The Sprinter stayed on its side, there was no way for them to right it at the moment. The people who had gone into town smelled strongly of the aftermath of terror as Lucky walked his way through them. There were new people, fifteen of them, that had come back to Gran’s Farm. Girl walked right at Lucky’s side, her hand on the ruff of fur that fluffed around his shoulders. She had held her father tightly for over an hour after they had extricated him from the van, now she wasn’t letting Lucky go. His tail wagged happily from side to side, enjoying her company while he checked the rest of his Flock.
Satisfied that they were all accounted for, he went sniffing around the southern border near the drive. He sat, looking off down the highway toward town and where the strangely shaped hovercraft had disappeared. He took the moment to collect himself, his body felt strangely not-his after the Sprinter had hit him. He glanced back toward the dooryard and the puddle of his own blood that smeared the ground there. Yet he had stood from that place uninjured. A shiver raced up his spine.
“They’ll be back.” He said softly.
“And in greater numbers.” There was a smile in Girl’s voice, but it sounded sad.
After another moment, with Girl’s hand petting him gently, Lucky rose to his feet and walked toward the middle of the dooryard with a determined gait.
“Are you okay?” She asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
“I’m fine, Girl. I think. I just.” He shuddered and looked up at her. “I think I might have died just there.” His eyes went to the rusty stain on the gravel.
Her fingers clenched in his fur almost painfully. “Yeah.” Her voice wasn’t much more than a breath.
“I don’t know what it means.” He said. “Any of it. What are these things? Why are they here? What’s the System? Why is it here?” He chuffed out an exasperated breath. “Four days ago, I wouldn’t have thought of these questions.” His eyes looked up to her again. “Dogs.” Another huff. “We live in the moment. The right now. You don’t think about the treat you had yesterday or the treat you might have tomorrow, you eat the treat in front of you.”
“That’s not a bad way to look at life.” She said.
“No, but I feel so different now. I worry about what’s coming tomorrow. I think about abstract things.” He heaved a sigh. “It feels almost like I’ve forgotten what it is to be a dog. It was so simple.”
“Oh, Lucky!” She said, dropping down to hug the big dog. “I’m so sorry. I hadn’t even thought how it must feel to you. It’s weird for me, too. I mean, you’re my best friend, my dog. It’s weird that you talk to me now. It makes everything feel different.”
“Everything.” He said. He took a moment with his eyes closed and then shook out his fur and stepped away from her embrace. “Thanks, Girl.”
“You know my name is Isobel, right?”
Lucky shook his head, “You’ll always be my Girl.” He gave her a wide, lolling smile. “But, yes, I did know that. Now. It’s another one of the things that’s changed.”
She smiled, too. “What’s next?”
“Next? We have another meeting so we can all chase our tails and bark at squirrels until someone figures out what we should actually do.”
“Someone, not you?”
“I’m no mastermind.” He said. “I’m just a dog.” He sighed one last time. “Or I was.”
“You’ll figure out who you are, sooner or later. Give yourself time.” She said, ruffling the fur on the top of his head. “I’ll go gather everyone together for the meeting.”
“Maybe they’ll like it better coming from you.”
It didn’t take her long to gather all of the people again. Everyone was worried about the skitterings and whatever that hovering craft had been. Lucky paced the outside of the grouping, looking at the new faces. They seemed so much tighter than the faces of the neighbors Lucky and his family had gathered together. The scent of blood, besides his own, teased just at the edge of his senses. It was old, dried, but there was more than a little. Girl and Man stood together at the front of the grouping, Man’s hand resting on his daughter’s shoulder. She looked worried, but no more than anyone else on the Farm. In fact, much less than some of the newcomers.
“I know you all have things you want to get done and settled this evening, but given today’s events I feel it’s prudent that we discuss our future plans as a group rather than going off alone and working in twenty different directions.” Man began.
One of the newcomers, a tall and broad-shouldered gentleman with a shaved head and bristling facial hair the color of raw steel spoke up. “And who put you in charge?”
“Perhaps that’s something we should also discuss?” Man said, calmly.
The stranger’s voice spoke again. “Why should we discuss? Might can make the rules.” His thickly muscled and bare arms crossed over his chest.
“Firstly, it’s their Farm.” Angry Lady spoke up from the front row. She looked between Girl and Man, brow furrowed as she seemed to be seeking something else. “Besides, the dogs are theirs.”
“What have dogs got to do with anything?” The man grumbles. “It’s not like they’ll fight back.”
“You’ll find yourself mistaken about that, young man.” Gran’s voice was calm as she stepped up next to Man. “I’m not opposed to a democratic election of leadership, but might doesn’t make the rules here.” She held a shotgun with an easy grace, the muzzle pointing toward the ground and her finger carefully off the trigger.
