Also by Laurelinden
"It should be here somewhere," Brett told himself, and
held his lantern a little higher, as if it would make a hidden sign apparent
amid the tangle of twisted, dying trees. The brown Yurble edged warily down
the thin trail of the Haunted Woods, glancing up in worry at the ever-darkening
He thought in dismay of his sister Nena, back
in Neopia Central, who had become convinced, somehow, that she was a chicken.
What had begun as an innocent cluck here and there soon expanded into a constant
storm of arm-flapping and pecking at the ground. The disease soon became so
advanced that she'd begun to "molt" out of her brown coat, and Brett had rushed
her to the hospital. The staff member there told him that the cure, Herbal Scrambled
Eggs, was out of stock, and his only chance of finding them was to travel through
the Haunted Woods, to Edna.
Unfortunately, though, it seemed the nurse's
directions had been poor. I should be there by now, Brett realized, as
the last of the gold slipped from the sky, leaving the hue of the Woods an eerie
mass of grey and black. She said I'd be there before nightfall.
A sharp, mournful cry cut through the night,
raising Brett's hair on end. It seemed awfully near. He scanned the shadowy
path for a place to hide, and jumped behind a promising wayside bush just as
a bulky shape emerged where he'd been standing moments before, howling miserably.
The form was large and cloaked in the shadow of night; despite its size it appeared
lithe and almost graceful. From the dim light of his lantern a shaking Brett
could only discern that the creature, whatever it was, was roughly the size
of an Eyrie, though it clearly wasn't one. Towering above him, the figure howled
several times, its call lugubrious and agonized, before bolting off down the
path with the speed of an angry Poogle.
As the being's howls faded into the night, Brett
breathed frantically in an attempt to remain calm. Horrifying scenarios of being
ambushed in the darkness by that awful creature hit his mind like needles from
all directions, and he could do nothing to stop them. He'd always been easily
frightened, but now he was in fear for his life.
What in the name of Fyora was that?
Brett asked himself, rising slowly to his feet. The lantern rattled in his other
paw as he tried to center himself, and concentrate on his goals. I need to
get to Edna, he told himself. I need to get my Herbal Scrambled Eggs.
Nothing else matters.
Stepping back out onto the path, Brett watched
with dread as a slow, silky mist crawled over the path. "Oh no…" the Brown Yurble
mumbled, sighing. "Please, no." But the heedless mist continued to envelop the
path like a hungry beast, sweeping past him in a chilled wind and leaving him
feeling wet and cold.
He took one step forward, the lantern still shaking
in his clammy grip, and the shrill, agonized howl sounded through the woods
again. It seemed close; perhaps at the end of the pathway. His throat tightened
as his stomach churned - what could he do to escape?
The howl echoed out again, and this time it was
even closer. It was then that Brett heard the frantic footfalls of some crazed
abomination charging. It took several seconds for Brett to realize that, ahead
of him, the mist was shuffling as something parted its silvery interior - the
Breaking into a desperate run down the opposite
direction, Brett heard the howl again. The pursuing monster was close enough
to have been able to reach out and strike him. Glancing backwards for only a
moment, a truly horrifying sight greeted him.
Racing down the center of the road, the mists
curling around him like water, was the tall, looming figure of a Werelupe.
Brett's knees almost failed him, but after a
sickening lurch in his stomach and a strange surge of numbness creeping over
his limbs, he mastered his rebellious body and ran. His heart raced faster
than a Snowbunny's as he fled with impossible speed through the patchy darkness,
crunching in half-stumbles over layers of dead leaves and broken twigs, flying
wildly, aimlessly, down the path.
The feel of the Werelupe's breath on his neck
almost made him faint with terror. If the Werelupe caught him - if he were bitten
- he would be cursed for the rest of his life, doomed to wander in the depths
of the Haunted Woods, never to return to his family.
As Brett's initial rush of adrenaline waned,
he began to feel the cost of the mad flight on his body. His ragged, gasping
breaths filled his ears and his arms and legs felt to be made of wood. The Werelupe
behind him pounded rhythmically, tirelessly, intent on sinking his fangs into
the fleeing brown Yurble and making him one of them.
But Brett could not let that happen - if he couldn't
escape for himself, he would have to do it for Nena.
He realized that running was not going to work;
the Werelupe was the stronger of the two. He would have to use his mind
to get away. An idea popped into his head. It's risky, but it just might
work. If not… He shuddered.
As the rapid footsteps of the Werelupe grew ever
nearer, Brett gnashed his teeth and whirled around. Mist curled around his shaken,
beaten frame as he shouted at the top of his weary lungs, "STOP!"
The Werelupe came to a rigid halt, taken off
guard, and stared befuddled at Brett for a moment before lunging at him ravenously.
Brett, meanwhile, had snatched the opportunity to gather some rocks from a nearby
bush. "Take this!" he shouted, hurling a stone at the Werelupe. The desperate
throw flew true - it hit his adversary in his foaming jaw.
The Werelupe let out another of its terrifying
cries and snapped back at him, flickers of agony and rage dancing in its scarlet
Then it lunged for his throat.
