Wicked in the Woods: Part Two
Wrey left the swamp in higher spirits than she thought possible, Sophie’s gift dangling about her neck as she trotted towards the Deserted Fairground. It suddenly seemed like she just might be able to manage the amazing feat of rescuing her brother from a large pack of Werelupes; all she needed was the help of the Mutant Kougra named Garith that Sophie had told her to meet. The Uni looked up at the sky and shivered. It was dawn now and it meant that while she was passed out precious hours had slipped by, time that was of the essence if she were to save her brother before he became a Werelupe himself.
It took her about thirty minutes to reach the outside of the fairground, and much to her surprise nothing had tried to attack her along the way. It seemed that the magic of the amulet protected from more than the Swamp Witch had told her it would. Wrey smiled as she thought of the crabby woman; she may have had a sour demeanor but her heart was in the right place.
The Gate of the fairground creaked slowly in and out with the breeze as Wrey stepped through it, looking around carefully for the Kougra she was supposed to find. As she made her way farther into the fairground, she could hear the Aisha at the Cork Gun Gallery trying to talk a hesitant ghost Blumaroo into playing a round.
“Come on sir! Step right up! Don’t all those prizes look so lovely?” the Aisha asked, fluttering her eyelashes innocently.
“Uh... not really, ma’am,” the Blumaroo muttered, clearly trying to resist playing.
“Awww, come on! It’s only 100 neopoints! Think of the profit if you knock something down! Though I will have to ask you to pay up front for every shot... the last guy I had here ran off when he missed ten times in a row. I knew that Kougra was no good!”
Wrey turned around and made her way up to the stand after she heard the blue Aisha mention a Kougra. “Excuse me?” she asked the Aisha meekly. “Did you say a Kougra? What color was he?”
The Aisha, who was still in the middle of convincing the Blumaroo to play, did not take kindly to the interruption. “Unless you’re gonna play, honey, don’t talk to me. If you wanna rip his heart out, though, then I suppose I’d be happy to tell ya.”
“Uh... yeah... I was sent by the tax beast to collect some of his debt,” the Uni lied innocently, looking up at the Aisha wide-eyed.
“You’re a collector?” the Aisha let out a raucous laugh. “A pretty little flower like you? I don’t think so, but if you really feel like taking him on, I think he ran off towards the Wheel of Misfortune. It’s fairly fitting since his whole existence is a misfortune, being a mutant and all. Ha!”
“Oh thank you!” Wrey said happily, but the Aisha had already turned back to the Blumaroo and didn’t even look her way. Walking faster with a slight spring in her step, the Uni made her way towards the wheel, the whole while trying to find the Kougra from a distance.
When she finally did see him, however, it became apparent why she couldn’t spot him from afar. In her head, she had imagined a Kougra that was proud and brave looking; this one was huddled up just outside of the fence around the Wheel of Misfortune looking sorry for himself and wearing a shirt and a pair of trousers that looked like they’d make better dish rags than clothes. Wrey opened her mouth in shock; this was the help that Sophie had given her?
“Garith?” she asked quietly, hoping it wasn’t the case.
Her heart sank as he lifted his head to look at her. “What do you want? Money? Well, I haven’t got any of your money!” he snarled, eyes gleaming red for a moment.
“No!” the Uni cried, startled. He was more aggressive than he first appeared to be. “Sophie sent me here, she told me to ask you for help!”
Garith froze for a moment. “Help?” he asked quietly. “Why would I want to help you?”
“Uh... Sophie said she’d turn you into a Greeble if you didn’t. That’s why she said you’d listen to my request anyway.”
Garith seemed to pale for a moment. “She said that, did she? Ugh, sounds like that horrible Ixi, all right. Fine then, tell me what this is all about... then I might agree to help.”
Wrey took a deep breath and recounted everything that had happened to her since her brother was captured in the woods. Garith listened intently, nodding every now and then when Wrey came across a particularly interesting point. His eyes seemed to light up when she mentioned the Werelupe King, but it was gone so fast Wrey thought she might have imagined it. After she finished telling her tale, Garith got up and stretched, his bones cracking as he flexed. Standing on his hind legs, he looked far more impressive than he had curled up in a ball on the ground, and Wrey suddenly thought it quite possible that the Kougra could take on this task.
