Here’s the new story, directly as promised:

Running With The Pack: Light

Red sat as comfortably as was possible on the cave floor. Nearby the tigress Luna lay by the fire, casually sharpening her claws. Opposite them, on the other side of the fire, their scholarly companion Andreas reclined, the hint of a grin on his lips. He clearly enjoyed the suspense.

“Okay, what is it?”, asked Red, growing a little impatient with the sage’s dramatic manner. “You pups have no patience at all, have you?”, responded Andreas. “Ruining all the drama. But all right, here it is: in the next valley there is a city. It has stood against repeated attack for generations, and was home to several of the Confederacy’s greatest philosophers and poets. I believe it would be in all of our best interests to stop and rest somewhere civilized. The town is quite a nice place to stay, and I have some influence there.”

Red was the first to raise the obvious objection. “But what of Luna? No dog city is likely to accept her.” “That is where my idea comes into play,” answered Andreas. “You are aware that the barbaric and regrettable practice of gladiation is still practiced in our lands, especially towards the south?” Red nodded gravely. “Indeed I am.” Luna arched an eyebrow. “So,” continued Andreas, “it is not impossible, or in fact, even unlikely, for a cat to be brought into captivity and kept alive for the purpose of entering the said cat into one of the gladiatorial arenas.”

Red nodded slowly, but Luna began to pull her head back. Apparently they could both see where this was headed. Andreas continued, seemingly oblivious to either of their reactions. “Furthermore, as a scholar and a sage, I am widely supposed to have access to all kinds of magic.” At this point, Luna interrupted. “Do you?”, she asked. “Not nearly as much as some believe,” answered Andreas cryptically, “but that’s beside the point. All I need do is write bizarre letters on a piece of metal, and most everyone will naturally suppose it can accomplish anything I choose.”

Red looked at Andreas, puzzled. “Now you lost me.” Andreas sighed, then patiently continued, “So, given that most think me capable of all kinds of wondrous feats through the use of amulets and charms, and given that it is entirely plausible for a cat to be brought through a dog city as a prisoner on the way to becoming a competitor in the gladiatorial arena, it would be a simple thing to arrange it so that the various denizens of Bergebi believe that Luna is our prisoner, on her way to such a fate, and bound by my supposed magical abilities.”

*******

Luna drew herself up casually, raising her right eyebrow. “And what makes you think I’ll go along with this scheme?” Andreas looked her square between the eyes, refused to drop his gaze, and answered levelly, “Because you haven’t got a better plan, and you know this is best for everyone, yourself included. Luna stared back for a moment, then broke eye contact and turned to Red. She jerked her head to the other side of the cave.

Red met her eyes, then looked over at Andreas. He gave no reaction, so Red shrugged and walked with her to the corner. She looked over her shoulder suspiciously at the sage one last time, then turned back to Red. “I don’t like this,” she began, then continued, “This dog just shows up, claims to be one of us, and now he’s running our whole operation!” Red appeared to ponder this for a moment, then asked, “What don’t you like about his plan?”

Luna shook her head. “I don’t know, exactly. But everything about this sets my spine tingling. Remember what happened last time we stopped in a town?” Red sighed. “I remember. But this time we have an alibi.” “You have an alibi.”, Luna corrected. “But my situation’s more precarious. What if one of your people decides it might be better for a cat to be transported to the arena by more than an unarmed Retriever and a dubious magician?”

“Unlikely,” Red replied. “Sages like Andreas are highly respected, especially out here in the mountains. Unless they’re actually breaking the law, people will be inclined to go along with them. Don’t forget that many think they can do magic.” “I still don’t like it.”, Luna replied. “I don’t think we have much choice,” answered Red. “He seems to have a good plan, and we have no reasonable grounds to reject it. I say we go along with it for now.”

*******

It had taken some doing, but Luna had finally been convinced to go along with the plan. First came the prisoner disguise. Luna’s paws, front and hind, were placed in bangles, on which Andreas had inscribed a bizarre rune which, as he explained, had no real power, but no one would know that unless they were intimately familiar with runes and chose to look carefully at this one.

Luna couldn’t help laughing when they tied a rope about her neck. “Please. If I so much as jerked my head…” Andreas readily acknowledged that this was probably true, but maintained that it was essential to maintaining the appearance that she was their prisoner.

