Rain Running

by David Ihnen

Skylos sighed, and arched his back, stretching his full canine length over the pillow he had been leaning on. He was high in the library, not far from a shuttered window that brought the patter of rain to his ears. His mouth felt cottony, his body stiff from sitting for hours in the library. Bridge designs of the world were fascinating, but didn't make for very stimulating reading. He stood and pawed opened the shutters, looking out onto the rainy day.

The keep stood stoicly under leaden skies. It had been raining for three days without cease. The water ran cleanly down the gutters, long since swept clean of leaves and dirt by the pounding torrents. Each gurgling brook joined with others as they ran down the channels. They all swirled into a raging torrent that filled the huge cisterns below the keep, ready to provide in case of siege. Theyhad never overflowed, to the hound's knowledge. He thought they were getting pretty full with all this rain though. He grinned as a gust of wind splattered his fur with heavy raindrops. He raised his muzzle to the grey sky and howled loudly, feeling the flush of his body's response, blood quickening, heart speeding up.

It was time to run.

He slapped close the shutters and hurried down the stairs, ducking to avoid the irate look of the fox librarian.

"Take your howling out of here!" he snapped, scowling.

Skylos grinned, and waved dismissively as he hurried through the heavy library doors, rushing down the familiar stone corridor. He jogged easily at first, weaving around the other keepers that filled the main corridor on their random errands. He turned several times and burst into the deaf mule, upsetting a chair with a clatter. Donnie snorted at him.

The hound raises his muzzle and howled, "ow. owowooo!!"

The answering cry from a group of canids in the corner reverberated in some loose paneling. He bounded over to them and exchanged greetings, sniffing and shouldering playfully.

"Lets Run!" he suggested, and was met with a chorus of approval. He turned and sprinted for the door, the rest of the group scrambling to pay for their drinks before they were left behind.

Skylos loped gently through the keep. A series of empty hallways allowed him to gain speed, leaving the slower members a bit behind. Suddenly, he was shouldered aside by a powerful wolf, making him stumble. He playfully snapped at the wolf's muzzle, shouldering back as he regained footing. He could feel the others pressed close, running as one through the hallways. They yapped and shouldered each other as they ran, feeling the blood surging through their veins, the cool air sucked into eager lungs.

They roared out a side passage and down one of the busiest concourses of the keep, the hound leading the charge with the full bell of his howl. Keepers yelped and jumped left and right, avoiding the pack of canines as they tore through. A hallway seemed to open before them and they ran full tilt down it, yapping and yowling in pure joy.

Wanderer's ears perked at the first howl. He nosed the partially open shutters wide and placed his paws on the sill, ears flicking as he tried to locate the sound. It came from the direction of the library, but was gone now. He sighed and wandered back across Chris's apartment. His leader was settled in a large chair, dictating to Lurene who scribbled furiously at a desk. They had been at it all day. He nosed at the bear's thigh, and was rewared with gentle scritchings about his ears. The bear's attention was on the dictation though. The wolf sighed again and looked out the window, sniffing the clean wet air.

His ears flicked the other way. He could hear a pack playing in the distance, yapping and barking. His tail wagged in anticipation, and he trotted over to the door. He pawed at it and looked over at his leader. The bear was facing away from him, directing Lurene still. Wanderer scratched again and whined, the sounds getting louder as the canines approached. There was no response. He had to get out! He had to play with the others! He barked, jumping up on the door, pawing in distress. Chris's head swung around and he growled under his breath.

"Hold off, ye daft thing. Can't ye see I'm busy?" he asked

Wanderer's ears pushed back at the tone of the leader's voice in his mind. He whined a bit more tentatively, pawing at the door. His tail wagged as the bear rose and walked over to the door. Lurene panted a bit, her own ears picking out the sound of the canines. The sound of the approaching pack was clear now. She whined a bit herself, putting a paw to her muzzle to stifle it.

"There now. Off with ya both, and play. 'An don' be commin back too soon!" he mind-spoke gently, pulling open the latch, running his paw down Lurene's back as she ran out after Wanderer. He picked up Lurene's tunic from where it fell as she morphed to full canine, and placed it over the back of his chair. He smiled as he heard the dogs quiet for a moment nearby, then resume, settling into a comfortable chair by the fire.

Wanderer slipped out the door the moment it was wide enough, tail down as he faced the approaching sounds. In moments the pack was around the bend in the corridor, rushing towards him, a wave of noses and teeth, yapping loudly. The wolf lowered himself submissively with Lurene as the group skidded to a halt around them, sniffing and nosing them all over. A large hound raised his muzzle in a deep howl and they were off, the new pair swept along with them.

It was glorious. Friends at his flanks, the sounds of their joy filling the air that sucked into his lungs, propelling them all through the hallways. They stopped a few more times, being joined by a group of coyotes and a pack of dingos, their funny barks joining the rest of the howling.