The man snorted, his face breaking into a smile beneath his bristling facial hair. “Glad to hear it. Now, carry on.” He waved a hand at Man, gesturing for him to continue speaking.
Man’s brows crinkled in a frown as he scanned the crowd before shaking his head almost impercievely. “As I was saying. We’ve retrieved quite a lot of supplies from the city, but given the condition we found it in, I’m not certain we’ll be able to get anything else. It’s early summer yet so there’s some seeds in our supplies we can put in and likely still get some sort of harvest this year. Additionally, I think we need some sort of physical defenses, at least around both of our living areas, perhaps both together if we have enough supplies. We also need to sort out some kind of leadership.”
“What about Lucky and the dogs?” Angry Lady asks.
The man who had spoken up earlier nodded his head, glancing toward the gaggle of dogs. “Yes, what’s going on with the dogs? That big pale one chased away the hovercraft.”
“That’s Lucky,” Girl said with a smile. “He’s my dog.”
Lucky finally padded over toward the group at the head of the crowd. He felt strangely heavy as he moved, as though something was bearing down on him. It didn’t feel the same as the ominous sense he had had before the skitterings came, but it was definitely something coming. He sat at Girl’s feet, his left side leaned against her right. She dropped her hand onto his head and spoke again. “A couple days before everything started, Lucky was inducted into the system.”
The man’s frown intensified. “How do you know that?”
“He told me.”
The man snorted sharply and opened his mouth, but Lucky spoke over him. “I saw the grass-words four days ago.” He glances at the sky, noting the position of the sun. “And a few hours.”
Mouth shutting with a snap, the strange man’s expression went from derision to a startled sort of almost fear.
“I picked up the ability to talk to people while I was trying to prepare for what the grass-words had told me. The End. That’s what it told me.” Lucky felt uncertain as he rose from his haunches and looked over the group of people. “I think,” he began, hesitating as he straightened his thoughts, “I think that in order for us to survive. For anything to survive really, we’re going to have to band together and really fight for what we have. Not just for what we have right now, but what we want to have in the future. Together, the pack survives.” Though he still felt as though something were bearing down on him he tried to seem calm. These people were going to need something to hold onto in the coming days. If nothing else, maybe he could give them hope.
“Man is right,” The dog continued, “We need to plant crops and build defenses, more than that though, we need to build a pack.”
“Lucky, it’s Callum.” Man corrected and Lucky’s ears twitched a bit in embarrassment. He really needed to work on learning names.
“Right.” He huffed out a breath. “Right. Right now we’re just a cluster of people and dogs and… well and others. We’re not a cohesive thing. Our goals are similar, but not the same. If everyone chases a different scent trail, we’ll all end up in different places.” His brow furrowed a bit, brown colored marks on his face like eyebrows drawing together over his eyes. He stops speaking as he tries to work out what to say to get across his real point. Part of it was what the sky-voice had said to him about returning to his flock. Flocks and packs and families. It was all so important, but how to explain it to humans?
The man with the steel-colored beard spoke again, “You’re shitting me with this, right? A talking dog? And you guys are listening to him?”
“He saved my life today.” Angry Lady protested. “He and the dogs have protected us from those creatures twice now. I thought the same thing.” She admitted. “I thought this was insane, but maybe he’s our best chance at surviving this.”
“It’s not enough just to survive.” Lucky muttered, glancing from one tense face to another in the crowd. “It’s not enough.” He said again, stepping forward as the idea took him. “Whatever is happening it’s everywhere. There isn’t some central location we can go to be safe, we have to make our own safety. We have to make our own territory, our own home. Whatever this is, whatever is coming for us, isn’t going to stop until it really is The End. It can only take from us what we are willing to give up for the sake of survival and I say we give up as little as possible. If we’re going to be the last bastion of humanity left in the area, we’re going to keep the humanity as much as the humans.” His bright eyes found those of the steel-bearded stranger. “Might makes rules, you say. Only the strong survive, I’ve heard.” He shook his head. “Heck if I’m going to let my pack come to that. I am the [The Howling Shepherd of the Flock] and my flock will flourish.”
**DA-DING!! You have gained 200 experience and the trait [Pack Leader]!!
Lucky ignored the voice in his head for the moment, trying to follow the trail he had been following toward what he wanted the humans to understand. “My pack will protect the Flock, every member whether they are weak or strong. We will guard against the End.” His eyes scanned over the gathered gaggle of dogs, seeing them rise to their feet one by one. Each and every one barked, just once, as though confirming what he had said.
You have proven yourself to be a leader both strong and wise.
Your packmates will gain the trait [Member of the Pack] and their offensive skills will increase by 5% for each packmate attacking the same target, 10% if the packmate is the [Pack Leader].
Your pack gains all the benefits of being a Guild.
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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.