The King of Werelupes: Part Four
Apsy sat uncomfortably on the edge of a couch in Jenn’s Neohome. She had been let out of the hospital a few hours after Ember had run off, and Jenn had offered to look after her, but she felt a little nervous.
Fanger poked his head into the room and saw her, then walked in carrying a precariously balanced plate of crackers and dip.
“Where do you think your owner went?” he asked as he set it down on the coffee table.
Apsy shrugged and picked up a cracker.
“Knowing her, she probably went running off to the Haunted Woods.” She winced as she leaned back again and her bandages rubbed against her raw skin.
“How’re your burns?” Fanger asked, looking at the bandages running up her legs.
“Sore. But if put on the cream that doctors gave me it should be fine...in a few days.” Apsy huffed. “But in a few days anything could happen to my sisters and my brother.” She paused, then added as an afterthought, “And Ember, but I’m not so worried about her.”
Fanger gave a half-hearted chuckle, then plonked himself onto the carpet.
“So are you going after them?” he asked.
Apsy nodded. “Of course I am! I can’t just leave them with Shadowheart and Macejaw.”
Fanger grinned. “I would do exactly the same if my siblings were kidnapped.” He watched her struggle to rise with one eyebrow raised. “Although you should probably wait for a day or so. That way you might actually be able to walk.”
Apsy scowled at him and limped to the doorway. “Fine,” she grunted. “But first thing tomorrow. You better wake up real early.”
Ember slowed down at the entrance to the Werelupe Burrows, completely out of breath. She had been running almost all day, and now it was evening and she was starting to feel a bit cold. She stopped and looked around at the gnarled trees all around her, finding them fascinating rather than scary.
Then a Werelupe stepped out of the entrance and hulked over her, forelegs folded across her chest.
“Go away, human,” she growled.
Ember folded her arms and glared up at the Werelupe, who was half her size taller.
“No. I’m here to see Shadowheart.”
The Werelupe’s eyes narrowed and she frowned, baring her red-tinted canines.
“Shadowheart isn’t seeing anyone right now,” she growled, stepping closer to the entrance.
“Then I want to see the King,” Ember demanded.
She expected the Werelupe to snort and shove her back into the Woods, but instead she grinned and gave a low chuckle.
“You want to see the King?” she repeated in her harsh voice.
“Well, I did just say that,” Ember said sarcastically.
The Werelupe smirked. “You’re welcome to, human. I’m sure he’d enjoy the... company.”
She barked a few words into the tunnel, and the next moment another Werelupe emerged and took her place guarding the entrance. The Werelupe pushed Ember inside and she saw another Werelupe disappear down a side passage.
“Follow me,” the Werelupe growled.
Ember followed, her eyes narrowed at the dark tunnels around her. There were ominous openings on either side, and a few tiny holes in the roof let in welcome light. Her guide dropped to all fours and moved confidently, not walking into any walls.
“So what’s your name?” the Werelupe grunted as she padded along.
“Ember. And yours?”
The Werelupe gave her a contemptuous look, like it wasn’t worth telling a puny human her name, but then she grunted out something that sounded like ‘Redfang’ and kept up the steady lope.
Ember was tired, but she wasn’t going to show that to Redfang, so she urged her aching legs to keep up. Eventually the tunnel widened out and light appeared ahead. A huge archway lay at the end of the tunnel, with six Werelupes milling outside, pacing restlessly.
They looked up as Redfang approached and leered at Ember, then one of them stepped out to block their way.
“What’s going on?” he rumbled.
“This human here wants to see the King,” Redfang replied casually, coming to a halt.
The Werelupe guard looked over Ember dismissively.
“I suppose she can go through,” he grunted. “As long as you think you can keep control of her, Redfang.”
He smirked widely and Redfang growled and shouldered past him, jerking her head for Ember to follow her. Just as they were through the door Redfang turned her head.
“Just as well it’s me going in there. I’m not sure you could control her.”
There was laughing and Ember turned to see the Werelupe glaring at Redfang’s back. She quickly turned around again, seething. She wasn’t a puny human at all.
Up ahead there were more Werelupes, all of them stopping what they were doing to spare Redfang a curious glance, but they ignored Ember. Redfang shoved through the crowd and eventually reached the other end of the giant cavern. A hole in the ceiling covered with gnarled roots sent dappled light into the Burrows.
A Werelupe sat in on a throne made of large bones, his fur so dark it was almost black. He was larger than Werelupe standards, but still not as large as many others that Ember had seen, but he had an aura of power around him. On his head he wore crown of bone. His red eyes flashed as he took in Ember and Redfang.
“What is this?” he growled.
His voice was easier to make out than most of the other Werelupes, but it had the edge of a permanent growl.
“This human wished to see you, Highness,” Redfang said deferentially.
