Shortly after laying his head down sprawled across the foot of Girl’s bed, Lucky was awakened by a sense of immense pressure. It felt as though he was being smothered by an immense pile of blankets. He lifted his head, ears flicking to seek the source of the sound. His nose quivered as he tested for scent. There was nothing. No sound, no smell. Nothing that should have awakened him, but here he lay, awake and worried.
He slid slowly off the bed, his large paws landing soundlessly on the floor. Quick, curled on his own pillow atop the dresser, lifted his head from his tail for a moment. He emitted a questioning chitter.
“It’s nothing.” Murmured Lucky. “I’m just restless, I’m going to go check the main floor.”
The squirrel tucked himself in a tighter ball and settled confidently back into sleep. Lucky was amused as his soft steps led him to the top of the stairs. The squirrel had come to trust him so much in such a short time. He would be willing to bet that the squirrel was as bemused as he was by the situation. He chuffed out a breath as he started down the stairs, it hadn’t even been a week since the grass-words had popped into his mind and his life had changed so much. It was just after midnight, the very beginning of the fourth day since that afternoon.
He paced from window to window on the main floor, unsatisfied with what he saw outside. Which was nothing. Not a single thing stirred out there. The fur on Lucky’s hackles began to rise and something twisted deep in his guts. He grumbled to himself as he headed for the doggy door. He made it only a step before he stalled and turned back to the window. Nothing was stirring outside. He thought. Nothing. Not a bird or even a bug. It was silent and still out there.
Lucky scrambled for the doggy door, slipping out into the still night. The air was moist and oppressively warm. Standing out in the dooryard, Lucky’s hair rose even further. It seemed like there was something looming in the sky, looking down on him and it did not feel friendly. He shifted from one foot to the next, worry streaming through him. He took a few more steps then froze, body stiffening and fur standing on end.
**DA-DING!! You have acquired the survival skill Dangersense at level 1!!
Immediately, Lucky threw back his head and poured all his worry into a long howl. It started with a low and mournful pitch and rose into a siren-like warning. As he dropped his head and drew in a deep breath, there was a susurration of sound. Like silk rasping over rough wood. Lucky braced, taking a low, stable stance. Shockingly, Allegro was the first dog out the door, she skidded to a panting stop next to Lucky. “What is it?”
“Something’s coming. Can you run to the Hunting Camp and wake everyone? Have the dogs stay to guard that camp. Were the others up inside?”
“They’re waking up the people. Axel will stay inside with them. They sent me out as a messenger.” She started trotting in the direction of the Hunting Camp. “I’ll come back.” She broke into a dead run two strides later.
She had just vanished into the woods when the wind kicked up. It felt like hot breath ripping through the dooryard, stirring his fur. There was a smell to the wind, like moldy leaflitter and the crisp scent of bugs. A shudder raced down his spine and he felt like something was trying to strike at the core of him. He was alone in the dooryard, lit only by the lights that had flicked on in the house in response to his howl.
The scent grew more intense, burning at his nose and Lucky sneezed to clear it. He just ended up sucking in more of the scent and sneezing harder. He heard a creaking sound, followed by the sound of a stick dragging through the dirt. Underneath both sounds was a faint clicking hum that took up residence in Lucky’s teeth. He felt a wash of wind filled with that strange wet-dry scent that felt so sharp in his nose. It rolled over him like a blanket of dread.
A tremor danced its way up his spine and Lucky’s tail threatened to droop. He could feel the dread pressing upon him, coming from without and trying to invade the bright confines of his spirit. His teeth clenched and his lips peeled back in a snarl. Intrepid pounded down the steps, loping into place next to Lucky. His ears were back, his hackles up, his tail tucked, but he stood. He stood.
The big multicolored dog glanced over his shoulder at the now brightly lit home that he stood guard in front of. We will stand. He promised himself, promised the house and his growing gaggle of friends and family. We will stand.