As the finishing touch on that disguise, an amulet was placed around Luna’s neck, inscribed with a meaningless symbol. It was pulled just tight enough to appear that she could not take it off, without becoming truly restrictive.

Andreas looked it all over. “It’s pretty convincing,” he said. Luna gave him a funny look over her right shoulder. “Your people are superstitious enough to fall for this?”, she asked. Andreas nodded. “And it’s a good thing, too. Were they not, we’d have a rather difficult time traveling through this valley.”

With that done, the threesome, plus Andreas’s pony, began to walk southward, with Andreas coaching Luna on how to appear as if magically restricted, even to occasionally feign an attack, only to freeze and pull back as if having struck an invisible wall. He also instructed her to maintain an angry expression at all times, and above all, never to speak courteously in public. She must at all times maintain the appearance of a sullen and defiant prisoner.

Meanwhile, Red offered a silent prayer of thanks to Didian, god of travelers, for placing Andreas in their path. He had not known of the existence of the city in the valley, and without the sage, it would have taken them quite a deal of time and effort to avoid it.

Soon they came to the valley. Here the dirt trail they had been following suddenly became a more civilized road composed of rough-hewn cobblestones. Looking out across the valley, Red saw quite a stunning vista. The rocky, snowcapped peaks in the background contrasted dramatically with the green, sunny valley below. And directly in the middle of that valley was what, in a more peaceful time, might have been an idyllic little village.

But in this time, it was a fortress. High, unfriendly stone walls blocked in the city. Tall wooden gates stood in imposing contrast to the grassy meadow around Bergebi. Guard towers stretched toward the heavens. Though it was quiet now, Red could almost feel the tension in the city below. Everyone was prepared for battle at a moment’s notice. Though calm, the city was in a state of intense readiness. The sentries atop the walls never relaxed their guard, and though it was far away, Red could make out their militaristic marching from post to post.

And as the threesome descended into the valley, the walls, towers, and gates only seemed to grow higher. When Red looked across the river to the east, he saw an equally imposing feline citadel, backed by smaller mountains that gradually gave way to a vast desert. The cat city was no less well guarded, and in fact, it appeared that a regiment or two of their garrison was on maneuvers. Small wonder the citizens of Bergebi were on their guard.

When they approached the city gate, Andreas turned to both of them. “Now,” he said, “Let me do the talking.” Luna bared her teeth and tensed her muscles, prompting a nod from the sage. “Good.” With that, they walked the final twenty yards or so to the gate, where two armored Dalmatians stood, halberds standing by their sides. When the three arrived ten paces distant from the gate, the guards lowered their halberds, crossing them and blocking off access. The one on the right used his off paw to push up the visor of his helmet. “Halt.”, he commanded. “Who are ye? And why carry ye in tow the enemy of our people?” Andreas answered masterfully, never wavering for a moment in his apparent sincerity. “I am the scholar Andreas, from the hamlet of Dramstad. My apprentice and I(here Andreas indicated Red with a jerk of his head) are traveling south a little ways farther to attend the Council. The tigress was foolish enough to attack us on the way down here. My apprentice, however, was able to subdue her, and she is now thoroughly restrained.”

As if to illustrate the point, Luna lifted a paw, then jerked it back. Andreas muttered something under his breath, and the rune on her bracer seemed to burn with a bright light for a moment, then faded. The Dalmatian on the right looked at the one on the left, then back at our heroes. “And what do ye intend to do with the cat, that ye keep it alive?” “We are planning to take her to the Arena of the Southeast and enter her in one of the spectacles to be had there. I don’t doubt she’ll make us rich at the betting tables.”

The Dalmatian on the right smiled and drew back his head, apparently thoroughly impressed. “A scholar who gambles,” he said smirkingly, “is a hard thing to come by. Very well, you may pass.” They lifted their halberds, and signaled to the gatekeeper, who opened the gate about halfway, just wide enough for the three to walk through comfortably.

As the gates shut behind them, Red noted the rather different character of the city when seen from the inside. On its exterior, Bergebi had been imposing and militaristic, and it was difficult to imagine that under the facade were ordinary dogs leading ordinary lives in a fairly ordinary way. Yet so it was. Red reflected on the fact that it usually takes something truly terrible to bring people to a realization of the horrors lying in wait no further away then their own front doorstep.

