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A note from Skwrepb

Howdy, folks! 

I got a .5 rating Saturday and it's dragged me back up to the lower 70s for my overall ranking. It didn't do terribly much to my overall star rating, but it made me a little sad to see the numbers going back up. A couple of years ago, that .5 star rating would have been a crushing thing. All of you guys have been so kind and supportive that it's a hell of a lot easier for me to take that .5 star review. 

I am absolutely grateful to every single one of you that are reading along with me. It's a grand adventure and I can't wait to see where it goes from here. Thanks for everything!

 

In the infinite space between one breath and the next, everything happened.

“Get your hands off my dog, you jerk!” Girl’s scream lasted forever and the words were all slurred together, rolling over one another.

The blank, black face shield lifted at the speed of light, but it took an eternity to shift from looking down at Lucky to over toward Girl.

The hollow metal tube was digging into the top of Lucky’s head, humming ominously. It scraped over his fur, roughing up the skin beneath. It slipped away in a moment, slowly rising to aim over Lucky’s back toward a figure behind him.

A very faint popping sound.

An exceptionally loud gunshot.

Eyes open, he blinked.

The blank face shield was suddenly several yards away as Lucky’s body convulsed and stiffened, as untold voltage ripped through his joints. The air pressed from his lungs as Lucky strained for breath. Girl was screaming, the rider stood writhing and Lucky landed on the ground, hard. What little breath remained in his lungs was forced out. Lucky gasped futilely, unable to move, disoriented.

Girl was screaming!

**DA-DING!! Your party has slain a Nalzhurin!! You have gained 250 experience!!**

Girl was screaming!

Lucky’s eyes were swimming, like the world was rolling before him. His body wouldn’t obey, his limbs were dead weight he could not move. Girl was crying. The rider fell, Lucky could hear the metal tube clink against the ground. The sound was humongous. A bell-like clatter. Something crashed into Lucky’s flank, wrapping around him tightly.

**DA-DING!! Your party has slain a Malgamar!! You have gained 90 experience!!

The big dog pushed the voice out of his head, a frustrated growl rumbling deep in his chest. He tried to pull away from whatever was crushing him into the ground. It hurt. He whined. Girl was crying! He had to get to her. He couldn’t get to his feet, couldn’t get out from under the weight that bore him down.

**DA-DING!! Your party has slain a Nalzhurin!! You have gained 250 experience!!**

Even the voice in his head brought pain. Like shattered glass grinding into the soft places in his head. Thoughts bounced around his head like a tennis ball in a narrow hall, carooming from one surface to another, knocking the vases off the tables and the lamps from the wall. Shattered pieces of those thoughts ground against one another.

Girl was crying!

Lucky got his forelegs underneath him and he rose. His muscles screamed at him in protest, his bones cried in agony. He rose. Against the weight that bore him down. Arms wrapped around his neck as he got his hindlegs beneath him. They quivered. A face was buried in the ruff of fur around his neck, hot tears dampening his fur.

It swelled in his chest, burning, scorching, blazing its way up from his core. She was holding him tight, clinging to him, sobs wracking her body, her face buried in him. His head lifted, nose to the sky and it worked its way out, taking his breath with it.

**DA-DING!! You have gained +1 Intimidating Howl!!**

It ripped its way out of him, so loud it made Girl cringe against him. So furious it brought the fighting before him to a halt. So wrathful it gave the intruders pause. For the space of a pair of heartbeats there was absolute stillness in the dooryard. Nothing moved. Lucky could swear that even the wind had stilled.

It filled the dooryard.

Other voices joined the song.

He breathed.

The stillness cracked.

They fled.

Lucky took a step forward, his limbs trembling. Girl clung tighter to his neck. His instincts screamed for him to chase them down, hunt them, bring them down. Gunshots cracked.

**DA-DING!! Your party has slain a Nalzhurin!! You have gained 250 experience!!**

The coyotes streamed out of the dooryard through the ruined fencing. They harried the riders as they fled, moving with a synergy that a pack of dogs never quite mastered. Lucky wanted to give chase, wanted to stop every last one of them, but Girl was crying, clinging to his neck.

He tried to stay on his feet, to lead his Pack, but without a whimper, he collapsed at Girl’s feet.

Gentle fingers stroked the short fur of his muzzle, from the base of his damp, black nose to where it lengthened as it crested his forehead. Gentle, soothing. He could smell Girl and knew his head was resting in her lap. Pain still flowed through him, but he could smell Sugar too, standing at his side. Obviously she had already healed him at least once. He lay, breathing slowly, gathering himself. There was so much he needed to do. So much they all had to do.

“I’ve been doin’ it all wrong, Girl.”

“Shhhh.” She murmured, still stroking along his nose and between his eyes. “Not now.”

