Hyren flattened himself against the wall, using his arm to sweep Blynn up against the stone. “Don’t. Move,” he breathed.
The two Neopets silently looked up to see a long, fanged snout poke out above them, sniffing the air. Hyren held his breath, hoping the wind and rain were enough to have already dispersed their scents—and that the Werelupe wouldn’t think to glance down.
After a few agonizing seconds the muzzle withdrew. “Ain’t nothin’,” came the retreating reply. “Cursed wind makin’ noise, is all.”
Hyren exhaled, placing a hand on his chest. “That way,” he said, prompting Blynn to sidle off of the crates in the direction of the cliff edge, which was hidden by a labyrinth of terraces and roofs. Craning his neck upward, he could see the sole spot of green in this red-infested hole, high above them to the northeast. A crimson dot was now descending—he probably didn’t want to miss the festivities.
The Grundo and the Zafara picked their way around the castle’s exterior, scaling broken-down walls and veering around patches of rooftop that appeared particularly unstable. Nearly all of the Werelupes seemed to be gathered in the great hall, but there was one stationary, unflagged neutral-orange biosignal far below Hyren’s feet. Most likely another prisoner, Hyren guessed. And all the while, the rain and wind were picking up.
“How did you know your ammo would explode like that?” the commander asked once they were well out of earshot from the Werelupes.
“Intuition,” the Zafara replied with a shrug.
“There’s far more to you than you let on,” Hyren said.
“Exactly,” Blynn said.
The northeast tower turned out to be rather angular, and studded with narrow windows that were unfortunately far too small for Hyren to get inside. But he had another plan for them.
“Give me a second,” he muttered to Blynn, reaching into his utility belt and pulling out a flat metal cylinder. On the rim was a plug, while a tapering metal shape resembling a flower bud protruded out the other side. “Hop on.” Hyren gestured to his shoulder, and Blynn scrambled up. She perched on Terra’s pack and rearranged it to make sure no rain was getting in.
Once the Zafara was settled, Hyren inserted the plug into a corresponding socket on his bracer. He fisted his hand, pointed his arm up at a window halfway to the top, and fired. From the cylinder shot a thin, black rope, a weave of artificial nanofibers developed by Sloth’s techs to withstand far more in stress than a Mutant Grundo’s weight. The “bud” bloomed into three prongs as it sailed into the air, and when it reached the first window it caught on the rim and stuck.
“Proprietary Virtupets alloy,” Hyren said, fat raindrops spattering on his visor and streaming down into his mouth. “It digs into stone like wood.” He gave a couple of firm tugs on the cable to make sure it had caught, and then he let out a grunt, kicked off, and began walking up the wall, the rope collecting back into its container as he went. Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance.
The window was far too narrow for even Blynn to slip in while wearing her pack. Hyren hoisted himself up onto it, lodging one foot in the sill and gripping the edge with his free hand. “One more time,” he said, leaning out and shooting the grappling hook at the substantially larger window near the very top of the tower. He grinned when the prongs landed and the green dot in his HUD moved. She was okay.
While they climbed, Hyren glanced below and his stomach tightened. A few Werelupes appeared to be dispersing from the great hall. He bit his lip and walked faster.
Before the commander could get a hand on the rim of the window, Blynn leaped off of his shoulder, vaulting over the stone and letting out a cry of relief.
“Blynn!” Terra’s voice held the same sentiment.
Hyren peeked his head over the edge to see the owner and Neopet wrapped in a tight embrace. Terra knelt on the stone floor of a small, barren room, clutching the Zafara to her chest like Blynn was water in a desert. “The ghosts didn’t get you!” the girl said. Her cheeks were wet with fresh tears.
“Of course not,” Hyren said, swinging one leg over the side of the window. “Do you really think I’d let that happen? Oh, and I believe these are yours.” He had to unfasten her pack in order to squeeze himself through the window. He handed it to her along with her sword before climbing the rest of the way through and dropping to his knees in front of the owner.
“Thank you,” she said, and before Hyren could do anything else, she wrapped him up in a hug as well, her arm barely reaching around his middle. The commander blinked in surprise, but smiled and hugged her back.
“We need to get moving,” Hyren said, standing the girl up and returning her glasses. “The Werelupes are finishing with their feast and we have to get out of here before—“
A jagged spear of lightning turned the room white for one brief second, and a moment later thunder crashed deafeningly. Terra yelled and Hyren squeezed her shoulders before striding to the door and effortlessly kicking it down. “Let’s just avoid the Werelupes and get out of here,” he said. “You’ve put me through enough trouble for one day.” He drew his sword and held it before him. Terra did the same, and he led them down the stairs.
Thunder raged around them, and rain sprayed into the tower windows, pelting Hyren’s skin and armour, but no red dots approached as they spiraled downward. Finally the three reached a doorway that let out into a hall. To the left, the radar showed Werelupes—to the right, nothing. Hyren ushered Terra and Blynn that way, and they emerged in an empty antechamber.
“Keep going,” Hyren said. He pointed to the door on the opposite wall, but saw red approaching and pulled them away. “Just kidding, let’s go back—“ His HUD alerted him to enemy units encroaching behind them and he froze again. He spun around and crouched into a defensive stance. Terra followed suit, while Blynn readied another piece of ammo in her slingshot.
“Aye, the meat was passable,” one Werelupe said to another as they sauntered into the room, “but what I’m really cravin’ is—“
With a mighty yell, Hyren launched himself at her, knocking her aside with the flat of his blade. Her companion snarled and moved to attack him, but Terra ran in and tripped the Werelupe up with a well-aimed swipe of her own sword.
“Run!” Hyren said, sprinting at full tilt down the hall. His radar showed more red converging around them.
Werelupes burst from each door and around every corner, trying to cut them off in a flurry of claws, teeth, and blades. The creatures were strong, but clumsy, and Hyren’s finesse with the sword was more than a match for them as he flung them aside.
Meanwhile, Terra’s ferocity made up for her lack of strength. Many a Werelupe tried to move in on Hyren from behind, only to find themselves stung by her blade. Blynn and her slingshot set off terrific bursts of light in the halls, sending disoriented Werelupes reeling and stumbling over each other. The explosions maintained a wide berth between the trio and their pursuers.
“Just how big is this place, anyway?” the Zafara asked. Her sprint was now reduced to a jog.
Terra wasn’t looking much better, Hyren noticed from over his shoulder. But what really filled him with a sense of unease was the fact that the orange spot below was moving. It was moving fast. And the closer it got, the larger it seemed to become.
They turned a corner and ended up in the great hall, now deserted. The three approached the tall closed doors as lightning stabbed through the night and thunder echoed on the mouldering stone. A commotion rose ahead, with shouts of “Stand back!” and “Don’t let go of his chains!” On the other side of the doors, Hyren’s HUD showed a mass of reds surrounding the orange, which was at least head-and-shoulders taller than any of them.
The doors were thrown open by a crimson-furred Werelupe with four arms, its face twisted into an expression of unthinking hunger. Teams of Werelupes clung to chains that shackled the beast at the wrists, and its tail whipped behind it as it fought the restraints. Its beady red eyes caught Hyren’s gaze. The Grundo shuddered, but held his ground, steadying his sword in front of him.
“Oh, crumbs,” Blynn said.