The main street was a bustle of activity. Dogs of all shapes and sizes milled, ran, and waddled up and down the wide thoroughfare while merchants stood in their small roadside stands, yelling out promotions for their products.

Not one of the townsfolk whom our heroes passed failed to notice them. Luna being well over seven feet long from nose to tail, they were generally given a wide berth. But notwithstanding her intimidating appearance, a few at first dared to come a little too close for the comfort of either Luna or her supposed captors. At these times, a bit of impromptu theater was devised, and Luna would begin to strike. Andreas would mutter that same unintelligible word under his breath, and the runes on Luna’s ankles would glow. Suddenly, she would draw back as if magically restrained. The townsfolk, gullible and superstitious, were thus easily fooled into believing Luna a prisoner held captive by Andreas’ wizardry.

*******

Something about this was patently wrong. Though he saw, he did not believe. Silent and suspicious, the constable stood in his window staring down at the street. Sniff. Sniff. He could smell something foul about this situation. Cats should be brought in prisoner by armed guards in cages; their restraint ought not to be trusted to dubious wizardry.

So the constable turned around, lowered his spectacles, and raised his eyes. His German Shepherd deputies stood at attention, visibly disciplined. But he could smell their fear. Good. A healthy fear keeps dogs loyal.

Addressing his two deputies, he said, “You see them that now walk down our fair city’s main road?” His deputies nodded hurriedly. “You see that with them is a tiger, restrained not by arms or soldiers, but by curious glowing symbols inscribed upon bracers?” More nodding. “Follow them. Watch them. Be not seen. Report all to me.” As one they answered, “Yes, Constable!” “Very good,” answered the wolf in his deep, throaty tone.

No sooner had Constable Mingan turned back toward the window, and the suspicious characters turned off onto a side street, no doubt to find an inn, than the door slammed shut behind him, betraying his deputies’ hasty exit.

*******

I can’t believe they’re falling for this, thought Luna. This ridiculous rope wouldn’t hold me if it were attached to a marble pillar, much less the wrist of a Retriever. And the “magic” wouldn’t fool a ten-day-old kitten.

But it appeared every canine in the city had bought it, so who was she to complain? The trio had managed to get a room at a small inn called The Dusty Pilgrim. Luna had enjoyed frightening the daylights out of the clerk at the desk.

When they had arrived at what was to be their domicile for the few days they would be spending in Bergebi, they promptly drew the curtains and locked the door. Now, completely hidden from the outside world, Luna was allowed to remove the prisoner disguise. The room was of moderate size, with a two-level bunk bed on either side, and a dresser near the door. A few minutes after they settled in, Red made a couple of trips downstairs to the dining room to pick up some supper, and brought it back to the room.

*******

Hector and Ptolemy stepped out onto the tightly-packed dirt road. Hector sniffed the air, then dropped to all fours. The ones Mingan had ordered them to follow had disappeared while they were coming down the stairs. No matter. Their tracks and scent should still be fresh. Motioning for Ptolemy to follow, Hector dropped to all fours and searched the ground for the pawprints of the cat. His efforts were soon rewarded. Before his eyes were tracks not only feline, but also the largest he had ever seen.

Unfortunately, they were scattered and difficult to follow, as many had been trodden across already. Accordingly, Hector leaned down and sniffed the track. He was immediately bombarded with a hundred different smells, but Hector was prepared for that. In less time than it would have taken most dogs to blink, the deputy had sifted through all the irrelevant, ordinary odors that he detected every day, and latched on to the single unique, novel scent meeting his nostrils.

Suddenly it was all clear. Hector could hear the voice of his mentor Jason in his mind. “Follow your nose.” This different scent could only be the tiger. Hector lifted his head, checked his surroundings, then lowered it again. Gesturing for Ptolemy to follow, he began to sniff out the path of the cat.

Down the street the scent lead him, and around a corner. Down another street, and straight up to the very door of the inn. Hector drew himself up to his hind legs. They had arrived at none other than the Dusty Pilgrim. How providential.

