Hyren felt like he’d been punched in the gut. “No!” he choked. Starting forward, he drew his sword, with Terra and Isengrim close on his heels.
Skoll thrust out his paw and an invisible force flung them back. Isengrim caught both Terra and Hyren, and the Grundo quickly jumped back to his feet. “Pharazon!” he yelled. “Hold on—I’m coming!” He, Terra, and Isengrim rushed the Draik, but were thrown back again.
Pharazon yelped and flapped his wings to right himself, but globs of green shot out of the hole and latched onto him, pulling him down. The humming grew more intense until Hyren’s sword felt ready to vibrate out of his hand, like whatever was in that pit was hungry for a long-awaited meal.
The Draik struggled against the spectral mass but it clung to him like tar. “Skoll—you said you’d never sacrifice anyone here!” he gasped.
Skoll grinned wickedly and said, “I lied.”
Blynn sent a shot flying toward the strings of glowing goop, but Skoll’s energy shield deflected it before it even activated. Celice furrowed her brow and held out her own sparking hands, but gasped and stumbled back, her own magic overpowered.
Pharazon let out one last cry of dismay, scrabbling wildly at the edge of the pit, and then he was gone.
“Pharazon!” Terra yelled, pushing off to sprint toward the hole, with Isengrim and Hyren close behind.
A tremor rocked the room, causing dust to sift from the walls and throwing them off their feet. “What was that?!” Hyren asked Skoll as the Grundo picked himself up. The Werelupe simply continued to smile maliciously down at the hole.
A geyser of ectoplasm erupted from the pit and punched through the ceiling of the chamber, scattering broken stone around them. Within the rushing mass, Hyren was horrified to see stretched, anguished faces and reaching limbs of various Neopet species.
Skoll turned to face Isengrim with a chuckle that escalated into all-out maniacal laughter. “That pathetic boy!” the old Werelupe said. “He was exactly what I needed to catalyze the Well of Souls! Now its energy is mine!” He seemed to glow from within, crackling with magic. “I’ll make Brightvale sorry for slighting me—I’ll make everyone sorry!”
“He trusted you!” Terra cried. “How could you do that to him?!” She moved to lunge toward the pit again, but Isengrim caught her and held her back. As her hair swirled in the current of energy that flooded the room, the look on her face said she realised that she could do nothing to save Pharazon now.
“Because trust is a fool’s dream!” Skoll said. “The only person you can trust in this horrible cruel world is yourself!”
“You’re wrong!” Isengrim said. “I know you are!”
Skoll glowered at him. “You’re one to speak!” the sage said. “Your owner abandoned you, remember? And now that human’s got you wrapped around her finger, bending to her every whim!”
Isengrim growled and his grip on Terra’s shoulders tightened. “Don’t you dare insult my owner like that!” he barked. “You’re seeing it all wrong! She is my strength!”
The gushing from the Well did not cease, and it sickened Hyren to wonder just how many souls had been fed to it before his brother’s. And the ancient stone continued to tremble, the shaking getting worse.
“You’ve got to stop this!” Celice said to Skoll. “The magic here is highly unstable!”
“I’m guessing you’re the one he spoke to through that Lupe moon charm I planted for him to find,” the sage said. He drew a deep breath, standing up straighter as power continued to fill him. “Well, then. Let’s take this magic for a test run, shall we?”
Isengrim let go of Terra to raise his blade and charge toward Skoll. “Don’t you dare!” the king snarled.
Skoll thrust up his hand and flashes of green magic congealed around the Werelupe King, shoving him back. He let out a grunt as he bounced on the floor and his blade snapped beneath him. Rolling into a kneel, Isengrim regarded the shattered sword for a moment and then tossed the hilt over his shoulder, digging his claws into the stone and rushing toward his traitorous conjurer. With a shout of power, Skoll amassed a core of vile green energy in the palm of his paw, shooting it at the other Werelupe.
Suddenly Terra flung herself into the path of the spell. The magic sapped into her and bubbled nauseatingly around her as she fell to the ground, motionless. Her colour seemed faded, like she was simply a husk. Hyren felt like he’d been hit all over again, and Blynn let out a strangled cry.
“Terra!” Isengrim yelped. He scrambled over to the human and picked her up, holding her close as he glared at Skoll with crimson eyes afire.
