Return to Lynwood: Part Four
Suhel’s breath caught in her throat as she waited for Lexora to respond. The Kougra searched the Werelupe’s face, and Suhel wondered if Lexora remembered a certain stubborn little Lupe first-year with a western Haunted Woods accent.
The other Werelupes clustered around their king and his second, as did Terra and Pharazon. A few of Isengrim’s thanes let out low growls at the Kougra, which Suhel cut short with a motion of her paw. Pharazon stared hard at the woman, his blue eyes narrowing.
Although Lexora looked like she wanted to pass out, she finally said, “C-Caradoc?! I thought I’d never see you again! When you left for the Woods and never came back—we all assumed the worst!”
“I survived,” Suhel said. “Well, I did far better than survive, I’d say.”
“Lexora!” called another, younger man’s voice. Someone walked down stairs and toward the room where the Werelupes were crammed. “Are you all right?” A husky orange Kau in a housecoat stepped through the open doorway. As soon as he saw Suhel’s gang, he scowled and moved in front of the Kougra protectively. “You stay away from her!” he said with an angry snort.
Suhel glanced at him and then back at her old schoolmate. “Fitchet,” she said in a quieter tone. “I—I need your help. We’re being hunted down and we haven’t done anything wrong. My king is grievously wounded.” She turned to show Lexora Isengrim’s leg, and the Kougra grimaced.
“Just let us stay here until the mob disperses,” Suhel said, “and then we’ll be on our way. Please.” Werelupes rarely said “please”, even to each other—it wasn’t so much impoliteness as it was just their frank manner of speech to bark commands. Saying “please” was seen as literally pleading, unbecoming of a mighty warrior, but Suhel could think of no other way to impress the gravity of their situation on Lexora. Only she could help them now.
The Kougra took a deep breath, and then put a paw on the Kau’s arm, nudging him out of the way. “Beoffrey—it’s all right,” she said. “This is an old school chum of mine.”
“What?!” the Kau said, his face twisting in disbelief.
Suhel’s tension eased, although she still wasn’t sure just how sympathetic Lexora would be. “Please—I need a place to bind his wound,” the female Werelupe said.
Lexora took a few nervous steps toward them, glancing down at Pharazon who was still staring at her, analysing her for some reason. “Of course,” she said, wringing her paws. “You can put him in the parlor upstairs. There’s a sofa up there, and better light. You’re in the storeroom right now.” Squaring her shoulders, she turned back to the Kau, “Beoffrey, darling, could you clean up that lamp and draw us some hot water?”
Beoffrey moved aside to let her through, edging further away from the Werelupes who followed her. “Dear, are you quite sure you know what you’re doing?” he asked.
“They need our help,” Lexora said, pushing up her sleeves and clutching her skirts as she mounted the steps. “Come along, follow me,” she said over her shoulder.
Suhel followed her, in something of an emotional daze. The adrenaline from the chase through town hadn’t quite worn off, and suddenly her past had caught up with her and being with Lexora felt too familiar, like a faded dream that had suddenly come back to her again. But that was overshadowed by worry for her king. She hefted him further onto her back so she wouldn’t be thrown off balance on the stairs, and listened to the steps creak with all the weight put on them by several tonnes of Werelupe.
“By the way,” Suhel managed to get out, “don’t mind the Draik and the owner. They’re my king’s family. They shouldn’t give you any trouble.”
“Thank you,” Lexora said. Her tail hung low behind her. “Daddy!” she called up the stairs. “We’ve got guests! Would you kindly put another log on the fire?”
“Of course, dearest!” said the first male voice Suhel had heard earlier.
“Who’s the Kau?” Suhel asked.
Lexora stopped to wait for them at the top of the stairs. “My husband, Beoffrey Browning,” she said. “The children are already in bed. Come on into the parlor.”
The stairs led to an open room with a sofa and a couple of chairs, and a fireplace on one wall where a dying fire crackled. Another set of stairs led to the next storey up, while through a door Suhel glimpsed the gleam of kitchen tile. After so long living in a cave, being in a house felt too odd.