*******

Caolan was thoroughly shaken. The tiger had given him quite a scare back there. He desperately hoped no customers would come in and see him this way. Breathe in, breathe out. Soon the blood had returned to his head, though he was still nervous and somewhat edgy.

Then the door opened, and in walked a pair of German Shepherds who Caolan knew were not there to check in to a room. “Good day, gentlemen,” he said, as pleasantly as he could muster. Hector walked up to the desk and leaned over it. Caolan shrank back from the larger dog’s muzzle. Hector got straight to the point. “The newcomers checked in here, didn’t they? The ones with the cat?” “Y-yes, sir, they did,” Caolan stammered. “Which room are they staying in?”, demanded Hector. “I’m really not allowed–” “Ptolemy!”, Hector yelled. Ptolemy walked over.

“Perhaps you could remind young sir Caolan here of what is at stake.” “Be glad to.”, responded Ptolemy. “Caolan,” said Ptolemy, “Your boss owes the Constable a lot of money. You know that, right?” Caolan nodded fearfully. “More money than he can pay right now.” Caolan nodded again. “Now the Constable, he’s a reasonable wolf.” Hector nodded in agreement. “But if this inn is going to be obstructing our police work, he just might have to pull some strings here and there. Right, Hector?” “Right you are, my friend,” responded the other dog.

Caolan took a deep breath. “You know, I think maybe our rules might be flexible on this point after all.” He quickly began flipping through the record book. “Room sixteen.” “Is seventeen occupied?”, Hector demanded. Caolan hurriedly flipped through a few more pages. “No. Vacant.” “Good.”, responded Hector. “Keep it that way until Number One shows up.” Caolan nodded rapidly. “Y-yes, sir.”

*******

After a few days spent resting in town, it was time for Red, Luna, and Andreas to be on their way. Andreas had been careful to purchase provisions enough to last them a while, and Luna was once more disguised as a prisoner. Everything seemed to be in order. The only thing that concerned Red was the Cavalier Spaniel who seemed to be following them.

The day after they checked in, he had checked in at the room next to theirs. It seemed he always went down to dinner at about the same time Red or Andreas went to pick it up, and whenever one of them went out, for whatever reason, it seemed that Ace, as he was called, happened to be on the same errand. And occasionally, Red could swear the Spaniel was listening at the door during their conversations, though when Red went to check, he was usually nowhere to be found.

Red had expressed his concerns to Luna and Andreas. Luna had been in the room every daylight hour they had been in town, only occasionally sneaking out at night, and so couldn’t comment. Andreas agreed that the Spaniel’s behavior was a bit odd, but he pragmatically asserted that there was really nothing to be done. Unless they could prove Ace a lawbreaker, they were just going to have to tolerate him a few hours longer.

Andreas did a final once-over of the room, making sure they had left nothing behind, then took a look at Luna’s disguise. “It’s missing something…”, he said. “Ah, yes.” The sage tied the rope back around her neck and handed it to Red. She gave them a dirty look but said nothing.

A moment later, they were downstairs, a porter carrying their various bags until Andreas’s pony was retrieved from the stable. They arrived at the front desk, and, curiously, saw no sign of their shadow, Ace. The clerk seemed very nervous, even more so than before, though Andreas assured him Luna was under control and posed no threat. His paws shook visibly as he took their room key and flipped through the pages of the record book to mark their checking out.

“Good day, sirs,” he said hurriedly. “Mutual, I’m sure,” returned Andreas with the utmost courtesy. And then they were off. Walking down the street, Luna was given a wide berth, and would occasionally glare angrily at one of the citizens, causing them to scurry away in fear. Though all thought she was a prisoner, still none dared look her between the eyes.

The threesome quickly reached the south gate of the city, where the sentries asked them their business once again. None of them missed a beat. Andreas gave the same story he had given the first time, Luna made more evident than before her assumed surly attitude, and the gatekeepers appeared to fall for the ruse, letting our heroes out without incident.

*******

These are the ones, Lorcan thought, observing them from atop the city’s wall. He turned to the next guard down the line. “Signal the Constable.” The Doberman nodded quickly, then, grabbing a crossbow from a rack beside him, launched a flaming arrow high into the air.

He can’t miss that.

