The Werelupes arrived at dusk.
Hyren, Blynn, and Isengrim were in the middle of dinner when a Weewoo arrived with a scroll from Suhel announcing that the pack was nearing the gates of the castle town. Clearance had already been given for them to enter. Isengrim wrote back to proceed to the castle and he would meet them there.
He, his knight escorts, and Hyren watched for them atop the castle gatehouse. Hyren had been unable to tear Celice away from helping Seradar and the other mages devise an enchantment to counter the phantom army’s incorporeality. And Blynn refused to leave Terra’s side. But Hyren and the knights had developed a good rapport, and Isengrim did not seem interested in being antagonistic, although he had not really said anything to Hyren since their failed conversation in the armoury. Hyren had little else to do for the time being. He was not one for moping.
The once-lively town now looked abandoned. Many civilians had evacuated to Neopia Central to the north, or smaller communities further west. Those who stayed barricaded themselves inside their homes. The cobbled streets were empty, windows and doors had been boarded up, and marketplace stalls were barren of food and wares.
So there was no one around to see the Werelupes come in.
Hyren’s Grundo eyesight was not the keenest of all Neopet species’, so all he could make out was a shifting mass pouring through the town gates in the twilight gloom, made gloomier by another bank of clouds coming in from the southern coast. This horde looked paler in colour than the usual dark fur of Werelupes and it made him second-guess that this was Isengrim’s pack.
Those doubts were allayed when the Werelupe King tilted back his head and let out a throaty howl. A few seconds later, a chorus of howls rang through the streets in response.
Isengrim smiled, his tail perked and wagging. “Come, let us meet them in the courtyard!” he said. “Open the gates!” He turned to scamper down the stairs. “Oh, thank the fates they’re safe,” he breathed as Hyren and the knights followed him.
Standing on the other side of the opening portcullis, Hyren heard the Werelupes before he saw them. The heavy shuffle of paws on stone and the clank of metal were unmistakeable, but there was another sound he couldn’t place, a sort of dry, hollow clatter. It somehow reminded him of a Wock Til YouDrop concert.
From out of the deepening darkness, eyes caught the torchlight. Dozens of eyes, green and yellow and red, moved steadily up and down, growing closer and closer. It sent a chill up Hyren’s spine, reminding him of just last night when he’d been trying to fight off those same eyes. It looked for all the world like a scene from a story where the vicious army of monsters would besiege the fair city.
But for now, at least, these monsters were on the city’s side.
As the pack reached the fires’ glow, Hyren realised the reason for his confusion. These were the same Werelupes he’d fought last night, but now they were dressed to the nines in armour cleverly crafted from bone. Their bone plates and headdresses were bedecked with the claws and fangs of vanquished beasts, and some even wore entire skulls over their heads, lending even more to the illusion that they were ferocious skeletal creatures. And each of them carried several weapons, ranging from swords and knives to axes, boomerangs, clubs, and bows.
Hyren had to admit to himself that they would certainly be an intimidating sight on the battlefield. Although he wasn’t sure if spectres got intimidated.
“Milord!” one of the foremost bone-monsters barked. She rushed forward, her green eyes glinting in the firelight and her long, curly black mane waving behind her like a banner. She lifted the skull from atop her head and threw her arms around Isengrim.
“Suhel!” he replied as he bumped his nose to her head. “You’re all right, thank goodness!”
“Aye, you can’t get rid of us that easily,” Suhel said. “We started moving as soon as I got the Weewoo! We’re all accounted for. Has everything been all right here? Have you heard from the fiefs?”
“Aye, everything’s good here,” Isengrim said. “We’ve just been waiting for you. I received Weewoos from all of our fiefs this afternoon—they’re safe. They weren’t in the army’s path.”
“Good, good,” Suhel said. “Oh!” She reached behind her back and undid the large bundle tied there. “I brought your armour, milord! I grabbed it from the Burrows last night, in case you might need it.” She handed it to him.