Someone was bent over the fire, feeding it another log. “There, that ought to do it,” he said, sitting back in his comfy chair and propping his feet on an ottoman with a sigh. He was an elderly blue Grarrl with spectacles, wearing a dressing gown and sipping a cup of borovan. Against one arm of his chair rested a cane with a bronze grip shaped like a crouching Quilin.
Even sitting down, Suhel could tell that the Grarrl was tall and large, and in his younger years he must have been quite imposing. As it was now, he probably cut a fine stature, but he seemed too tired to want to be imposing, and there was a kindly twinkle in his green eyes. Suhel felt that if she were a child, she would have warmed up to him quicker than she warmed up to most Neopets.
He took another sip of borovan and seemed to finish a sentence of the book he was reading, then looked up at his guests. “I must say, I wasn’t expecting anyo—“ His jaw dropped when he saw the Werelupes. Slowly, he put the cup down on the table beside him.
Suhel was more than used to this reaction from other Neopets. “We won’t be long,” was all she said.
“Over here,” Lexora said, ushering her to the sofa. The Kougra pulled the pillows off of it, all save one which she inspected for a moment and then kept in her paws. “He should fit on there.”
“Thanks,” Suhel said. Carefully, she eased Isengrim off of her back and laid him on the sofa, and began checking his wound. “Curses, that’s deep,” she growled.
“Ah—here,” Lexora said, wedging the pillow she held underneath Isengrim’s head. “Let me go fetch you some bandages—“
“No need,” Suhel said. She reached into a hip pouch and pulled out a roll of bandages, as well as a few other first aid supplies which she laid on the floor around her. “Where’s that husband of yours with the water? This needs to be cleaned. Fetch me some cloths.”
“O-of course,” Lexora said. She turned to the kitchen, but suddenly her eyes watered and she began to cough. It was a harsh, rattling cough that went on for far longer than it should. And it sounded just like Suhel’s cough. The Werelupe’s ears pricked and she looked over her shoulder at the Kougra.
As she struggled to clear her throat, Lexora leaned against her father’s chair. Trying to catch her breath, she started to sink to the floor, her claws digging into the upholstery.
Mr. Fitchet reached out and caught her arm. “Lexora—“ he said anxiously.
She looked up at him, still coughing, and grabbed a hold of him. For a moment they just held each other, until finally the episode passed and her normal breathing resumed. Shakily, Lexora picked herself up and brushed herself off. “I’m—I’m terribly sorry about that,” she panted.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs, and Beoffrey ascended into the parlor, holding a basin of water. “Lexora, are you all right?” he asked.
She nodded. “It’s passed. I’ll take some tea in a moment. Caradoc needs cloths to clean the wound.”
Beoffrey held out a hoof. “I’ll get it—you shouldn’t exert yourself.” Handing her the basin, he swept into the kitchen.
As Lexora knelt by Suhel’s side, Pharazon shuffled closer to her, although he shot another strange look the Kougra’s way as he did. “Suhel,” he said, “I know you don’t like magic, but I think I can stabilise the wound a bit. I can’t do much to help, but—“
“I think I can handle it,” Suhel said, her panic spiking.
“Suhel,” Isengrim breathed. He cracked his eyes open. “Let him.” From the look in his eyes, Suhel thought he very much wanted to say “please” but his pride prevented it.
The female’s ears drooped. Isengrim would not ask for something like that unless he really felt like he needed it, and she could not let her fear get in the way of her king’s well-being. “Fine,” she said, backing away from the sofa, “but make it quick.”
She had to close her eyes and look away as Pharazon’s claws began to glow. Just the sight of magic spooked her and brought back too many bad memories. Pharazon had turned his magic on her, once. He had studied with Skoll to try to destroy the Werelupes. What if he betrayed them again—
“Done,” Pharazon said. Suhel opened her eyes to see him backing away. At that moment Beoffrey came back out of the kitchen with a wad of towels and handed them to Suhel before going to stand near his wife.