“Now.” He insisted, his bright eyes opening to look up at her. “There isn’t time. They’ll be back again.” He tried to roll to his stomach so he could get up, but she put a hand on his shoulder and easily kept him down. His body felt fuzzy and though it wasn’t quite his.

“Let’s think before we do, Luckarino.” Her voice was soft as she spoke, gentle.

He heaved a shaking breath. “Fine. Have the coyotes come back?”

“The little one you brought earlier is close. I think he wants you, but he won’t come close to me again.”

“She. Clash is female.” Lucky corrected, his dulled nose couldn’t even smell the coyote yet. His eyes wheeled looking for her, but he couldn’t see her either. “Clash?” His voice broke when he tried to raise it.

“I am here.” The little coyote stayed distant, out of reach of Girl and Sugar both.

“The hunt?” He asked, his voice was thick.

“Only two. They are long gone now though. We did not chase them as far as the city.”

“Your pack? Safe?”

“Yes. I have already sent some on patrols and some to the dennings to rest.”

“Ro?”

“The fox and her get? They are fine, cowering in the human dennings.”

“Inside?”

“I said so, didn’t I?” There was a strange tone in her voice, like she had eaten something that had gone off. “I just wanted to check in before I joined my pack in the dennings.”

“Thank you, for everything.”

He could hear the smile in her voice. “Of course. The pack survives.”

Lucky took a pawful of deep, shaking breaths. His thoughts were swimming.

“Okay, Luckster.” Girl began, her fingers returning to gently stroking his muzzle. The gesture was hypnotic. “Let’s make a list. What do we need to do?”

“Fix the fence. Figure out the territory menu. Help everyone who qualifies -- and I hope that there are some now -- select a class.” He fell silent, thinking.

“Is that everything?”

“Probably not.”

“It’s enough to start though.” She lifted her eyes to look toward the Big House. “Mr. Hardison! Can you gather everyone?”

Lobo’s Man answered, his deep rumbling voice like a stuffed toy with a kong in the middle. Soft on the outside and delightfully solid on the inside. “What’s the matter, kiddo?”

“Lucky wants to talk to everyone.”

“He’s awake then?”

A brilliant smile flashed across Girl’s face. “He’s awake. I think he’ll be okay.”

There was a tone of relief in Lobo’s Man’s voice. “Thank goodness. I’ll get everyone gathered as soon as I can. We want to get the fence back up before we do anything else. It’s not much, but it stalled them for a little bit.”

Girl nodded. “We’ll be ready then.”

“Has anyone said anything about classes?” Lucky asked.

“A couple of the people have. I can’t talk to the dogs.”

“I wonder why you haven’t learned dog yet.” Lucky mused, his eyes drifting closed as she continued to pet his nose.

“Maybe because I haven’t really needed to, because you talk enough for the both of us.”

“Har har.” He said dryly.

He smelled Lobo before the husky spoke. His voice was flat, slow, steady. “It circles Lucky, so far below us, watching closely. The Hawk, it is coming. Can you feel it, Lucky? Can you feel the Hawk?” He did not wait for an answer. “The rabbits run to their warrens. Are we rabbits? Can rabbits strike?”

“Lobo, what are you talking about?”

“The wolf is weak, the pack survives. The rabbit hides. The Hawk thrives.”

“Thrives? How does the Hawk thrive?”

“It sees all, all.” Lobo was pacing. “The Hawk watches us even now.”

“Where? What hawk?”

“Do not let the humans override your instinct.” Lobo’s soft voice was steady, steely. “They do not understand, cannot understand. They will be the death of us all if you let them.” He was silent for a moment. “Death.” He repeated. Lucky could barely hear the scrape of his paws on the gravel as he walked away.

“What are you talking about, Lobo?” He called after his retreating friend, but the husky didn’t reply.

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A note from Skwrepb

Thank you so much to Kieran Pierce for the absolutely wonderful cover.

I'd also like to take the space to thank my Patreon supporters: Diamondninja, Sams, Louie, Shazzer, HL, Thelon, Robert, Alejo, Dax, Klondike, Not Meep, and the rest of you who haven't told me how you'd like to be named.

Please take a moment to rate or review! For those of you that have, thank you very much! I've been enjoying the heck out of writing this story and I'm grateful that you are enjoying reading it.

If you want to get a better idea of Lucky's looks, check the spoiler.

Lucky is based on three dogs that I've loved throughout my lifetime.

His coloration comes from Patches, an Australian Shepherd.

His eyes, ears, and tail come from Stormy, a siberian husky/german shepherd mix. (Though one of his ears has fallen and looks like Patches'.)

The final dog, Prince, I don't have a photo of because it was a very long time ago, but he was a Great Pyrenees. I found a good picture on this site . I don't own the image, but here's where Lucky gets his fluffy coat and large size.

Large white dog on a snowy field.

 


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About the author

Skwrepb

  • Iowa

Bio: 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.

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