Lucky’s tail curled up and over his back, his ears came forward and a deep growl rumbled in his chest. Intrepid had lost so much, all the Lost Dogs had, but here they stood. Here we will stand. Val was the next to join him. A low growl rumbled from her chest as well as she stood at his other flank. Quigley came to stand at her other side, his white-tipped tail was even wagging. “What is it, Lucky?” His deep voice broke the stillness.
“I’m not sure yet, but it’s trying to intimidate us.” He answered.
There was a sudden eruption of noise as hundreds of birds took flight and shot past the dogs. The forest came alive. The little animals that normally inhabited it burst from cover and ran. They streamed from the treeline and raced across the dooryard, clearing away from whatever was coming. They moved like a river, the water breaking against the stone that was the dogs, splitting to either side and running on. Lucky’s bark was like a chitter as he tried to direct the animals up the stairs behind and into the safety of the house. The dark wave of wind that washed over them all carried the forest animals around the house and into the darkness of the night.
Finally, he could see movement beyond the river of animals. The light caught on gleaming charcoal-grey, shining off sharp angles and smooth curves. Lucky stepped forward, pushing against that wash of dread. Another wave of hot air, reeking of that insect-scent, washed over the dogs along with dried pine needles from the tree. After what had felt like eternity, they moved fully into the light. There were a half dozen of them, none bigger than little Norman. Each was a perfectly pill shaped body of hard and gleaming charcoal-grey. Brightly silver legs attached to the body, six on each side, and rose sharply to a pointed joint before descending to the ground with a sharp knife-like point. They moved quickly, following the river of forest dwellers. Their every step sounded like sticks dragging along the gravel, each leg moving in perfect concert with the others, six on the ground at any time.
Lucky didn’t wait any longer, he threw back his head with a thunderous and [Intimidating Howl] and lunged forward. Strange whiplike appendages, nearly an exact replication of the antennae of a roach, twitched at the sound of Lucky’s howl and their smooth gait stuttered for only a moment. Then Lucky was right there, drawing in a deep breath. [Breath of Light]. The words echoed in his head and he could feel the skill latch on as he exhaled. It was instinct that told him how to use the skill, he hadn’t practiced.
His breath came with a flare of light so bright it was like looking at the sun. It spread in a small cone in front of him, searing across the shining hides of the first two skittering things. The one closest to Lucky, caught in the thickest part of his exhalation, reeled backward, its joints stiffening as something burned in the light.
The dog gave it no time to recover, luging in and grabbing at the closest leg. He tasted the crisp tang of metal and his teeth failed to penetrate as he bit down. The other dogs raced into the melee, some bursting out of the woods from the Hunting Camp. They harried the little creatures, coming at them from multiple sides. There was a whirr of sound and the front part of the pill-shaped bodies broke into four jagged edged pieces. There was a burning darkness deep within.
Norman’s paws stalled in his movement as that burning darkness washed across his fur and the skittering thing that he was harassing lunged forward and latched onto his right foreleg with those terrifyingly jagged mouthparts. Lucky reached for [Breath of Light] again, but the skill didn’t latch. Instead he dug his paws deep into the dirt and careened forward into its side. [Body Slam] made his paws feel heavier, as though his body had suddenly doubled in weight. There was a ringing sound as his body impacted the slick metal. The thing went down, its mouth going still and the darklight going out.
**DA-DING!! Your party has slain a Skittering Scout of Nalzhur!! You have gained 35 experience and your relationship with Nalzhur is no longer neutral!!**
**DA-DING!! You have gained +1 Body Slam!!**
Norman was down, whimpering. Blood oozed from the injury on his foreleg. The other dogs weren’t doing much better than Norman and Lucky. Teeth didn’t seem to do terribly well against the metallic hide of these creatures. Lucky howled focusing on [Healing Howl] and he could hear Norman’s whimpers easing.
