Man had already started piling things up in front of the collapsed house. Sleeping bags, duffle bags filled with who knew what, milk crates filled with supplies, a huge stack of goods that could prove useful. The bags that Girl had picked up at the surplus store the day before were near the front of the pile. He was in the house, searching for more, but Girl grabbed a camp chair from the garage and set it up for Lady.
“You sit down and rest for now, Mrs. Henderson, We’re going to try to find some more of the neighbors. Do you need anything? A drink maybe?”
“No, dearie, I’m fine.” Lady answered, settling down carefully in the camp chair.
Lucky and Girl jogged down the street in the direction of Lobo’s. Quick the squirrel was still burrowed into the fluffy fur at the nape of Lucky’s neck, his grey coat blending in with the splotches of color scattered across Lucky’s fur.
“Have you seen anymore of the grass-words or heard any more of the voices?” Lucky asked as they jogged along.
“No, just the ones we already talked about.” Girl sounded almost disappointed. “I think the system is giving you hints though.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you were chosen, so you got a head start.” She began, “But your class name? [Howling Shepherd of the Flock]? I think we should gather up as many of the neighbors as we can and find a place to settle in and fortify. Whatever is coming is going to be bad, Lucky. Really bad.”
“What makes you say that?” Lucky didn’t disagree, he was just curious about her reasonling.
“The very first thing that happened was catastrophic damage to the entire town.” She gestured to the damaged buildings that surrounded them. “If this is just their opening round, what are they holding back?”
“There’s strength in numbers then.” Lucky agreed. “Here’s Lobo’s place.”
Strangely, Lobo’s brick house was fully intact, the roof was even still firmly on top. As he trotted around the house, Lucky started barking, “Lobo!”
He nosed the fence open and entered the yard with perfect familiarity. He finally heard a bark from deep inside the house, “Is that you, Lucky?”
“You visit him a lot, don’t you?” Girl’s voice was a little accusatory.
Lucky looked back over his shoulder with a panting smile, “You leave me alone a lot.”
Her leaf-colored eyes went wide at that and she started to stammer.
The multicolored dog turned his attention back to Lobo. “Can you come outside, Lobo? Is your Man home?”
Before the husky could answer, Lucky heard a murmur of sound inside, a deep masculine voice telling Lobo to hush. Lucky barked again. “Can we come in? I have Girl.”
He trotted up onto the back porch and Girl knocked at the door even as he crouched as though to squeeze his way through the dog door. “Lucky!” She said sharply. “Be polite.”
Lucky grumbled in response and sat at her side, waiting for Lobo’s man to answer the door.
“Coming!” A deep voice came from inside.
Lobo’s man was tall, his head almost brushing the door frame as he opened it. His skin was the color of a walnut shell and his eyes were the muddy brown of a disturbed puddle. He was slender, tending towards skinny and wore a pair of jeans and a hooded sweatshirt with the Wisconsin Badger on it. His face wrinkled up like the meat of a walnut as he looked at Lucky and Girl. “Can I help you?” His deep voice was puzzled.
“Hi!” Girl’s voice was cheerful. “My name is Isobel Lachlan and this is Lucky.”
Lobo’s Man’s voice sounded guarded as he said. “James Hardison. Nice to meet you. What can I do for you?”
“I’m sure you’re aware that something strange is going on. My father and I are gathering up the neighborhood and we’re going to find a place to fortify.”
The tall man scratched his head. “What for?”
“For whatever is coming, sir.” Girl’s answer was immediate. “Whatever the antiviral protocols are, they probably won’t be good for us. Especially not if knocking down most of the neighborhood was the first move.”
“Mm.” It was a hum as much as a sound. “I’ve read stories where crap like this happens.” He said after a moment of silence. “I’ve got a status screen and everything.”
“I have one, too.” Girl said. “And so does Lucky.”
The mud-brown eyes widened as they looked down. “The dog? How do you know?”
“Three days ago, Lucky saw a screen. It said he was chosen and gave him a chance to get a head start. One of the things he picked up is the ability to speak.”
The man snorted. “Right.”
Lucky, happily panting up until this point licked his chops and sat up straighter. “Can I go in and talk to Lobo?” He asked politely.
Lobo’s Man’s eyes popped open even further, showing the whites all around his muddy irises. “Holy shit!” He managed after a moment.
The multicolored dog huffed out a breath and looked from Lobo’s man to Girl. “So, can I? I want to know if he got grass-words too.”
“Uh, yeah, sure. Why don’t you both come in.” The tall man said.
Lucky huffed again as he trotted past. “Lobo!” He called. “Where are you?”
“In the front room again.” The husky called back. “Watching the street. Something is coming.”
“I know, I feel it too. We need to hurry and get our people someplace safe.”
The red husky looked back at Lucky as he trotted into the room. “Is anyplace safe?”