As Suhel moved closer to Isengrim again, Lexora gave her a puzzled look, and Suhel shook her head. “I just don’t like magic, is all,” the Werelupe muttered as she started to clean the wound.
“Like I said, it’s not much,” Pharazon said, “but I did manage to stop the worst of it, and it should heal a little better now. I’m just sorry I couldn’t do more.” He looked down at his claws and frowned.
“Why can’t you?” Lexora asked, folding her hands in her lap.
“I don’t have a focussing tool,” Pharazon said. “See, every magic user needs a way to channel their magic, or else it just doesn’t work right, and it’s not nearly as powerful. The best way to explain it is that it’s sort of like how my owner needs glasses to see optimally.” He pointed to Terra, but then his arm drooped and Suhel saw why.
The human was kneeling by the couch, her cloak pooled on the floor around her. In both hands she clutched one of Isengrim’s massive paws, and she had his knuckles pressed to her forehead. Her head was bowed and she was silent.
Suhel’s heart went out to her. Even though Terra had not created Isengrim, he was still her Neopet, and the bond between them ran deep. Suhel could only imagine how this distressed the owner.
Pharazon cleared his throat. “Anyway… when Terra doesn’t have her glasses on, she can still see, but not very well, and trying to do even the simplest task is complicated and frustrating. That’s how it feels with me and magic right now. I can study it in theory all I like, but actual practice is harder than it should be.”
“Couldn’t you just buy an implement?” Lexora asked. “There’s a magic shop or two in nearly every town.”
“I’ve tried,” Pharazon said. “The problem is, the tool has to fit the user, and everybody accesses their magic in unique ways. For plenty of Neopets, stuff like staves or wands or spellbooks work just fine. Other mages require something a little out of the norm—for example, a friend of mine focusses her magic through her clothing. But I just haven’t found the item or type of item that works for me yet. And believe me, I’ve gone through a lot of them.”
“Not even your Lupe Moon Charm?” another Werelupe asked, pointing to the crescent pendant that hung beneath Pharazon’s fang necklace.
Pharazon shook his head. “I’m not a Lupe. It won’t let me access the full extent of its power. All I’ve ever been able to do with it is communicate with Celice.” He paused. “And yes, I have tried Draik-exclusive implements. Those don’t seem to like me, either.”
“Well—I’m sure something will work someday,” Lexora said. “Don’t give up.” She cleared her throat, which began to turn into another series of coughs.
Suhel paused in dressing Isengrim’s wound to quickly clean a paw and hand Lexora the pouch of lozenges. “Here,” she said. “These’ll help a bit. Don’t worry, they’re blackcurrant.”
Pharazon was watching the Kougra intently, and Suhel wondered what he found so interesting about a cough. Whatever was going around, Lexora seemed to have caught it as well.
Lexora opened up the pouch and popped a lozenge in her mouth. After a moment, the coughing subsided. “Well, I prefer cherry,” she said, “but… thank you.”
Suhel nodded. Cutting Isengrim’s bandaging with a knife and tying it off, she washed her hands in the basin. “You’ve changed, Fitchet,” she said. “You’re not at all the arrogant, fussy second-year I remember.”
“It seems we’ve both changed,” Lexora said. “But looking back, I don’t think that’s ever who I really was at all. It was an attitude I’d picked up at Lynwood from the older girls. The only way to survive that school was to look down on everyone else and keep finding ways you were better than them. It was a place where we all hated each other, and the teachers certainly didn’t help.”
“I should say not,” Suhel said. “If anything, they seemed to enjoy it. How merciless those older girls were to us kids! They’d even turn against each other if given the chance.” More memories surfaced, of a conversation she and Lexora had had the day Suhel ran away, and the Werelupe looked over at the Grarrl who watched them from his chair. “I told you to tell your father how bad things were there,” she said. “Did you?”