With a cry of despair, Brett threw another rock
at the Werelupe - and missed. The Werelupe, annoyed, growled lowly, its eyes
flickering with a intense, pulsating hatred. Leaping at him, it swiped at his
Brett ducked just in time; the shadowy claw missed
him by only a few inches. The Werelupe toppled to the ground, but gracefully
righted himself in a fluid, continuous motion. The mist around them began to
thin and disperse as the full moon glinted downward upon his hunter.
The Werelupe had seemingly been awaiting this
moment; when the moonlight illuminated its shaggy, monstrous frame it rose up
on two legs and let out a howl charged with agony.
Louder than any other howl of the creature, it
echoed in the still woods, and Brett understood at last the meaning of "haunted."
The Yurble fled again, leaping over and around
boulders, brambles, bushes, saplings, charging without thought or concern into
the heart of the Haunted Woods - anything to escape the horrifying fate that
would await him if he stayed behind with the Werelupe.
He turned back to see if the Werelupe was following
his crazy charge into the forest, tripped over a rotted log, and fell flat on
his face. The footfalls of the Werelupe resumed their deadly beating behind
him, but its howl was still muffled by distance. He still had time - he still
had a chance.
Before him stood a six foot gorge; Brett did
not think of safety when he leapt down into it, only that he had to escape the
Werelupe. In his descent, he dropped the lantern, which fell to the ground and
burst into shards of metal and glass. Its flame extinguished immediately. Cursing
his bad luck, Brett crawled under a rock in the gorge, wishing with all of his
might that the Werelupe would not scent him, but he knew the wish to be in vain.
He heard the Werelupe's bounding steps pause
above the gorge, and the intake of breath as it sniffed out the trembling Yurble.
Your mind, he told himself desperately. Use your mind!
Then a second idea took shape, and he only hoped
it would be enough this time.
Grabbing a long, sturdy stick from the mass of
dead tree-parts littering the ground, Brett emerged from the hole and held it
aloft. "Down here, you n00b!" he screamed, thinking of the first insult that
came to mind.
The Werelupe's lips curled back in a frightening
snarl as he spotted his victim below. Mad with rage, he launched himself down,
down, down -
Onto Brett's stick.
The Yurble jumped backward as his adversary roared
in pain, ripping the stick from where it had sunk deep into his shoulder. If
my strength alone was not enough, Brett told himself, then I just had
to use his.
The Werelupe shot a resentful glare at Brett
before leaping to the top of the gorge to nurse his wounds.
Sighing in relief, Brett grabbed loose rocks
and roots embedded in the soil, hoisting himself up on the ground. He leaned
down to dust himself off, and when he looked up gaped in awe, and rubbed his
eyes to make sure the dim light did not lie.
Before him, with its crooked piers and reaching
turrets, stood Edna's tower. The Werelupe had chased him right to it!
Brett couldn't believe his luck. Paying no mind
to the Werelupe's departing form, the brown Yurble bounded off like an excited
schoolboy towards the tower, letting his mind linger on thoughts of coming back
to his cozy house to cure his sister of her strange disease. He would be warm...
She'd make him some soup once that crazy chicken-look was out of her eye… Chicken
soup, perhaps… That would be fitting…
The door to Edna's tower creaked open, and a
foul odor met Brett's nose. Flinching, he rushed inside and slammed the door
behind him, lest the Werelupe decide to get revenge. He tried to take a deep
breath to calm himself, but it turned into a choke, so he crept down the green-lit
hallway as he struggled to inhale the acrid odor, glancing to and fro at faded
portraits of warty witches with sinister sneers.
Brett heard a faint bubbling as he made his way
deep into the tower. It was coming from the top of a spiraling staircase. He
realized it must be the fabled Zafara witch's brew, and rushed up the stairs.
The first thing he saw at the room at the stair's
top was a bubbling black cauldron hovering over a green flame. Edna stood beside
it, throwing pinches of strange powders into the mess. Puffs of emerald smoke
ocassionally rose from the simmering brew, and Edna soon began pouring small
helpings of strange liquids.
"Hello," she spoke with a voice as creaky as
the front door. She didn't even look up as she flipped idly through a potion
book. "I suppose you're here for a quest?" She pulled a bottle labeled "Essence
of Slorg" and dumped half of it into the cauldron. Thin wisps of white smoke
rose from the mixture within.
"Y-yes," Brett stammered. "I was wondering if
you could help me. You see, my sister thinks she's a chicken, I'm trying to
find the cure--"
"Ah, Herbal Scrambled Eggs," Edna murmured fondly.
"One of my greatest creations. It'll cure her right up, believe me." She cackled
in such a way that Brett's hair stood on end for what seemed like the millionth
time that night.
"So you can make it?" Brett inquired as Edna
began stirring the cauldron with gleaming eyes.
"Of course I can make it!" Edna scoffed. "What
do you think I am, just a petty potion-maker? I can whip you up Herbal Scrambled
Eggs in a jiffy. I just need the proper ingredients."
"Well, what do you need?" Brett asked. Edna's
dark eyes gleamed, reflecting the green flames beneath her cauldron.
"You'll need some egg yolks, a spoonful of Slorg
residue, powdered leaves of the Clawmatoe plant, and..." Edna hesitated for
a moment, a grin forming on her old lips. Brett hid a shudder.
"And...?" he prompted, cocking his head slightly
in anticipation of listening to the final ingredient - anything to make his
sister well again!
Edna's smile reached from one ear to the other.
"The tooth of a Werelupe."