Chuffing out a laugh and wagging his tail Lucky said, “There has to be. We have to hope, don’t we?”
Lobo’s eyebrows wriggled their way into a frown. “Maybe.” He turned back to the window. “Why are you here?”
“Man and Girl want to gather the neighbors and put our strengths together. Do you have grass-words now?”
The husky whined. “No. Mine are the color of blood on snow. I can’t tell what they say.”
Lucky’s tail stilled and his ears flicked back. He forcibly flicked them forward again, hiding his anxiety. “Girl can teach you to read, then you will know what it says.” He could hear Girl talking to Lobo’s man back in the kitchen, but he focused on the dog. “It will be okay. You can come with us and we’ll work together. We can keep our people safe.”
The husky turned his attention back to the window. “Don’t you feel it looming over us? It’s like we’re rabbits and it’s a hawk.”
“How long do you think we have before it strikes?” Lucky asked. Something about the way Lobo was talking had nerves squirming in his belly.
“The hawk is circling now, watching us scatter like rabbits to our warrens.” His voice was oddly empty and he spoke as if by rote. “It sees its prey. It knows us. There is nowhere to hide.” His ears and tail were in a neutral position, but Lucky’s tail had sunk between his legs and curled against his stomach as the red husky continued to speak. “If the rabbit runs, the hawk strikes. Can a rabbit strike back?”
All the fur along Lucky’s back had risen as Lobo continued to speak. Lobo turned to face Lucky, his ice-pale eyes empty as they met Lucky’s.
“The wolf starves, the rabbit runs. The pack survives.” There was a moment of silence and then Lobo’s eyes seemed to spark to life. The husky frowned. “You okay, Lucky? You look kind of scared.”
“Uh, I’m fine.” He licked his lips and looked away from Lobo. “Are you?”
The husky’s happy smile was answer enough as he bounded away from the window and up onto the couch. “You look so serious.” He bowed down on his front legs, tail waving wildly.
Lucky’s stomach churned, but he made an effort to wag his tail and answer the play bow. Something wasn’t right with Lobo, but until he could read the words in his mind, there was nothing anyone could do for him. While Girl and Lobo’s Man spoke, the two dog raced playfully around the house.
**DA-DING!! You have gained +1 Parkour!!**
He heard the voice as he bounded over the sofa and bounced off the wall, catching Lobo in the side and rolling the husky to his back.
**DA-DING!! You have gained +1 Style: Dog Fighting!!**
Lobo’s tail was going so quickly he wriggled beneath Lucky. The bigger dog was panting and ready for a break as he flopped down next to Lobo. “Have you been hearing the voices?”
“Yeah. I gained a lot of skills while we were doing that.” Lobo panted back.
“Good. Those will help later, I hope.”
The husky’s ears twitched back and forth as he looked toward the kitchen. “I think they’re done talking, we should go see what Man has decided.”
Lucky padded after the smaller dog, his stomach still churning. What is wrong with Lobo? One minute he’s Lobo and the next he’s a stranger. He still smells the same though. Lucky thought as he followed his friend.
“Did you decide?” He asked aloud as he came into the kitchen.
Lobo’s Man frowned in Lucky’s direction. “I’m coming. I’ll pack my things and bring my car down to your place. I can call around to a few more of the neighbors here and get them moving, too. The question really is, where will we be going?”
“My Grandma’s farm. It’s a ways away from here, from everywhere really. Should be a good place to hole up and set up defenses. Plus there’s lots of outbuildings and two houses on the property.”
“Alright. We’ll be along after a while.”
Girl took her leave and Lucky loped along at her side. After they rounded the house and headed toward another house. “There’s something going on with Lobo. We need to teach him how to read so he can tell us about his words.”
“Lobo has the system?”
“Yes.” Lucky’s tail was riding low. “He says his words are like blood on snow.”
Girl shivered as he spoke. “That’s not ominous at all.” She said dryly.
“Not at all.” Lucky agreed with a faint whine in his tone. He caught a scent and took a deep sniff. “I smell Quigley and Val.”
“Quigley and Val?” Girl asked, her steps slowing.
“Strays. They’re friends of mine. Can I bring them along?”
She hesitated for only a moment. “If you can guarantee their behavior, Lucky, you can bring them along. I don’t want to leave them in the cold, but I also don’t want them attacking kids or cats or something.”
“I promise they will behave.” He stopped walking for a moment and threw back his head, letting loose an undulating howl. Moments later, a number of voices howled back. More voices than he had expected, but hopefully nothing to worry about. They would meet him back at the destroyed house, but before that he and Girl had more neighbors to talk to.
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Hi! My name is Skwrepb (pronounced Jen, I swear). I'm a stay at home mother of three with not enough time on my hands. I've been writing since I could hold a pen and I have so many stories to tell!
I'm an avid reader and The Wandering Inn is what brought me to Royal Road. I have been devouring stories here ever since.