It wasn’t the most delicious thing he’d ever had, but it was close and it was certainly better than kibble.
The big mastiff’s scissor-like bite tore another chunk of steaming hot meat from the body of one of the creatures they had slain. The taste was rich and gamey with a nice texture that almost melted on his tongue. He could hear the coyotes arguing over bits of another creature, but none of them made any move to get closer to the massive brindle hound.
Though he hadn’t made any aggressive moves at the little canines, they obviously found his size intimidating. Almost everyone found his size intimidating. Except the big mutt they had all followed to this place. Axel lifted his head from his meal and his dark eyes skipped toward the brightly lit dooryard where the people milled about. So many people, more people than he had any desire to be near.
He was almost full when Quigley barked a greeting. There was blood on his lips when he looked up at the pit bull. Even brave Quigley, nimble dog of the streets, blanched a bit to see Axel’s big head and wide muzzle filled with bloodied teeth. The mastiff shook his head, spittle flying in all directions then gave Quigley his full attention. “What is it?”
“Lucky wants us to meet him at the coyote dennings.”
Axel chuffed. “Fine. I go there when I’m done.”
“Don’t be too long.” Quigley admonished.
“Course not. M’almost done anyway.”
When he looked around again, Axel noticed that the coyotes had silently slunk away from their dinner and vanished into the gathering dusk. He chuffed again, clearing his nose and went back to his meal. He was finished by the time Quigley gathered all the dogs and started toward the dennings. Axel stayed near the back of the pack of dogs, his big paws thumping against the ground at a slower rate than everyone else but his long legs eating the distance just as quickly. At first he didn’t see her in the darkness, but about halfway to the broken hill, he realized that a svelte shape was running next to him. Her smell, musky with more than a hint of pine, wafted past him on the breeze.
“Ro?” He barked.
“I am Ro, yes.” She yipped back. The dialect was close, but not exact.
“I didn’t realize you were coming along.”
“Of course, of course. Lucky asked, yes?”
“Did you get offered a class?”
The little fox made a faint whine, she sounded unsure.
“Can’t read, can you?” Axel asked, slowing his pace a little bit and falling behind the general pack. The little fox slowed too, keeping next to him.
“I can’t, no.” She spoke more, in quiet yips, but Axel couldn’t quite parse it. The language was so close, he could almost get the meaning.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand most of that.” He said.
She made another unsure whine in response and was silent for a long moment. Finally she said, “Thank you for saving me, in the fight.”
Axel’s brow furrowed, his multi-hued brown fur ruffling. “Did I?”
She looked up at him, head tilting to one side. “You didn’t know?” At his embarrassed confirmation she broke into a yapping laugh, delightedly. The white tip of her tail waved like a flag behind her as she raced into the dusking trees, disappearing from view.
Axel gave chase, but he was no match for her quick agility and forest know-how. The big mastiff was a city dog, through and through. To think that he’d ended up on a lonely farm, far away from the bustle of his old life.
The big mutt that led their unlikely group started speaking almost as soon as Ro darted into the clear space around the base of the shattered hill.
“Evening, everyone.” Lucky said. “I know it’s been a long day and you have all fought gallantly and I’m grateful for that. I’ll make this as quick as I can. Have any of you been offered a class? Clash, did you explain what your class selection looked like to your pack?”
“I did. There’s a pawful of my family that have the option. I’ve told them how to share it with you. They’re here, just waiting.” Clash said.
“Right. Let’s start with the dogs, it’ll be faster with them since they can read us their options instead of having to show us. Who all have been offered classes?”
Sugar, Calypso, Intrepid, Axel, Val and Lobo all barked. Six dogs out of eleven, seven if you counted Lucky, had all been offered classes. Lucky’s pale eyes looked from one dog to the next before settling on Val. “Will you go first?”
Val hesitated only for a moment. “Of course. I was offered two classes. The first is called [Holy Terrier].”
As Val continued to talk, Axel tuned her out, flopping down into a sprawl he panted and tried to relax. When he opened his eyes after a moment, Ro was there. She looked down at him, her face open and laughing. “You are tired after that little run?” Her tone was light and teasing.
“No. M’just tired.”
“No rest for the hunter.” She yapped another laugh. “They are busy. Tell me who has saved my life this day.”
Axel snorted. “Axel. S’just Axel.”
“Axel then, I am Ro, yes?”
“You are so serious, Axel. Why?”
Axel just made a noncommittal noise in his throat.