*******

Hector saw the arrow first. He tapped the ground twice rapidly with his foot. The rest of the deputies dropped what they were doing and assumed their ambush positions. The Constable himself was overseeing this operation, and there would be hell to pay for any canine who failed him.

The sentry on the wall had signaled them not a moment too soon. The deputies had barely assumed their stations when their quarry came out the gate, oblivious to what was to come. Hector hoped they would resist. It would be such a shame if this ended bloodlessly.

*******

Something didn’t seem right. Getting out of town had been almost too easy. Red suspected some kind of trap.

As if to confirm his suspicions, as soon as they passed through the gate, they beheld, standing in the middle of the road, an enormous gray-coated Eastern Wolf. He wore a dark green traveling cloak, and his front paws were crossed over his chest. Red and Andreas looked at each other nervously. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Finally, Red broke the tension. “We can’t get around him. Let’s at least see what he wants.”

So Red and Andreas continued to walk down the road, continued pretending to lead their ‘prisoner’, Luna, and generally did their best to ‘act natural’.

When they approached within about ten feet of the wolf, he uttered a single word: “Stop.” It was spoken with no hint of emotion. He simply said it, and none dared disobey. “Where are you taking this beast?”, he demanded.

To his credit, despite the stressful circumstances, Andreas hardly faltered in his prepared lie. “It attacked us on our way here. My apprentice and I were able to subdue it, and I have it thoroughly restrained. We are taking the animal to the Great Arena of the Southeast to be made a spectacle of.”

“That is a good joke,” answered the wolf. “But surely you don’t really expect me to believe that two dogs, neither particularly well-equipped or large, were able to subdue this tiger? Nor that the rope placed around its neck is sufficient to keep it restrained?”

Andreas had to think fast. “We got rather lucky. It was preoccupied with my apprentice here, and I managed to sneak up behind it and bash it on the head with a club. By the time it awoke, we had restrained it. This rope is not all that holds the beast back. Observe.” Here he once again muttered something unintelligible under his breath, and the runes on Luna’s bracers glowed yellow.

The wolf scratched his chin. “All right. Sounds a little strange to me, but I’ll let you go. Simply surrender the feline to me, and I’ll take it to the Arena of the Southeast myself. That way it’s off your hands if something goes wrong.” “I appreciate that,” said Andreas, “I really do. But it’s not necessary. Everything’s under control.” The wolf shook his head. “It’d really be better if you surrendered the beast to me.” Andreas shook his head right back. “No thank you.” Red set his teeth. He knew this would not end well.

“As Constable, I, Mingan of Bergebi, command you to hand over to me the beast!” Red responded with a defiant bark; Andreas with a firm “No.” Mingan of Bergebi sighed. “I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” he said, then whistled. Out of the bushes came perhaps twenty dogs, mostly German Shepherds, armed with maces and wooden clubs. “Now,” said Mingan, “hand over the cat.”

Andreas dropped the rope. “Run!”, he yelled. Red and Luna charged, attempting to break through the wall of canines that now faced them. The situation quickly devolved into utter chaos, and Red lost sight of Luna. But he couldn’t think about that now. In and out, delivering a blow with the claws, dodging a club here, ripping flesh with his teeth there. All seemed to happen at once. All things considered, it was surprising that he lasted as long as he did.

But there was no way he could have held out forever. And soon enough, he succumbed under the weight of repeated blows. And his world went black.

*******

Luna fought with a ferocity she had not felt in a long time. Letting out a low growl, she spun madly, lashing out with her paws, grabbing her opponents with her teeth at every opportunity. Her fur soon became soaked with blood, both her own and that of the canines attacking her.

She had no idea how many she had stopped. She couldn’t tell whether she might have even killed one or two. But no matter how many she struck down, it seemed more were always coming.

Though she was strong, and had fought magnificently in the beginning, Luna was a big cat. And like all big cats, she had little endurance. If the fight lasted a long time, as this one had, she began to lose her advantage rapidly. Soon it seemed a great effort simply to lift her paw, then simply to stand, and before long she had fallen. Her vision gradually darkened, and though she struggled hard, she could not retain consciousness.