The path the keep layed before them led onto the battlements. They burst through a half closed doorway into the grey wetness of the air, the slap of the door hitting its stop reverberating off the stone surfaces. They were soaked to the skin before the arrived at the first tower, running through the sheltered portals to the yells of the sentry posted there.

"You're wet! Like it isn't bad enough up here without getting soaked!" he shouted after them, shaking his head.

Wanderer got in front, tail raised high as they charged down a narrow open-topped passage along the wall. Another small tower was ahead, this one with the armory symbol over the door. The door opened as they approached and they rushed in, two dozen wet canines at full tilt.

Lieutenant Blake had just finished doing the evening rounds. His oilcloth was soaked but fortunately he wasn't. He carefully hung it in front of the fireplace with his boots, spreading it out so it would dry quickly. He settled his bulk into a sturdy wooden chair and looked around at the racks of weapons around him, spears, crossbows, hundreds of arrows, and a precariously stacked pile of bows. He rubbed his stocking feet, groaning a bit at the pain. It was high time he sorted the bows anyway. He tilted his head as the sound of canines sounded from down the wall, the shouts of the sentry there trailing them.

"Oh, what now?" he grumbled, heaving himself up and opening the door.

Wolves, dogs, canines rushed in in a flood, the water cascading from their coats covering the floor in seconds, soaking his stocking feet. They swirled around the room in a rush, upsetting the pile of bows.

Wanderer veered left, a man was standing by the door! He tried to stop but was pushed from behind by other dogs. He skittered around the unfamiliar room, finding another door, but shut. A loud clatter announced something falling. Bows flew everywhere, over backs, under paws, causing a clatter louder than the yelping of the pack.

Blake hollered and tried to shut the door, sputtering and slipping on the wet stone. The last canine slipped in before he got it shut.

"AAAARRRGGH!!" he yelled, the closest canines cringing away from him. "OUT!! BEGONE!!" he growled at them.

The canines milled around, unable to find an exit. The bows were getting trod upon, and Blake glared at the dingos blocking him from opening the door they came in through. He yelled again as he saw some trying to get the door open on the other side. He waded through the canines, pushing them aside with his knees and yanking the other door open.

"OUT!! GET!!" he yelled at them, missing a kick at the butt of the last one.

He looked around and growled in annoyance. The floor was covered with water. The bows were scattered all over. His pants were wet from the thighs down and his feet were absolutely soaked. He sloshed over to his chair and pulled it close to the fire.

"Canines." he grumped, pulling off his socks.

Skylos was back in the lead, tail high as he lead the charge down the wall at full speed. He had a rythm going, paws thumping against the rough stones. His body was cooled by the rain running through his fur, his blood surging. He never felt more alive than at times like this. They ran down the wall in the gathering dusk, meeting with the yelps of the disturbed sentries at every point. He veered from the path, jumping from the wall to a lower level pathway, followed by a cascade of water and barking canines. As he ran along, the walls of the channel got higher, water cascaded in from pipes and troughs on both sides. They were in a water flue! The streams increased the depth of the water. The floor was getting steeper. The hound tried to stop. His paws slipped out under him and he and started sliding downwards!

"YIPE!!!" he hollered as the water swept him along, dropping into a dark tunnel. They seemed to move faster and faster in a rush of water, twists and turns throwing them left and right, giving them a dark and thrilling ride. He could hear the frightened yelps of a female wolf behind him.

Lurene was having fun. Running was fun, with the other wolves it was ecstacy. It felt so right, the smell of the other wolves filling her mind with each eager breath. They were running down a water channel, splashing along through small waterfalls that fell in from both sides. Suddenly, it got steeper and the flow pulled her paws out from under her! She yelped as they fell into darkness, the flow surging left and right down the channel. She yelped loudly as her shoulder brushed a wall, and then it was over.

Suddenly they were thrown from the water by a grate as they burst into light! Skylos had time enough to recognize a torch in front of him before he was bowled over by the other canines, all landing in a big soggy heap on the floor. With much yapping and barking and rolling and shaking out of fur they found everybody was alright, if a bit shaken. They were in a chamber filled with the sound of rushing water. The entire center of the floor was a huge grate, through which the rainwater rushed. It tilted up at one end, forcing the flotsam in the flow to collect where the canines stumbled about. Pieces of wood and other debris piled there. One of the dingos shifted to a morphic form and opend the door, only to be knocked over by a surge of canid flesh.

Wanderer was in the lead again, tail high, charging through the lower levels of the keep. He wanted to go up. Up to where the water would cool his body, his tongue lolled as he panted, running, barking back at the chasing canines. The floor was smooth, tapestries lined the walls. He knew he was in an important area.