Lexora nodded. “Yes. Thank you, Caradoc. You inspired me to have the courage to do what I never would have dreamed of otherwise. I told him all about how horrid Lynwood was and he transferred me to another school. That one was—well, it wasn’t exactly pleasant either, but it at least wasn’t Lynwood. And I hear Lynwood actually closed down shortly after that, so other girls must have given their parents the same idea.”
Mr. Fitchet put his book down. “Yes, but in her third year of secondary school, the market for Bluchard Roots collapsed and my shipping business folded. I was penniless, and I could no longer afford to send Lexora away to any school.”
“Being poor was scary at first,” Lexora said, “but Daddy and I ended up moving here to Barrowmere and opening a secondhand shop. I discovered I rather liked it.” She smiled. “Not the least because I got to spend more time with him. We became thick as thieves, and I’ve honestly never been happier. And it’s all thanks to you, Caradoc.”
Suhel blinked. She never would have guessed her brief stay at Lynwood would end in such a way. It brought her a bit of joy to know that her telling another girl to stand up for herself had such positive repercussions. “… I’m glad,” she said. “Nice to know someone else made it out of that beastly place without turning into a wretch. I’m happy for you, Fitchet. You seem to have made a good life for yourself.”
“Suhel,” Terra said. The human was still clinging to Isengrim’s paw, but now she looked up at the second-in-command with tears dripping down the lenses of her glasses. “I’m sorry—I meant to ask if there’s anything I can do to help, but everyone was so busy talking, I couldn’t really get a word in until now.”
The female Werelupe shook her head. “Don’t worry about it, Terra. I know how to treat injuries, and I know you’re squeamish about that sort of thing.”
“Still,” Terra said, “I would have helped if you needed me to.”
Isengrim’s fingers closed, squeezing Terra’s hands. “Terra…” he breathed. The massive Werelupe turned his head to her and opened his eyes, managing a weak smile. “I’ll be all right. You and Pharazon are not hurt, are you?”
“No, we’re okay,” Terra said. “They didn’t get Gwyneth, either.”
Isengrim sighed in relief. “Good. I’m sorry you’re so worried about me, but I have received worse wounds before and lived to tell about it. Werelupes are hardy folk.”
Terra sniffled. “I know, but I just can’t stand seeing you hurt. I wish there was more I could do to help. I wish I knew magic like Pharazon.”
Isengrim’s paw moved to her head. “You do help, just by being you. I saw you and Pharazon defend me when I fell back there. Thank you. I would very much appreciate it if you sat by my side while I rest. Your presence comforts me.”
His owner smiled. “I can do that.” She took off her glasses and wiped them on her cloak, then went back to holding the Werelupe King’s paw, keeping a vigil over him.
“At any rate,” Isengrim said, “the wound was well-earned. I am not ashamed of a battle injury gained while defending another.” He glanced around. “Where is Connor? Did he come in with you?”
Suhel looked over her shoulder. There were the other seven Werelupes, and behind them in a corner huddled the boy, his face in his paws, his ears low, and his tail curled under. She frowned. “Aye, he’s here, milord.”
“Good,” Isengrim sighed. “What of you all, my thanes? No harm has come to you, I hope?”
One of the males stepped forward, his arm wrapped in a bandage. “A few of us earned some scrapes and bruises,” he said, “but it’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before. We’ll be all right.” Indeed, the other injured appeared to have already tended to their wounds.
Beoffrey looked down at his wife. “Dear, would you like me to put some water on to boil for your tea?”
“Oh, yes, please,” Lexora said, and just at that moment there was a knock at a door downstairs, a not-particularly-polite knock. The Kougra’s whiskers twitched and she pushed herself to her feet with a grimace. “I’ll get it,” she said, sweeping toward the stairs. “Beoffrey, you see to the water, please.”
“You don’t think it’s the mob, do you?” one of the Werelupes asked.