“It is like digging a rabbit out of its warren talking with you.”
The longer she spoke, the more he understood. “I’m sorry.”
“You saved my life today, I owe you a debt.”
Again he made a noncommittal noise, almost a grunt. “We’re packmates, right? Ain’ we supposed to save each other?”
Her dark ears with their white tips showed her uncertainty as she considered his question. “I have never had packmates before. Foxes, we do not hunt together.”
“That’s a bit sad, isn’t it?” Axel asked, his dark eyes wandering back to Lucky and Val near the pond. “Must be lonely without a pack.”
It was her turn to imitate his noncommittal grunt. “Maybe. I’m not sure. This is very different, no?”
Axel snorted. “Everything’s very different the last coupla days.”
“You speak the truth.”
Eventually, Val retreated from her tete-a-tete with Lucky and stepped back toward the rear of the pond. She seemed distracted, but not unhappy with whatever they had been talking about.
“Axel, will you go next?” The big mutt’s eyes had zeroed in on Axel and the brindle mastiff felt unable to look away as he rose to his feet and walked up to the front of the group.
“I was offered only a single class.” He said at length. He did not read the first three sentences to the others, nor any of the other descriptions.
It is in your blood and always has been. The fury lurks just under the surface, burning to escape. Set it free.
When you open this class you will gain the traits [Calm Center], [Hot Blooded], and [Burning Fury] and the class skills [Burning Bite], [Cloak of Flames], [Inferno], [Battle Rage], [Soul Embers], and [Towering Wrath]. Other traits and skills may become available at later levels.
You will gain +5 Strength, +5 Endurance, +2 Reaction, and +2 Dexterity.
It may have boiled just beneath the surface, but once it had been unleashed it left a calm place deep within.
The ability to give yourself completely over to rage isn’t possible if there isn’t something to come back to. Deep in the center of yourself is a calm oasis. This trait makes it possible to smother your rage, but it doesn’t make it easy.
Your rage burns in your very blood.
You are immune to the effects of both cold and heat. Fire no longer burns you.
Your heart blazes with an anger that will consume if you let it.
All of your class related skills have the Fire designation. Your species gains the Fire descriptor.
Your bite burns.
Every attack deals extra fire damage. This attack deals additional fire damage to anything with the Ice, Frozen, or Water traits.
Cloak of Flames
The burn within you cannot be contained.
When you activate this skill, the flames of your rage rise to the surface of your skin. Melee attackers take damage when they strike and all nearby entities are affected by warmth. Too close and they will be burned.
Your fury runs deeper than the ocean.
This skill, when unleashed, spreads a wave of indiscriminate fire in every direction. Massive damage is possible.
You are the fury!
When in battle, your physical attributes increase by 10% and your resistances increase by 200%. While in a battle rage, you must move from one target to the next. With effort you may calm your fury, but you may not enter combat without your rage rising. Attacks deal additional damage. Attack rate increases.
Since the beginning, in the ring where you watched it happen, your soul has burned within you, seeking a way out.
When raging, you are surrounded by an aura of embers that swirl about you. The aura deals minor damage to all enemies in the area and heals you in exchange.
Despite your size, your rage dwarfs you. Set it free.
As you are raging, you will become one with the fire within, giving yourself over to it completely.
He spoke softly, but everyone was silent by the time he finished. Even little Ro at his side was looking up at him strangely. Axel’s ears went back and his head hung low.
It was the leaf-eyed girl that hung on Lucky that spoke first. “Barbarian rage.” It was almost a whisper.
“Those are some really potent skills.” Lucky said, rising to his feet and stepping toward Axel. The girl was right at his side.
Axel tensed, one side of his lip automatically rising and his eyes following the girl warily. Lucky smoothly put himself between the girl and the mastiff. The big, multicolored dog bumped shoulders gently with Axel. “It’s alright.” He said, his voice gentle. “We will talk later. That’s a great class though. I hope you choose it, but don’t feel pressured. This is your choice.”
The girl looked at him across Lucky’s shoulders and there was something that Axel couldn’t read in her expression. Her leaf-colored eyes roamed his brown striped hide, no doubt seeing the numerous hairless scars that covered it. “It’s okay, Axel. It’s okay to be angry. I’m sorry.”
He looked at her for a moment before blowing a sharp breath out his nose. He didn’t answer, he just turned and went back to where he had been next to Ro. The little fox greeted him with an excited yip.
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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.