Another violent tremor rocked the crypt, and stones dislodged from the wall, tumbling around them. The entire place was coming down, not helped by the seemingly endless outpouring of souls.
Skoll aimed another blast for the Werelupe King, but this one was deflected by a veil of shimmering flame. Hyren looked up to see Celice doubled over beside him. “We have to get out of here!” she barked, stray strands of hair dangling over her face. “Now!”
“Go ahead and run!” the Werelupe Sage said as they retreated back to the passageway. “Go tell those idiots at Brightvale that they will regret exiling Skoll—the most powerful mage who ever lived!” His peals of cruel laughter blended in nightmarish harmony with the crumbling stone.
The architecture buckled and cracked around the five as they scrambled for the exit. Outside, Gwyneth shifted her weight anxiously, letting out uneasy growls, and the entire area was bathed in a pale green light.
Hyren climbed onto the Ganuthor’s back and looked up. The soul-geyser reached into the sky and poured a glowing miasma over the heavens, clouding the stars. The moon was nearly swallowed up in eclipse.
“Pharazon’s fortune…” Blynn breathed. “When shadows consume the moon… spectres of the fallen shall rise.”
Hyren felt a weight behind him, and looked over his shoulder to see Isengrim sitting there, still holding a limp Terra. “I can’t keep up with your mount on two legs,” the Werelupe said. “And I’m not risking getting her hurt.” He glanced down at their owner.
The Grundo narrowed his eyes, still pretty angry at Isengrim, but his expression softened as he scanned Terra’s face, and he nodded. He was still struggling to absorb the fact that Pharazon was gone—he couldn’t lose his owner now, too.
“Gwyneth, let’s go!” Blynn said.
The Ganuthor jolted into motion nearly before Blynn directed her, barreling down the hill. The tremors were intensifying and the very ground shifted, headstones falling over and trees leaning away from their roots. Gwyneth struggled to keep her footing, and snapped out her wings, flapping them awkwardly to launch herself over unsteady terrain for a few metres at a time.
“Gwyn, no!” Blynn said, patting the Petpet’s head. “You shouldn’t fly yet, I don’t know if that sprain’s healed all the way!”
A nearby mausoleum shuddered and burst apart under the seismic strain, and its heavy blocks of limestone came crashing down the hill toward the Ganuthor and her riders. Gwyneth let out a grunt and sped up in the direction of the rockslide.
Blynn pulled on the Ganuthor’s ears. “What are you doing?!” the Zafara shrieked.
Gwyneth did nothing to heed her, keeping at full speed with her wings outstretched as the jagged chunks of stone tumbled closer. She raced up the incline of a fallen tree trunk and took a mighty leap, pushing away from the ground and flapping her wings to gain altitude as the rocks passed by below them. Gwyneth cringed as her wing gave a twitch in protest, but she lowered her head and soared away from the cemetery.
“Aww, Gwyn…” Blynn said, rubbing the Petpet’s head. “Thanks, girl.” She paused. “Pharazon would have appreciated that.”
Hyren watched as the sea of green above the graveyard seemed to trickle down in small rivulets that leached into the treetops and lit the forest with an eerie glow. “What’s going on,” he panted.
“It’s raining spectres,” Celice said.
The Grundo swallowed hard and turned around to his owner. Ignoring the Werelupe holding her, he put a hand to her cheek. It wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t cold, either. Instead it felt heavy and clammy, even though her skin was dry. Like something was weighing her down. “Is she alive?” he muttered, pulling up one of her eyelids to see her eye rolled back.
“She’s breathing,” Isengrim replied.
Celice shifted around to inspect the owner, hovering her paws over the girl’s body and biting her bottom lip. “That’s a pretty powerful curse on her,” the white Lupe said. She looked at Hyren and Isengrim. “I don’t specialise in healing magic or countering curses, but plenty at the University do and they’re dratted good at it. We have to get her to Brightvale.”
“Blynn, take us back to the Burrows first,” Isengrim said. “My pack cannot stay here, not now.”
Hyren frowned. He didn’t like the sound of his family’s names coming out of Isengrim’s muzzle. “You’re not coming,” the Grundo said.