Lucky lunged forward, his paws digging deep again, as he aimed for another one of the skittering scouts. [Bite] finally pierced the metal of a leg and sparks fired in Lucky’s mouth as it collapsed under his teeth. He yanked backward and the skittering overbalanced. Falling to the ground with a ringing clank. This one didn’t die right away. Instead it scrambled out of Lucky’s grasp and turned its four part mouth toward him. Lucky shied back out of the way as those jaws closed.
He heard the voice in his ear telling him of another skittering scout dying to his party filled his mind as one of the other dogs took out a target. Lucky backed up a few more steps and took a moment to glance around. Only four of the machines still stood, but Intrepid and Quigley were both injured. Quigley held his left hind limb off the ground and a semi-circle of skin was missing from that thigh. Intrepid had a singed splash of fur on the right side of her neck that carried down to the shoulder and her chest on that side.
The multicolored dog drew in a deep breath and reached for [Breath of Light]. This time he felt the skill latch in and adjusted himself so he could spray the blazing light over two of the skitterings. He exhaled with satisfaction and some of the metal that coated the machines melted away.
**DA-DING!! You have gained +1 Breath of Light!!**
**DA-DING!! Your party has slain two Skittering Scouts of Nalzhur!! You have gained 70 experience!!
Only two remained now and Lucky turned his attention to the one that was trying to catch a hold of Intrepid. He [Charge]d and felt [Body Slam] latch on to him weighing him down. His shoulder rammed into the skittering with and Lucky felt the metal monster crumple at the impact. He heard the voice in his head chiming its death. The fight hadn’t lasted long, but Lucky wasn’t a fighter at heart. He was tired in a way he had never been tired before, but his large paws still turned him toward the last of the monsters.
He lunged in and the skittering darted back, lifting one of its front limbs and stabbing at Lucky. The weapon sank deeply into his shoulder and the burning pain took that leg out from under him and he went down. It was Norman that charged in his teeth shining in the light, a feral snarl blazing across his muzzle as he sunk his teeth into one of the hindlimbs of the skittering. His smaller body tensed and he yanked the thing off its feet, thrashing it to one side and then the other. His growl was a deep and feral thing that rebounded off the walls of the surrounding buildings and sounded like it came from a dog the size of a bus.
**DA-DING!! Your party has slain a Skittering Scout of Nalzhur!! You have gained 35 experience!!**
**DA-DING!! You have defended your territory. Granny Lachlan’s Farm is now available as a claimable territory. Do you want to claim this territory?**
Lucky sat on his haunches, worn like the holes in a favorite chew toy, and just breathed for a moment. He tilted his head and considered the voice that spoke to him. “Yes.” He barked somewhat sharply. “I would like to claim my territory.”
**DA-DING!! Territory claimed. Finish marking your boundaries to earn bonuses!!**
With those words echoing in his head he threw it back and unleashed another [Healing Howl] to help his friends. The voice spoke again, but he could feel that the howl had become more powerful. He didn’t need to be told.
As soon as the skittering scouts had stilled and only the still healing dogs stood in the dooryard, Girl rushed out of the house and down the steps. She slid on the gravel as she skidded to a stop next to Lucky and dropped to her knees to wrap him in a tight hug. “I was so scared.” She admitted, burying her face in his warm fur. “I thought you were done for. There were so many of them and they had that spray.”
Lucky wrapped his head around her to hug her back the only way a dog can. “Spray?” He asked.
“Yeah. One of them sprayed this stuff on Intrepid and it melted his fur away.” She squeezed him tighter. “And then you got stabbed.”
“It wasn’t as bad as it looked.” He said. “Besides, that [Healing Howl] took care of it. Or is taking care of it. It seems to heal over time.”
He yawned hugely and rose slowly to his tired paws. “Inside.” He barked. “Leave the heckin’ things out here until morning.” The dogs listened without needing to be told twice, splitting up and heading back to their temporary homes. The Lost Dogs climbed the stairs with Lucky and he paused at the top and looked back over the dooryard. “We’ll deal with it all in the morning.” He said to Girl.
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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.