“Undoubtedly,” Suhel growled as she put away her medical supplies. “But I trust Fitchet.” They really had no choice but to trust her, although Suhel was not finding it particularly difficult. Even though the two had only known each other for a week, and had been at odds for most of that time, Lexora was a bit of comforting familiarity in a harrowing situation, and Suhel would hold on to that as tightly as she could.
While Beoffrey puttered about in the kitchen, Suhel and the other Werelupes kept still, listening to the proceedings downstairs. Lexora’s footsteps moved to the opposite end of the building as the storeroom, and then she unlocked and opened a heavy door. Suhel bit her tongue, her heart pounding. This would be the moment of truth, to see if whatever tenuous connection the two girls had made all those years ago really meant anything.
“Mrs. Browning,” said a voice that sounded quite like the Korbat from earlier. “You haven’t seen any Werelupes about, have you? They ran right past the back of your shop.”
“Really, this is the best way you can find to spend your evening?” Lexora said, not skipping a beat. “You all look ridiculous. Put those pitchforks back where they came from.”
“This is a serious matter!” the Korbat said. “You know those Werelupes have been attacking our town! We must bring them to justice and make sure they never bother us again!”
“Well, if I ever have anything to report to you, I certainly shall,” Lexora said. “But I’ve not seen any nasty raiding Werelupes around tonight. Go home to your families. Good evening.” She shut the door.
Suhel smiled, and the last bits of anxiety in her nerves untangled.
As Lexora came back up the stairs, Suhel turned to her. “You were brilliant,” the Werelupe said.
The Kougra gave her a modest grin. “Well, I was telling the truth. You aren’t nasty raiding Werelupes.” Her face fell. “At least… I don’t think.” Her yellow eyes bored into Suhel’s. “Caradoc—your band isn’t the one that’s been terrorising Barrowmere, is it?”
“No,” Suhel said immediately after. “I swear that’s not us. I don’t know who it is. We moved out of the Haunted Woods years ago—we live in Meridell now.”
After a moment, Lexora nodded. “I believe you, Caradoc. You were never one to lie. I admired that about you.” She cleared her throat a bit and leaned on the banister. “What are you doing in the Haunted Woods, then?”
“We’re looking for—“ Suhel’s breath caught in her throat and she began to cough. It was hoarse and loud, and she was just glad they were behind walls of brick or else the sound would easily carry to outside. With one paw she dug into the floor, feeling her muscles protest with each cough.
Lexora hurried to her side and put a paw on her shoulder. “Beoffrey, darling,” she called to the kitchen, “could you please brew two cups of tea? I’m sorry, Caradoc,” she said. “I didn’t realise you were ill, too.”
Finally able to breathe again, Suhel let out a few parting coughs and sat up, rubbing her nose. “Aye, it’s terrible,” she muttered. “Just snuck up on me this past week. You sound like you’re worse along, though.”
Lexora’s ears drooped and her gaze fell to the floor. “Yes… I’ve been sick for nearly a year now. It just won’t go away—we don’t know what’s wrong, none of the doctors do. Daddy’s ever so kind, he bought me a special herbal blend of tea from Shenkuu that’s seemed to stave off the symptoms a little bit, but… I can feel it getting worse. These past few months, I’ve not even had the energy to help run the shop, and some days just getting out of bed is a chore.”
“I’m sorry,” Suhel said.
“Well… these things happen, I suppose,” Lexora said. “But I’m still very grateful for my life—why is your Draik friend staring at me like that?”
Suhel turned to Pharazon. Once again, the little wizard-in-training was peering at Lexora like the Kougra had been transmogrified into a Mutant.
“I beg your pardon,” Pharazon said to the woman, “this might be a bit too personal of a question, but… have you ever been cursed?”
Lexora gave him a confused look. “Why, no… not that I’m aware of. I always try very hard to stay on witches’ good sides. Why do you ask?”
“Because you’ve got a pretty heavy curse on you right now,” Pharazon said.
To be continued…