“Alright,” he said, giving his neck one final crack, “you have me persuaded. If this has something to do with the Werelupes, I’m in.”
“Really?” Wrey asked, dumbstruck. “That’s all it took? You didn’t need any convincing at all.”
The Kougra gave her a sideways look, one of his eyebrows raised. “I just wanted to hear your story. I’d have that Witch form a personal grudge against me for the rest of my life if I refused anyway.”
“So we can go now?” she asked, eager to be on her way.
“Uhhh... not quite yet... we’ll have to stop by my... err... home... first... you can’t exactly take on Werelupes without armor and weaponry, can you?” the Kougra said hesitantly. After he caught a glimpse of the disappointment etched on the spotted Uni’s face, he quickly added, “You don’t have to worry, though; it’s on the way.”
“It is? Well, that’s good, I guess. I just want to hurry. I’m so worried about my brother Rilo.”
“Yeah, we really should hurry. We can go right now. I’ll lead the way.”
Together the two exited the Deserted Fairground, Wrey following directly behind Garith. They soon entered the woods, the Kougra following a path he had memorized many times over. It wasn’t too long until they came to a small clearing where a very tiny one room shack lay. As they neared it the Kougra’s head seemed to sink lower towards the ground. It took a Wrey a moment to realize that he was embarrassed.
“So this is it, home sweet home,” he said derisively, eyeing it with distaste. “You can wait here for a second while I go in... it won’t be long.”
The Uni simply nodded and stood her ground as she watched Garith slip inside quickly and slam the door. He kept his word about being fast; about ten minutes later he emerged wearing some heavy armor and toting a large and rather old looking sword on his back.
“Oh wow,” Wrey muttered, looking the mutant Kougra up and down. The way he held himself had entirely changed. Now not only did he look powerful; he looked like he could take on the world.
“Only thing I have that’s worth anything,” he said eyeing his armor and sword fondly. “I’m ready now, so we can get out of here.” He glanced back at the little shack, then to the Uni. “The caves where the Werelupes reside is to the north of here, so if we go that way we’ll get there about noon.”
“Ah... yeah... wherever you go, I’ll follow... the last time I tried to find my way in these woods, I got lost then attacked.”
“Right.” He paused for a moment, unsure of what to say. “I’ll lead the way then, I guess.”
The couple headed north together, winding their way through the dense forest. Even though the sun shone overhead, down where they walked everything was bathed in a subdued dusty twilight. They strolled on in complete silence, time ticking by painfully slowly as they made their way into the heart of the forest.
“Garith?” Wrey finally ventured, tired of the empty quiet between them.
“What?” he asked, his voice laced with exasperation. “I told you, if we keep heading this way, we'll get to the caves, so don’t worry.”
“No... it isn’t that,” the Uni said, surprised at his tone. “I just wanted to talk... I don’t like how quiet it is here.”
“Oh... sorry,” he muttered, his face reddening a bit. “I-I’m not really good at stuff like this.”
“Stuff like what?”
His voice caught in his throat. “Like having a conversation... what am I supposed to say?”
“It isn’t that hard,” Wrey said, trying her hardest not to giggle. “Just tell me something about yourself, anything at all.”
The Kougra swallowed nervously. “I can’t... how can I? Telling pets about myself is just... it isn’t a good story, all right?”
“I’d still like to know about you at least a little bit.”
“Well... I... I wasn’t always mutant,” he began embarrassedly, glancing back at Wrey. “I didn’t always live here either, but then a friend of mine...” he trailed off.
“What happened?” the Uni asked curiously, but Garith had stopped walking and was looking over to his right, completely oblivious to what she had said.
“It’s here! We’re here!” he said excitedly, relieved that the subject of his past was now irrelevant since they’d reached their destination.
“I don’t see anything... this looks like the rest of the forest.”
“No... it’s just over here.” He pushed past a tangled chunk of underbrush and Wrey followed close behind.
The two burst out from behind a clump of bushes and froze. Only feet away was the gaping mouth of a gigantic cavern that sloped deep underground. Wrey could feel her heart pounding in her throat, in front of the entrance a huge burly guard slept, grunting softly in his slumber. Wrey and Garith both quickly darted back into the underbrush, the sound causing the sentry to stir for a moment. To their relief he didn’t wake, but the feeling was short lived as a voice from behind startled him to attention.
To be continued...