Duty and Sacrifice

by Griffinwolf

Hours later, Arla watched over the foggy valley below. Her fur protected her against the cold, but she still shivered as the chilling breeze broached over the rocks. The fire had been snuffed after Drake went to sleep. The collie had four hours of sleep before Finbar awoke her, signaling it was time for her to take watch. Considering how late she turned in, she expected him to wake her sooner.

The crackle of gravel against rock alerted her that someone in camp was awakening.

"Hey there, Arla," Drake said softly as he sat beside her, looking at the roof of the fogbank.

Arla didn't answer, but she drew her cloak tighter around her, a chill running up through her spine and fur.

Drake didn't say anything, either. He drew out his crossbow and began to examine it. He popped a cartridge out from underneath. It identically resembled the container he took out from his pack earlier that day. He carefully examined the weapon, oiling the springs that attached to the sides of the wooden limbs, which were collapsed at either side of the contraption. He pulled the trigger, snapping the thick wood forward, which clicked as it locked itself down. He made sure the bowstring was taught. Unscrewing a cover of the stock, he added a little oil to the metal gears inside.

Arla watched all this out of her eye. That chill remained with her as she watched him go over every conceivable inch of the large device.

"What is all that?" she asked.

Drake smiled.

"All this provides a mechanical advantage. As you can see, the bow is pretty thick. It has close to a two hundred ten pound test to it. These insure that I can actually draw the bow back when I need to use it. It gives me a three to one purchase. I just pull one of these levers on either side all the way back, and it draws the string, and it loads the bolt, taking it from this," he held up the container. Arla could see the outline of the bolt, which was a little longer than her hand and wrist.

"These cartridges contain five usable arrows. When you run out, you take out the cartridge, and put another one in."

Demonstrating, he slammed the cartridge back into the large crossbow, and cocked the lever backward, then again forward. When he presented it again the string was pulled back, and the bolt loaded.

"Here," he said, pushing the stock toward her, "We'll probably need it pretty soon, and it's probably more manageable than your bow. It's also very accurate. Brace yourself when you use it, though. It packs a wallop." He squinted eastward. "Today's sunrise looks like a promising one. You should probably go wake up your friend. We'll probably want to start scaling this face as soon as it is bright enough to see, although it looks pretty mild, at least to some I've been on. I'll keep watch here," he side with unarguable finality.

Arla nodded in silent assent. Turning, she still felt that chill down her back. There was a lump in her throat that seemed to get bigger as she took each step.

A brief growl warned her, before the actual attack. Spinning around, she brought the crossbow to ready, finding the stranger rolling around on the ground with a Moondog as big as he was.

Snarling, Drake held a mouthful of fangs scant inches from his throat. Both growling, they tussled. Arla held the crossbow, but didn't shoot in fear of hitting her companion.

Suddenly, the huge dog lurched off over the traveler's head, as Drake planted a foot and kicked the beast. The Metamoran still couldn't take the shot, as the fighter was in her line of site. She couldn't even if she could, though, the chill of fear froze her muscles, locked them in stasis, her teeth chattered.

The Moondog lifted its head to howl its findings to whom or whatever may be listening, but choked off as Drake struck with the same half fist Arla had seen him use the day before, when he rescued her.

He launched himself over the creature's back, one hand around its muzzle, the other hugging it around the neck. His momentum turned the creature over, presenting the Moondog's belly to Arla. The wolf-knight's legs scissored around the Moondog's hips, crushing them in a vice like grip, keeping the animal still. The large pseudo-canine tried to yelp in pain, but Drake's chokehold prevented any sound.

"Shoot!" Drake growled through his fierce grimace, and for an instant, something touched through Arla's fear. But Arla couldn't, her body shook so much. Her energy being sapped.

Then, Drake looked at her, the light glinting oddly off his eyes, and her mind opened up, the world around her becoming clearer, as something more primal connected within herself, digging itself deep within her being. She forgot her fear, as necessity, survival took over, as she heard an order, no, more like a question of life, echo through her mind, as she raised the bow, in spite of her fear.

Her finger pulled the trigger the instant of that request. The bow bucked against her shoulder, driving her a couple steps back.

The arrow flew true, striking the dog of darkness low in the ribcage. It whimpered as its body shuddered violently, then stilled. With a sudden jerk of his arms, Drake snapped its neck, making sure the beast was truly slain.

"What happened?" Finbar asked, apparently roused out of his pallet from the sounds from the scuffle. He held his sword in hand, and stepped protectively in front of Arla, who was shaking her head, the fear and that inner feeling dissipating.

"Moondog," the collie morph answered, gesturing toward the still form of the beast as Drake rolled the body off him. Drake leaned down to tear the bolt, which had penetrated completely through the carcass, out of the body.

"Thanks for the use of the bow," she added.

"Keep it for now, and watch the trail while Finbar and I close camp," the knight acknowledged her, his face serious, no longer sporting that lighthearted grin. He wiped the bloody arrow with a leather chamois as he walked toward his pallet.

The ferret glared at the knight as he passed the two scouts, but didn't say anything. Arla noted her friend's reaction.

"We can trust him," Arla told her friend, using muscle to cock the crossbow back and forth, as the man had demonstrated. She kept her voice low, however. "Don't ask me how I know, but my heart says that he will do what he can to protect us. I didn't even know that Moondog was there until it attacked Drake. Had he not been there, I-- we would have died."

The ferret grunted as they set out with their kits.

When they finished camp, the half of the sun was above the horizon. Drake stood, surveying the camp, or the lack of it.

"Ready to go?" Finbar asked.

"Almost," Drake answered. He drew out what looked to be a spice shaker, and went around the camp, depositing a fine powder at various places around its perimeter. All were possible ways to come and go from the site.

"What's that," the ferret asked suspiciously.

"Just a little seasoning I use when cooking curry," he said, a sly smirk crossing the traveler's face. He held it before his face, wafting some of the air toward his nose with his other hand. "Here, take a whiff."

Finbar eyed the shaker, then repeated the process Drake showed him. The little spice he inhaled bit into his nose and sinuses, tearing his eyes. He jumped back away, startled, clearing his now-running nasal passages.

Drakes smile grew even more wicked, "Just a little surprise for any more of your four legged friends that decide to come along. You just got the sample, just enough to tear the eyes for a few seconds. With the dose they're likely to get, those Moondoggies will be useless for weeks."

Finbar just stared at the traveler, then briefly smiled.

"Damn, lost that bet!" Drake said disappointedly. He took out a gold coin and tossed it at the Long scout.

"What do you mean? What's this for?"

Drake smiled assuredly, "I made a bet that you were a tough guy, and that I couldn't get you to break a grin for a week. Guess I lost."

Embarrassed, Finbar shook his head.

"Get your butt up the mountain," the ferret ordered.

"Yes sir!" Drake saluted in mock militarism.

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