*******

Uhhh. Owww. Red awoke sore and stiff. Worse than that, he awoke strapped to a long wooden rod carried on the shoulders of two German Shepherds. His forepaws out in front of him, and his hindpaws stretched out behind, he was jostled and bumped by every irregularity in the road they marched on. He looked to his right. There he saw Andreas, sitting atop his pony with his forepaws bound and his arms about its neck.

Turning to his left, he beheld Luna being carried on a pole similar to his own, but by four German Shepherds instead of two. The pole bent under her weight significantly.

Suddenly, one of the dogs neither carrying nor leading any of the prisoners noticed Red moving. “Hey, he’s awake!” There was a sound of movement, then a dull pain in Red’s skull, and the world faded once more to oblivion.

*******

Luna awoke. Where am I? She realized she was being carried on a long wooden rod. There were two German Shepherds in front of her and likely two behind, though she had trouble turning her head around to see. She watched as Red too woke up. She observed helplessly as he was seen moving and knocked senseless. So she shut her eyes and pretended to be unconscious.

But in fact the tigress was formulating a plan.

*******

When Luna awoke next, she opened her eyes but cautiously, in case perhaps her captors still wanted them unconscious. As it turned out, however, they were not paying much attention to her at all. As a matter of fact, they appeared to be celebrating.

They were in the middle of a small forest. If Luna turned around, she saw the city of Bergebi behind her. Before her, the forest seemed to extend for some distance, though she thought she could make out a grassy plain beyond the trees. They had put her in a crude wooden cage. To her left was Andreas, in a similar cage, and to her right he saw Red in another.

Immediately in front of them were their captors, sitting around a campfire, drinking and laughing. Luna was able to pick up a little of what they were talking about. It seemed they were determined to follow through on Red and Andreas’s stated plan and take all three of them to the Great Arena of the Southeast to be made spectacles of.

Luna could not bear to speculate what might transpire there, but instead began to surreptitiously examine her surroundings and seek a way of escape. Her forepaws were bound, so her first thought was to remove the ropes about her wrists. But it then occurred to her that she would be tipping her hand once her forepaws were untied, and she should form her entire plan prior to untying herself. So she began to examine the lock that held her cage shut.

It was a fairly simple mechanism. One wall of the cage was capable of swinging open, and it was held in place with two ropes. Additionally, one of the bars of the swingable portion was connected by a short chain to a nearby bar of an adjacent section. The chain was locked, and the key was jealously guarded. Nevertheless, Luna had noticed who carried the keyring.

It was none other than the wolf Mingan. He kept it, hid it, guarded it with his life, never let it out from under his cloak. Luna realized it would be fruitless to try and retrieve the key from him. There was no way she was going to get out by opening the door. So instead, Luna decided to look for a weakness in the structure of the cage itself. Perhaps somewhere she could find an imperfection in the wood; the cage had been fairly hastily constructed. But first she had to get her forepaws free.

Luna looked down and carefully examined her bonds. The rope they had placed around her wrists was rough, but fortunately not particularly tight. Though the knots were secure, it was possible she might be able to wiggle his wrists out of the loop itself.

Immediately she set to work. Slowly, subtly, she began to wiggle her wrists. Left, right, left, right. For hours and hours she went on. Soon her wrists and the tops of her forepaws were raw and chafed. Much of the fur in this area had been scraped off, but still she continued.

Eventually, night fell, and most of her captors went to sleep. Only a single guard was posted, and he spent much of his time facing away from the captives. This allowed Luna to pursue her escape all the more vigorously. Now, with no one really watching her, she began to gnaw on the ropes.

Slowly but surely, the rope grew thinner and thinner until Luna broke free of it. Now she had to act swiftly. As quietly as she could manage, Luna pulled herself up and began to examine the cage. It was as she suspected. It was crude and shoddily made. The bars were held to the roof and floor only by nails. A little wiggling back and forth on the bar, and it was loose. Very quietly, she loosened three bars. That would be enough to get out, when the time should be right.

Now she had to figure out how to get Red and Andreas’s cages undone without alerting the guard. Reaching out between the loose bars with her forepaw, Luna pulled out a small stone. It was the only one in the area; she had but a single chance to get this right.

Pulling back the rock and aiming it at Red,she launched it just hard enough to awake him but not so hard as to hurt him.