Ambassador Yonson bowed to Thomas, and turned to leave the room. It had been a most successful negotiating session. He smiled pleasantly at the guards, straightening his purple laced doublet. The guards reached and unlatched the doors, leaning against its mass. The door burst open, revealing a running wolf, throwing the guards off balance. The wolf blew by the upended guards, knocking the lemur a glancing blow as his paws scrabbled on the slick floor for traction. The initial shock was doubled by a whole pack of canines charging through the door in close pursuit, knocking him flat on his back. Water dripped from their coats, soiling his beautiful doublet! He yelped in annoyance, shouldering aside several damp dingos as he scrambled back to his feet. The dogs streamed down the center of the throne room, still barking and yapping. The ambassador sputtered, unable to form words, gasping at the water that soaked his clothing and fur, looking reproachfully up at Thomas.

Wanderer caught a glimpse of a horse's startled expression before it was blocked by guards, all teeth and steel, snarling a challenge. He yelped and backpedalled, ears back, scrambling to the side to avoid colliding with them. The rest piled up, tumbling over each other as they all came to a screeching halt. There was a long moment of silence before it was broken by Thomas Hassan's laugh.

"Very funny! Now get!!" he laughed.

The canines scrambled over each other, backing off with abashed expressions and hurried back out the door, flowing around the still sputtering lemur. When it all straightned out, they were still led by Wanderer. He took off running at full speed, taking staircases with huge bounds. They sprinted up more stairs, taking the keep's variable geometry in stride. They ran down hallways nobody remembered seeing before, guided by the spirit of the keep. They charged into a stairway that went round and round. Wanderer ran upwards relentlessly, ignoring the twinges of pain from his muscles as they worked. The sounds of the other canines faded from his mind as he concentrated on climbing, the stairs vanishing under his paws. Soon, the water, the cool air. Around and around, up and up. Suddenly, he scented the rain again, and burst out. He skidded to a stop, chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath. The rest of the canines arrived a moment later, some laying down and panting, milling about in the heavy rain.

Skylos arrived with the rest of the pack, flanks heaving from the strenuous run. The wolf had led them up a tower. From the feel of it a very tall one. The hound's tail wagged as he put his paws up on a parapet, looking down over the valley. They were on a high battlement. Far too high for practicality. It was probably for observation of the possible battles below in the valley. It would have been fun to build. Maybe it was for mages. He dropped back to the floor, grinning around at the other canines, shaking the water out of his eyes, ears flopping wildly.

Wanderer looked to the east, head tilting as feelings stirred inside him. The clouds were breaking up rapidly near the nearby mountain tip, a silver light breaking through. Then there it was in all its glowing glory. The full moon shown down on them through the deluge, every fat raindrop sparkling with its light. He raised his muzzle to the sky.

"oowooooooooooooooo!!" he let out, answering his hearts singing.

The other canines joined him, their voices twining in abstract harmony. On and on they howled, becoming one under the moon, howling the joy of creation and life, singing together. Their song carried over the keep.

It snuck into the sleeping keepers, pulling their dreams along with its joy.

It raised the ears of the patrons of the deaf mule, unusually quiet in the noisy canines absence. Donnie paused in his barkeeping to listen. Even the billiards players paused to enjoy it.

Thomas stood just inside his balcony, out of the rain, listening to the moon song. A smile crossed his muzzle as he turned, pulling his robe tighter against the damp chill.

Work in the Keeps kitchen paused as the chef threw the window open wide, allowing the song to reach them in all its clarity, temporarily drowning out the rush of falling rain.

Charles Matthias smiled in his meditation, his whiskers twitching.

Misha looked up from his clockwork thoughtfully.

Chris smiled around his sandwich, hearing Wanderer's and Lurene's voices clearly in the song.

The whole keep seemed to pause, hold its breath, and listen to the song for a long moment.

When the song was ended, the canines one by one headed back into the keep, out of the soaking deluge. Wanderer stayed until all but Lurene were gone. He snorted and shook his head, emotions overwhelming, making his nose run.

Lurene sat near the top of the stairs, watching Wanderer. Her fur was matted to her skin, her ears lowered to protect them from the sparkling rain. She could feel the water running down her back and legs, joining the little streams that dissappeared down small holes at the edge of the tower. The excitement of the run and the joy of the song echoed within her, keeping a smile on her muzzle, the tip of her tail wagging gently.

Wanderer's mind seemed to struggle within him, searching. Emotions tumbled in his heart, begging for form, for expression. He whimpered softly, resting his chin on a parapet, watching the moon slowly dissappear behind the once again thickening clouds. The magic sparkle of moonlit raindrops was gone. The rain ran through his fur, and he shivered.

Lurene nuzzled him softly, and nudged him towards the stairs. The wolf turned and slowly padded down the steep staircase, Lurene close at his side.