landing was lighter. Apsy leapt past him and caught Anubia, who nodded in grudging thanks.
When they were all not-so-safely down, the grill banged shut above them. Ember growled as she nursed her sprained wrist.
Fanger was reared on his hind legs, but even then was less than a sixth of the way up.
“Do you think if one of us climbed the rope they could open the grill?” he asked, squinting up.
“It took two Werelupes to lift that thing up,” Anubia said. “Not to mention the fact that whoever tried would be hanging from a rope...” she let her voice trail off and Fanger sighed, defeated.
“I guess we just wait,” Apsy said. She saw Ember’s eyes narrow; she didn’t like waiting. But it was the only thing they could do.
Apsy was dozing when she heard the grill lift up. She looked up to see two Werelupes leaning over the side. One of them looked vaguely familiar; and the other... had four arms. She blinked and looked again. Definitely four powerful limbs holding up the grill as the first Werelupe tied one of the bars to a hook on the roof.
The next moment a rope ladder had been let down, and the first Werelupe called down to them.
“Those of you who can climb that thing climb it, and then we’ll haul the rest of you up.”
Ember went first, scaling the ladder easily because she was a human. Sonikki had more trouble, and Sky didn’t even make the attempt because he had no legs. Anubia didn’t because her legs were too short. Apsy exchanged a look with Fanger, and he shrugged and made an attempt, very carefully hauling himself up as the ladder swung unsteadily. He made it, scrambling up onto the ledge with relief.
Apsy didn’t think she could do it because of her burns, and was the last one to be pulled up, a bit embarrassed because she knew as a Halloween Lupe that she weighed a lot. She rubbed her sore midriff as she stared at the first Werelupe.
“You’re the King!” she exclaimed. “Well, not exactly the King now, but...”
“He is the proper King. Macejaw cheated!” The Werelupe with the six legs advanced on her, growling.
Apsy took a step back, but the former King placed a paw on the Werelupe’s back. “Gnarfas,” he said in a low voice. Gnarfas stopped and back off.
“I thought you’d recognise him first,” Apsy whispered in Ember’s ear. “He is the King.”
Ember gave her a weird look. “Not anymore. He lost his crown.” She turned to the former King. “Can I call you Dude, for now?”
The Werelupe’s eyes narrowed, and Gnarfas stepped forward.
“You can call him My Liege,” he growled.
“But Dude has a better ring to it,” Ember said, mostly to herself.
Gnarfas growled, but once again the former King calmed him with a paw.
“Sir will do,” he said. “In fact, just pretend that Sir is my name, and we’ll get along just fine.” He bared his teeth.
“How did you get us out?” Fanger spoke up. “I thought Shadowheart would have left guards on us.”
The King shook his head. “There’s no one left here anymore. After Macejaw beat me,” he paused and bitterness crept into his tone, “I went to the outer caverns to find Gnarfas. He is my most loyal sub... soldier. And I couldn’t be sure of my own safety after just losing a battle for the crown. We came back and the Burrows were empty. You say Shadowheart is in control now?”
“Yes,” Fanger said. “He’s using his magic to make all the Werelupes obey him.”
The King’s eyes narrowed. “I always knew that he was different. When he went to round up recruits a few months ago I didn’t learn of his mind-control magic until Daggerclaw broke the spell and it was in the news.” He grinned wryly. “Yes, I read the news. It’s important to know what it going on in Neopia.”
Apsy watched Fanger closely, but he didn’t acknowledge the Werelupe name given to him by Shadowheart.
“So what are we going to do now?” Apsy asked.
“You help us find one of the Werelupes who resisted the spell before. They can help us beat Shadowheart,” said the King, and Gnarfas growled in agreement.
Apsy exchanged a grin with Fanger. “I know just where to find them,” she said.
To be continued...