******

Red woke up suddenly. The left side of his abdomen had been struck by a stone. He looked back where toward where it had come from and saw that Luna had thrown it. He gave her a dirty look, then shrugged his shoulders angrily. Then she began gesturing. First she lifted a finger to her lips to indicate that he should be quiet(here Red noticed for the first time that her forepaws were untied), then he pointed at one of the bars of his cage. She wiggled it back and forth gently, then pushed it outward to indicate he could loosen her bars.

Red was quick, and she caught on rapidly. Soon he was wiggling his bars. He, however, had the disadvantage that his forepaws were still tied, so it took him about four hours to get the cage undone.

Finally, however, three bars were loosened, and Red pushed them down. Luna pushed hers down as well, and she ran out to meet him. Unfortunately, all four of his paws were still tied. Luna, as quickly and quietly as was possible, used her claws to slice through the ropes holding Red.

Just as the last of the ropes around Red’s hindpaws came unraveled, the idiot guard who had been looking the other way through all of this turned around. Fortunately, Luna was prepared. Her fury, bottled up this whole time to allow her to release her companion, was now completely unleashed.

Luna’s anger burned red-hot, and one dog bore its full brunt. As the day broke over the distant horizon, the tigress’s low growl petrified the German Shepherd, rooting him to the spot.

For one long moment, Luna gazed into his eyes and beheld the look of sheer terror. Then she was upon him.

The tiger’s spring is a thing awe-inspiring and magnificent to behold. If we could go back to that moment in time, and watch it over again, slowing everything down to allow us to take in the details, it would look like this:

Luna would pull back on her haunches, drawing her front legs toward the back. Then she would explode like a coiled spring. Opening her mouth wide, she would emit a terrifying roar, then reach forward with her front claws. All this time she would rapidly be advancing forward through the air.

Meanwhile, her prey would be transfixed. Though the tigress’s loud roar may have awakened and alerted his companions, it froze him to the spot. If he moved at all(a dubious proposition), it was to quiver and nervously shake.

But even that did not last long. In less than a second, far less time than it takes to read, the enormous cat had landed upon the small, vulnerable canine. Before he could let slip a cry of panic or alarm, her mighty incisors ripped his throat out.

Combining this with the deleterious impact of her terrible claws on his torso and lower body, it was safe to say this dog’s day had come and gone. He had just enough strength left in him to push pathetically against the massive form that crushed him for a few moments before finally expiring.

The sounds of the fight going on in their camp, however, did not long go unnoticed by Red and Luna’s captors. Our heroes got a few moments’ warning when they heard movement in the tents. Luna turned toward Red, and their eyes met for a moment. He nodded, and the two set themselves in a fighting position.

Not a moment too soon did they prepare themselves, either, for almost the second they lifted their guards, German Shepherds began pouring out of the tents. Luna stood at the ready but did not yet attack. She had bigger fish to fry. Red was apparently following her lead, because he too stood still.

Then all hell broke loose. The German Shepherds charged en masse, and Luna launched herself forward in another mighty leap. Her massive form hurtled through the air. She stretched her paws forward in front of her, turned them out, and swung back, crushing the skulls of two of the dogs foolish enough to stand their ground against her charge.

Landing on all fours, she turned this way and that, growling ferociously. In a low, dangerous tone, she demanded, “Anybody else?” Three dogs took up her challenge and charged the furious tigress head on. Big mistake. She ran towards them, ripping out the throat of the one in the middle, then, leaning forward on her forepaws, used her hindpaws to knock the other two aside.

When she turned around, Red was engaged in a fight with two or three of the canines off to her left, on her right were nothing but bodies, and directly in front of her stood the gigantic Eastern Wolf, Mingan.

For one long moment, they looked each other straight in the eye. But Luna’s fury failed to cow the wolf. “Bring it on,” he demanded. Luna did not hesitate. Springing forward with her mouth open and her claws outstretched, she reached for the great canine’s throat.

But he was faster than she had anticipated, and dove under her to avoid the deadly sting of the tiger’s claws and teeth. When Luna saw that her target had vanished, she jerked her head around and, amazingly, landed on her feet, facing him. She stood up on her hind legs, revealing her enormous stature, and gestured with her right forepaw for him to advance.