“She’s my owner,” Isengrim said. “She didn’t abandon me. I won’t abandon her.” His eyes flicked back to Blynn. “Take us down near the outcropping of firs on the hillside. That’s where the front gate is.”
“Fine,” Hyren grumbled as Gwyneth began to descend toward the trees. “Although I’m sure Brightvale will take kindly to a Werelupe showing up at the University.”
“I know they will not welcome me,” Isengrim said with a glare, “but I travel there not for myself. I will not leave my owner’s side. I promised her I would protect her.”
Hyren turned back around and curled his fists into Gwyneth’s fur. He’d promised Terra he would protect her, too. He could do a much better job of it than a smelly Werelupe. Except—what if he couldn’t? He let her get kidnapped, after all. He swallowed hard. Maybe his worst fears had come true and he was obsolete to her. Isengrim was so much bigger and stronger. The stupid thought came into his mind that Terra decided he was a failure and now Isengrim was her new guardian. But Terra would never do that to him… would she?
Those ideas were still swirling in his head when Gwyneth touched back down on the path in front of the skull-gate. It was open and Suhel and several other Werelupes stood around it, watching the sky with their ears flat and tails low. When the Ganuthor alighted, they all snapped to attention and clustered around her. Suhel seemed to search the Petpet for Pharazon, and the Werelupe’s face fell when she did not find him.
Isengrim eased Terra off of his lap and nudged her toward Hyren. “Take care of her for a moment,” the king said.
Hyren balanced her on Gwyneth’s back as best as he was able while the Werelupe jumped to the ground. The Grundo was impressed that Isengrim would trust him with Terra. Even through his jealousy, he could see that this was clearly not the beast he and Blynn had confronted twelve years ago. It made him think about his own relationship with his owner, how she had been so kind to him when they first met, even knowing that he intended to take her and Blynn to Dr. Sloth as test subjects. A lump formed in his throat as he stared down at the human’s face, and he put a hand on her oddly cool forehead. She seemed to have a gift that few people possessed.
“Please be okay,” Hyren said, watching her in vain for any sign of life. He pulled her into a hug, shutting his eyes and feeling like a horrible Neopet. If he lost her, too, he didn’t know what he would do.
“Milord!” Suhel barked as Isengrim approached her. “What in all the worlds happened?!”
“Skoll happened,” Isengrim grunted.
“And Pharazon…?” Suhel asked, looking at Gwyneth.
Isengrim stared at her helplessly for a moment. “He’s… gone,” the king choked, with a finality in his tone that implied the worst.
Suhel’s ears flattened. “No…” She shut her eyes and ducked her head. “This is all my fault—I shouldn’t have teased him so badly—I was just trying to get him to lighten up—“
Isengrim put a paw on her shoulder, causing her to look up at him, and he shook his head. “Pharazon’s choices were his own,” he said. “But we can mourn fully later. You all have to evacuate. We’re in over our heads.” He looked to the rest of the pack. “I’m going to Brightvale to seek help for my owner. Grab as much as you can, and get somewhere safe—the Drackon Ridge caverns, maybe. Send the stewards to their fiefs to keep guard over them and help them evacuate if need be.”
“But what about you?” Suhel asked.
“I’ll be fine,” Isengrim said. “Stay safe until I come back to you.”
The female’s eyes misted over and she pounded a fist on his chest. “You had better come back,” she said.
Isengrim hugged her. “I always do,” he said before pulling away. “Now get going! Things aren’t looking good here!”
“Right!” Suhel said as she turned to the other Werelupes. “You heard him! Let’s get a move on!” She began ushering them back into the tunnel. At the entrance, she stopped and cast one last glance over her shoulder at Isengrim. Hyren couldn’t tell if the look in her eyes was sadness or worry or desperation.
“This isn’t easy for her,” Isengrim muttered as he settled back down on Gwyneth and extended his arms to take Terra.
Hyren gave her back, mostly because his own arms were aching. After everything that had gone on tonight, he wanted to crash into the nearest available bed and sleep for a week. “Why?” he couldn’t help but ask as he turned back around.
“She doesn’t like moving.” Isengrim’s voice carried a tone of bitterness. “None of us do.”
“Well, sorry,” Hyren grumbled. “At least it wasn’t our fault this time.”