Isengrim undid the ropes and lifted the oilcloth, and smiled. “Perfect,” he said. “Thank you, Suhel. You’re an invaluable second. Now I shall be fully equipped for batt—“ His paw strayed to the empty scabbard on his back and his ears fell.
“Your sword?” Suhel asked.
“It was broken in my fight with Skoll,” Isengrim said. His shoulders slumped. “I’d forgotten about that.”
His second ducked her head, looking ashamed. “My apologies, sire,” she said. “I should have seen that you needed another weapon. In the rush, I didn’t think to check or ask.”
The Werelupe King patted her bone pauldron and said, “No, don’t worry about it. It wasn’t your fault. I can fight just as well without one.”
“Against a legion of enemies with their own blades, milord?” Suhel asked. She reached for the sword on her back. “You can have mine.”
“No, Suhel, you will need it,” Isengrim said. “I can manage.”
“And I cannot?” Suhel asked. A toothy smirk worked its way up her lips. “Is that a veiled insult, sire?”
Isengrim chuckled and said, “No, Suhel, you know that is not what I meant. But I cannot ask you to give up your weapon for me.”
Hyren cleared his throat. “I have something you can use,” he said. “If you give it back afterward.”
The two Werelupes turned toward him. “Oh?” Isengrim asked, eying the shortsword at the Grundo’s waist. “Your blade is too small for me.”
“I’m not talking about this blade,” Hyren said. He turned and waved for the two to follow him.
Isengrim took a few steps and looked back to his pack. “You’ll be camping here in the courtyard tonight,” he said. “Make yourselves at home, ask for whatever you need.” He grinned. “We may be exiles, but tonight we are guests of honour.” He looked to the two knights. “I hope your larder has plenty of meat.”
“Don’t get too cozy,” the Kacheek muttered.
Hyren took them to the stables, where Gwyneth was lounging on a bed of hay, gnawing on a steakbone. She glanced up at the approaching group, and when she saw the Werelupes her fur bristled. She stood up, a low growl in her throat, and flared her wings menacingly.
“Gwyn, down,” Hyren said, patting her snout. “It’s okay. They’re on our side for now.” She hovered over him protectively as he moved to her saddlebags, which had been piled nearby, and unbuckled the strap of the claymore from one of them.
Isengrim’s eyes widened as Hyren dragged the Faerie steel over to him. “Here,” the Grundo said. Lifting it by the hilt, he tried to hand it up to the Werelupe.
“You… are letting me use this?” Isengrim asked, reaching out a tentative paw.
“I’m making sure Terra’s curse gets broken and Brightvale gets defended,” Hyren said.
The Werelupe King reached down and picked up the sword, looking it over and sniffing it. “This is… a faerie weapon,” he said, his nose wrinkling. “You kept it, all these years.” He looked the Grundo in the eyes. “And you expect me to use it now?”
Just be grateful you’re the right size to use it, Hyren thought as he said, “Yes.”
Isengrim looked the blade over again and his eyes seemed to mist over a bit. He smiled and wrapped the strap around his waist, resting one paw on the pommel of the weapon. “Thank you,” he said. “It is a worthy gift and I will wield it well.”
“But, milord,” Suhel said, “it—it’s faerie!”
“Aye,” Isengrim replied with a nod, “and it is a gift from my brother. Besides, of late I have not felt as antagonistic toward fae-touched things.”
“It’s a temporary gift,” Hyren muttered. And I never said I was your brother, he added mentally. Even if Terra owned both of them, Hyren could not get himself to think of Isengrim as family.
Isengrim looked at Hyren again and then patted Suhel’s back. “Come, let’s have a sparring session!” he said. “I need to get in some practice with this blade before I wield her in battle tomorrow morn!”
“Hah, I shall be amused indeed to watch a Werelupe cut down spectres with fae steel!” Suhel said with a laugh as the two sauntered out of the stables.
Hyren hugged Gwyneth’s massive head. She’d been out of sorts since last night as well. He felt that she somehow knew Pharazon wasn’t coming back. “I know I can’t make everything right again,” he said as the knights took their leave after the Werelupes, “but I can at least save what we have left.”