Mingan needed no invitation. Teeth bared, he galloped toward the tigress, foaming at the mouth and yapping madly. But his lack of finesse proved his undoing. Luna dropped to the ground, rolled on her back, and, extending one claw of her left forepaw, reached over to her left. With one swift scratch, she opened Mingan’s jugular vein, and he rolled over on his back.

Luna raised herself up to her full height and placed her foot on the chest of the constable. He wheezed for breath, and managed to choke out the word, “mercy”. The tigress stared deep into the canine’s eyes, and then, with one swift movement of her foot, she granted his request.

*******

Red, locked in a combat of his own with the four remaining deputies, watched as much as he could of the fight between the lupine constable and his feline traveling companion. At first he had beheld the combat with a fear that Mingan might get the best of Luna, but when he saw her crush the chest of the wolf with her foot, he feared worse than that.

But he had little time to consider. Still his opponents outnumbered him, and he was tiring. Red determined that if he would fall, he would take at least one of the constable’s deputies with him. Pouring every last ounce of strength in his body into one final attack, he leapt at the throat of one of the Shepherds. The dog saw that it was impossible to avoid Red’s attack in time, so instead he adopted a different strategy. As the Retriever leapt in, mouth open, the Shepherd opened his own mighty snout, and caught Red’s throat in it.

Now the battle was joined. The other two deputies stepped back, allowing their partner to stand or fall on his own. Both adversaries tightened down on the other’s neck, attempting to squeeze, or cut, the life out of their opponent.

For several eternal seconds, Red pressed down on his erstwhile captor’s throat. He drew blood. His opponent was weakening. But so was Red. His vision began to darken. Just as all seemed lost, his opponent’s hold on his throat broke.

Red staggered backward, clutching his jugular vein. Though the edges of his vision were dark and blurry, through the middle he could see the gigantic form of Luna, pulling the German Shepherd away from him.

With a renewed battle frenzy, Red let out an enormous bark, then charged forward and gripped his opponent’s throat with his teeth. While Luna held the dog up, Red shook his head violently back and forth, until the deputy’s eyes shut and his body went limp.

Luna dropped the Shepherd, then turned this way and that. “Some peace-loving idealists we are,” she said drily as she surveyed the carnage. Red didn’t answer. Instead, he began to look himself over. Nothing too bad. Then he looked up. Luna’s side was soaked in blood. “Luna,” he said, “your side.” “Eh?”, she responded, then looked down. “Just a scratch.” “I don’t think so.”, said Red. “Stay right there.” “Yeah, whatever.”

Red ran over to the cage to the right of Luna’s where Andreas was held. “I say!” exclaimed the sage, “That was quite a show.” “Yeah, thanks,” said Red hurriedly, as he undid the bonds and opened the door. “Look, how much do you know about medicine?” Andreas shrugged noncommittally. “A little bit. Why?” “Can you close a wound?” “One moment.”

Andreas ran to the edge of the clearing where his pony remained tied to a tree. Amazingly, it hadn’t tried to bolt during the brawl. He immediately began to rummage through his packs and bags, pulling out some medical supplies. “Show me the problem.”, he said.

Red led the scholar back to Luna. He indicated her bloodstained side and the torn flesh in the middle of it. She gave him a look. “This really isn’t necessary.” “Yes it is.”, said Red and Andreas together.

*******

This is a bad one, Andreas thought as he put on his spectacles. I haven’t seen a wound this bad in a long time. He reached forward, applying the bandage carefully. “Ow,” Luna complained. “Sorry.” said Andreas. “I’m being as gentle as I can, but these eyes just aren’t what they used to be.”

After applying the herbal salve to the next area, Andreas carefully reached out and wrapped the bandage around again. Once again Red, standing on the other side, tied it up nicely.

Andreas repeated the same process once more, then made a pronouncement. “That’s the best I can do for now,” he said. “Take it slow for a little while, and don’t get into any more melees for a week or so.” Luna gingerly lifted her right arm. “Ah.” “Careful,” said Andreas. “You got cut pretty bad.” “Yeah, yeah.” said Luna.

“Hey!”, yelled Red from across the clearing. “Where did you kill Mingan, Luna?” Luna looked over at Red. “About where you’re standing,” she said weakly. “Why?”

“Because he’s not here.”

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