Wordcount: 898 words
Same Song, Second Verse
But they didn’t make it to the mouth of the canyon. Time slowed back down to normal around the campfire of the second night. Wendy blinked, confused trying to remember what she’d been doing in the last few moments. She was still getting used to popping back into the story mid-sentence or mid-movement. Thankfully she had only been scrubbing out the dinner pots with sand, so her sudden pause went unnoticed by the Black or Riley. Moonstar, however, looked over blinking mismatched eyes in confusion.
And suddenly the rockdogs were back, burrowing up from the ground below them and leaping at the startled band. In moments Riley and Wendy were trapped, the half-ton canines lying across them, pinning them to the ground. The lizard-dogs were snarling but not attacking, and Wendy desperately hoped that was good sign. Moonstar and the Black had gotten in a few good hits, but the dogs seemed determined to keep them from escaping as opposed to harming them. The Black made an abortive rush towards Riley, but was blocked by four dogs who shouldered him back into place.
For a moment there was a stalemate, and then Cat walked back into the campsite returning from one of his hunting trips, carrying half a rat and looking quite pleased with himself. When he saw the dogs, he froze, one paw in midstep and eyes narrowing.
“There now, no need for that.” A figure dressed in dull grays and greens stepped out from behind a tree, walking into the clearing without any apparent worry for the pack of rockdogs. “We’ve just come for a sitdown, eh?” He waved a hand and the dogs circling the two horses fell back. “Just a talk, man to horse, because I lost good friends a week ago and I don’t know why. I’m thinkin’ you do though.”
“How did you find us?”
The man looked down at Wendy and shrugged. “Tuck told me. Now-now, don’t go gettin’ mad at him.” He wagged a finger at her frown. “An honest man that one, he’d no reason to think I meant you harm, which I don’t.” He patted the rockdog that lay across her chest. “Something drove my brothers mad, and I mean to find out what and why. Them that harm them, harm me.”
“They attacked us!” Riley squirmed beneath the dog that had draped itself over most of her torso. “They killed Jilly and Torc, and they were going to kill Ti! I don’t care that we killed them, I don’t!” She pushed at the rockdog who ignored her.
“I’m sorry for that cub, I am, but that don’t change things.” The man looked over to Moonstar. “This is your war, why drag me and mine into it?”
“I didn’t!” The unicorn looked offended. “You can’t honestly believe that I’d–”
“Belief is a fragile thing moon horse, but I’ll take your word. Swear that you had nothing to do with this and I’ll leave you be.”
Moonstar paused, then shook his head shedding the tinker’s charm and stepped forward to stand in front of the stranger. “I swear by the old kings of Velanon, by the moon that never shines, and by the grove where the bones of our mothers lie; I did not do this.” The forest had fallen silent on Moonstar’s first word and Wendy found herself holding her breath as the unicorn finished.
“Well then, there’s one quarrel settled.” The man grinned and gestured for the dogs to let Wendy and Riley up. “Now, not sayin’ I don’t trust your intentions mind, but I think I’ll be traveling with you for a bit. I’m not of a mind to lose more family for someone else’s war.”
“Wait, why do you think this is our war?” Wendy got back to her feet, using the disturbingly docile rockdog as leverage. “The dogs attacked the caravan, not us.”
“Exactly.” The man nodded as if this proved everything.
“He means there was nothing in the caravan worth attacking,” Moonstar ambled over to her side, not so politely nudging the rockdog out of the way. “So the only reason that they would have been sent there, instead of after us was that someone wanted us out of the caravan. Either because the caravan was all dead, or because they figured we were a risk.”
“Well that worked then,” Wendy sighed. “So now what? We keep going with the Prince of Wolves here in tow, or is it time for a new plan?”
“Prince of Wolves?” The stranger raised an eyebrow.
“Alright, not wolves, but it’s the same thing.”
“Actually, my name is Gray.”
“Like the color?”
“No, the smell.”
At which point Wendy gave up, because there was no way this conversation was going to start making sense anytime soon. “Returning to my original question, what do we do now?”
“We still need the flute.” Riley was staring at the rockdog nearest her with unabashed curiosity. It stared back in polite confusion. “We should keep going, if Moony says he won’t eat us, or anything.”
The Black looked less enthused with that arrangement, carefully inserting himself between Riley and the rockdog.
“Actually, we don’t eat people.” Gray looked slightly embarrassed, “It’s just a myth I’ve encouraged. Keeps hunters away, mostly.”
“So we go on then.” Wendy looked to Moonstar for confirmation.
“We go on.”