The Werelupe Hunter: Part Seven
Viyexen moved up to Apsy’s side as the Werelupes howled around her. She shivered at their savagery.
“What about the humans? And other innocent pets?” she asked. Apsy turned to her with a pained expression from the noise. “If Shadowheart has got them under his control, can we actually fight them?”
Apsy looked troubled and turned to her companion Fanger. But the massively built Halloween Lupe was howling with gusto along with the other Werelupes. The Werelupe wearing the Adventurer Hat, the one that had saved her from what she suspected was this Shadowheart pet, managed to hear her and sidled closer.
“I won’t fight them if they’re under a spell,” he said clearly.
Apsy nodded. “I wouldn’t either. I’m sure the Werelupe King won’t start hurting civilians, because that would make it worse. But until he gets his paws on Shadowheart, I don’t think he will be satisfied.” She surveyed the howling Werelupes. “I don’t think his subjects will either.”
Viyexen watched them, fascinated. She had never seen anything like it. All her family were Lupes, and some of them were wild Lupes from the Plains, and she was a Werelupe herself. But she had never seen anything so amazing. The Werelupes looked terrible, with gleaming fangs bared and heads thrown back letting loose blood-chilling howls, but they were also beautiful as well. She almost had the urge to throw back her head and join in with them, but she resisted.
She looked over at the three Werelupes who had joined her on her way out of Neopia Central, fleeing from angry anti-Werelupe mobs. She had brought them to the only place where she thought Werelupes were welcome: the Haunted Woods. And then she had gone to find food and been attacked. It could have been Shadowheart. It had definitely been brown as well. Then she had bumped into these three Werelupes, two who were on speaking terms with the Werelupe King. And now she was caught up in what seemed to be the cause of the anti-Werelupe mobs.
The King finally ran out of breath and looked around at his subjects, an expression of what Viyexen thought was pleasure on his face. They howling died away and he began to pace back and forth in the gathering silence, lost in thought. One of Viyexen’s refugee companions came up to her, ears pressed flat against his head.
“I don’t like this, Viy,” he muttered under his voice.
Viyexen pressed her tail against his side for comfort. “This is the only way you can go back to your family,” she said, trying to comfort him.
The thought of his family made his face light up and he nodded, stepping away and watching the Werelupe King with new interest. The King lifted his head at the same moment and said quite clearly, “We need a plan.”
Viyexen tried to bite back a chuckle, but failed. The King’s gaze snapped onto her.
“What?” he asked.
“You’re the leader here, you’re the one that’s supposed to think up the plan,” Viy pointed out reasonably, cowed by his gaze, but not willing to show it.
He bared his teeth in a frightening grin. “So I am. But I’m not too proud to ask for help. I couldn’t have beat Shadowheart last time without Silverfang and Daggerclaw. Or even Gnarfas.” The giant six-limbed Werelupe grunted and, moved to stand behind the King’s throne. “I am a King, which means I must work with my subjects, not against them. That is why I ask for ideas.”
“It would help if we knew exactly what you’re trying to achieve.” Viyexen looked at Fanger, who had finally caught his breath from his long-winded howl. “Are we just trying to get our paws on Shadowheart? Or are we going to start a war?”
“Too late,” said a cool voice from behind them.
Viyexen didn’t recognise the newcomer – she didn’t know any of the wild Werelupes – but clearly the others did. There was much growling and snarling, and the Werelupess had her own guard of honour. The six Werelupes that had been stationed at the entrance to the throne room were ranged in a loose circle around her, eyeing her suspiciously. She saw Gnarfas move in front of the King, off to the side only enough to let the King see.
“How did you get in?” the King growled, striding up to meet her. Gnarfas followed like a shadow. And a large one, at that.
“Not easily, I can assure you, your Majesty,” the Werelupess replied in a mocking tone. “I have plenty of your people watching me. But that is beside the point. I’m here to tell you that the Werelupe Hunter has already started a war – Neopia against you.”
“I find it interesting that the Werelupe Hunter would employ a Werelupe in his service, Redfang,” said the King. “But enough of pretences; we know that the Hunter is Shadowheart.”
Redfang looked down at herself, completely ignoring his last comment. “But am I a Werelupe?” she asked softly.
Viyexen frowned, and then suddenly saw that Redfang wasn’t a Werelupe, she just looked like one. Her fangs were that tiny bit shorter, her fur smoother and thinner. She was a brown Lupe with red eyes.
The King took a step back from her, eyes shocked. “I can understand Shadowheart forsaking his true heritage; he is a mad fool. But you? Even you would not sink that low, would you?”
Redfang met his eyes. “I am a Werelupe,” she said in a low voice.
The King shook his head wordlessly. “Is that all?” he demanded.
Redfang looked thoughtful, then she nodded. “Yes, that is all. Now will you keep me here or give me a message to pass on to my master?”