The Werelupe King’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
“What is it, human?” he growled, leaning forward.
Ember kept her feet firmly planted so she couldn’t take a step backwards and looked directly at the King.
“I want to see Shadowheart. He’s come after my daughter. And he’s kidnapped my other children.”
She was surprised by the King’s surprise and he growled low in his throat and stood up, keeping perfect balance on his hind legs.
“What?!” he demanded. “Shadowheart?”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about! He bewitched her before, and he’s trying again!”
The King ignored her. “I didn’t give him those orders!” he roared. “Gnarfas!”
There was stunned silence around the cavern, then a large Werelupe came emerged from dark tunnel, more than twice as big as the King, a giant among giants, with deep reddish-brown fur and a huge ruff framing a fierce face with two large fangs jutting from the lower jaw. But if that wasn’t odd, the four arms with chains trailing off them were.
The giant Werelupe padded up to the King, and Redfang backed away while the other Werelupes in the room shuffled nervously. When Gnarfas stood directly in front of the throne he bowed.
“Yes, your Highness?” he growled, his voice low and husky and extremely difficult to make out amongst the growls.
“You should know if Shadowheart is up to something. Have you seen him?”
Gnarfas growled. “No. Not since he left last time.”
“Then why is he continuing his work when I explicitly asked him to stop?!” The King snarled, banging his paw on the arm of the throne.
“If I may, your Highness.”
The voice came from directly behind Ember. She was tempted to turn around, but that would leave her back to the King and Gnarfas, so instead she just turned her head slightly.
A Werelupe the size of the King was parting the watchers as he padded forward on all fours.
“Yes, Macejaw?” the King growled.
Macejaw bared his fangs, set in a powerful jaw. Ember could see where his name came from.
“I know this human,” he said, eyeing Ember with a swirling red eyes. “She’s just here to stir up trouble. I can take her off your paws.”
Ember saw him exchange a look with Redfang. The King gazed at him with narrowed eyes.
“Fine,” he said, waving his paw in dismissal.
Instantly Redfang seized Ember from behind and shoved her back the way they had come, with Macejaw pacing ahead.
“LET ME GO!” Ember shouted, clawing at Redfang with her hands.
They passed through the entrance of the cavern, and the guard from before looked up and smirked.
“Looks like you can’t control a puny human after all,” he said.
Redfang snarled at him, but it was drowned out by Ember.
“You be quiet! I AM NOT PUNY!”
The Werelupe looked stunned for a moment, but then broke out in laughter.
Ember took a deep breath to shout again, but suddenly Macejaw’s face was less than three centimetres away from hers, his red eyes narrowed.
“I’m not in the mood to have my eardrums destroyed,” he snarled. “So stop shrieking. If you keep going like that the only help anyone is likely to give you will be to shut you up.”
He gave one last snarl and then turned to continue.
“I was not shrieking,” Ember muttered under her breath.
There was silence for a while, and Ember realised she wasn’t the only one muttering to herself. Macejaw was muttering about how Gnarfas was deputy even if he was a ‘stupid brute’, and that he should have replaced long ago.
They stopped outside a large boulder, and another Werelupe looked up from his position in front of it.
“You should stay here from now on, Shadowheart,” Macejaw said.
“Why?” Shadowheart replied. “I want to see the King.”
“Because the King gave you orders, and I’m here to make sure you carry them out. Now help me with the boulder.”
The two Werelupe’s set their shoulders against the boulder and began to push, while Ember hung limply in Redfang’s arms, thinking. There was something weird going on. Shadowheart had orders apparently from the King, but the King had just said that he hadn’t given any orders at all.
She looked at Macejaw and realised from his muttering about Gnarfas that he wanted to take over the throne. But why have Shadowheart on his side?
She remembered that Apsy had been controlled by Shadowheart’s magic. So what should stop Shadowheart being able to influence any other weak-minded Werelupes? Then she remembered that Shadowheart had lost control of spell. Jenn had told her that Fanger had broken it and paved the way to free the rest of the Werelupes. So why were they trying to get Apsy if Fanger was the one who had broken the spell in the first place?
She frowned. This was getting too confusing.
She was roughly pulled out of her thoughts by being pushed even more roughly into the gaping hole behind the boulder.
She stumbled a few steps then spun around and began punching the rock that had slid smoothly back into place.
“LET ME GO!” she yelled, her own ears echoing with her shouts.
“Mum?” said an incredulous voice from behind her.
“I’d know that shouting anywhere,” said a second voice.
She spun around and saw Sky and Anubia. Sky looked surprised, and Anubia was smiling from her little joke. Then the baby Ogrin was flying through the air towards her, and Sonikki wasn’t far behind as Ember was tackled to the ground.
To be continued...