“A message,” the King said immediately. “I would tell you to tell Shadowheart that he is mad, and a traitor and many other things, but I’m sure he already knows, or has been told. So tell him something that he may not believe. Tell him that he won’t win.”
Redfang nodded. “Straight to the point, with a veiled threat as well,” she said with a grin. “You have style, Majesty.” She had lost her brooding expression and tone, and instead sounded and looked positively gleeful. “Until we meet again. On the battlefield.”
And she turned and left with her guard trailing her to the door.
After a moment Viyexen moved up to Apsy’s side. “Who was that?” she asked.
Apsy was watching the entrance with narrowed eyes. “That was Redfang, Shadowheart’s right-paw Lupe. I’ve always thought she was nasty to the core, but now I’m not so sure.” She looked up at the King, who was shaking his head in disbelief.
“What exactly did Shadowheart do before now?” Viyexen asked.
“Well, first he bewitched a few dozen Werelupes so he could harass Neopians, then he cheated the King out of his throne and bewitched all the wild Werelupes, trying to start a war with Neopia.”
“I remember that,” Viyexen said, nodding. She had heard about in the Neopian Times. “But it stopped before it even started.
“That would be Fanger and I who did that,” Apsy said. “He broke the spell the first time, and then we helped the King break the spell the second time.”
“Only who will break the spell this time?” Viyexen asked. “It seems to me that the best solution would be to make Shadowheart so insignificant and isolated that he can’t effect anyone anymore.”
A slow grin spread on Apsy’s face. “I’ve got it,” she whispered triumphantly. “We can give him a taste of his own medicine and make him lose all confidence. Oh, I can’t wait till we get ours paws on him.”
Viyexen was tempted to ask what her idea was, but she knew that look; Apsy wouldn’t tell until the exact right moment. It was the same look her siblings got when they wanted to annoy her. Stupid withheld ideas.
The King finally stopped looking stunned and addressed the Werelupes again.
“It seems that we must meet Shadowheart in the battlefield. But I don’t want any of my subjects dying unnecessarily. Shadowheart will probably be leading his pets, so that he can gloat. So first I will talk to him, and only then will we fight. Remember, the Neopians are under a spell, just as we were.”
“But they want us gone either way,” a Werelupe next to Viyexen growled. Thankfully no one else seemed to hear.
The King let out a brief howl, different in tone to the previous savage ones. The Werelupes in the throne room shifted as more of their kind began to leak into the cavern from other tunnels. The King led the way out, and when they were under the moonlight he let out another howl. More Werelupes joined as the host marched towards Neopia Central, many howling every now and then to call more Werelupes to their cause.
Viyexen tried to count them, but there were too many, and they were walking haphazardly through the gnarled trees, spread out enough that she couldn’t see them all. The King walked up the front with Gnarfas circling him and Apsy and Fanger on either side. Viyexen fell into step with Jorange, who met her eyes, nodded once, and then continued on silently, eyes darting around to take in the proceedings under his hat.
A shape blocked the moon momentarily and many Werelupes looked up and growled as a green Shoyru dropped out of the sky, heading for the King. Viyexen expected Gnarfas to seize it before it reached the King, but Gnarfas merely stared at it until its features became recognisable, grunted, and let it land on the ground.
“That’s Fanger’s sister, Kieavin,” Jorange murmured in her ear. “She’s strange.”
The green Shoyru moved closer to her brother as he said something to her. Her eyes lit up and she bounded on the balls of her paws. “That explains a lot!” she said happily. “Because the pets are under his spell.” Viyexen guessed that Fanger had told her about Shadowheart. “But not the humans! Some humans aren’t on his side.”
Viyexen felt better at this news. It meant that her owner was free. But she still had all her siblings who were ensnared by the spell. Unless they had never been on his side to begin with, which would make her feel so much better.
The King nodded but kept silent. The Werelupes continued on, and eventually it became silent except for the tramp of heavy footsteps. Viyexen guessed that there were several hundred Werelupes gathered by now, and it was gradually getting darker, the sun already behind the horizon. A waxing half moon was just visible.
The Werelupes did not seem to be in much of a hurry; in fact they seemed happier that it was night now. They had reached the fringes of the Woods, where the trees were actually alive. Viyexen looked across the Plains and saw a dark mass that wasn’t part of the Plains, moving steadily closer. It seemed that Shadowheart had decided to move as well.
Within the hour Viyexen guessed she would have been able to see the colours of the pets if it had been daylight. She could vaguely make out shapes, some of them human. As the two sides came together the King walked ahead with only Gnarfas to accompany him, and Viyexen saw two shapes break off from the other side.
She finally saw Shadowheart, who looked almost like a Werelupe in the same way that Redfang did. She stopped with the Werelupe host fifty metres away from the other side as Shadowheart and the King met in the middle.
All they could do now was wait.
To be continued...