180: Hounded

on March 18, 2008 in 07: Pitched Battles

In Which The Bold Heroes Arrive

Let me start by backing up a moment to say that I do not like dogs.

I’d say that I am in fact afraid of dogs, but that would sound monumentally stupid because—as you’ll already know if you’ve been paying the least bit of attention—dogs cannot do a thing to harm me.

Well, it sounds stupid… it is stupid… but it’s also perfectly true. This goes back to when I was a dumb little kid. My first exposure to dogs was sort of in the abstract; TV shows and books with cute, friendly puppies. My first real encounter with a dog was nothing like that.

I’m sure I’m not the only kid that’s happened to, but in my case it wasn’t just my first experience with a dog that ended in tears and me hiding behind my mother’s legs. It was every experience… at least until I was too old to do that.

See, as much as I say I don’t like dogs, they like me even less. They bare their teeth and growl. They flatten their ears and whine. They back up against a wall and then try to walk up it. The dogs of the world knew what I was before anybody else did, and they did not like it.

I did not understand that at the time. I only knew that TV and books had lied to me… that the nice doggies did not want to play with me, they only wanted to get away from me or tear me to pieces.

That’s the kind of thing that can give a kid a bit of a complex.

You might think that finding out I was invulnerable to harm from such pesky mortal, mundane creatures would have helped me get past this phobia… but, no. That’s where the “irrational” part of “irrational fear” comes into play. Even after I turned, I still jumped every time I heard a dog bark, and I still crossed the street (or went down a different one) to avoid somebody walking their dog.

So, when I was confronted by a pair of very obviously unnatural dog-like creatures that very likely had magical teeth that could pierce my skin and tear my flesh as easily as my own did, I wasn’t thinking, “Magical creatures that can probably harm me. I should best be careful.”

I was thinking, “Shit. Dogs.”

I began backing towards the exit, keeping the pitchfork out in front of me. My back hit a wall covered with vines and moss. I began feeling around to try to find the opening, had a moment of panic when I feared a wall had closed over it, and felt profound relief when my hand found the gap. The relief turned to terror when I turned and almost ran smack into an iron portcullis which had slid silently into place… or maybe it had been noisy and I had just been too distracted by the two-headed, horned dogs which were almost upon me.

The wounds they had sustained seemed to have done more to make them angry than anything else. The one with the arrow in its side was a little bit slower than the other, but not by much.

Their coats were glossy black with red highlights. The motif was a little obvious, but I had no idea if these were actual hellhounds or just some creative wizard’s idea of what hellhounds would look like. I didn’t know. My grandmother had kept a whole room full of books on demonology, but I hadn’t been allowed in there. The door had been so heavily warded that the entire end of the upstairs hallway was uncomfortable for me.

I leveled the pitchfork like a lance. The hounds were wary of the weapon… they slowed as they came closer, almost backpedaling. They stood just outside of poking range, snarling and growling, both sets of heads snapping.

I tried to keep the pointy parts between them and me, but they circled around as they darted and lunged, testing the perimeter, and they were moving farther and farther apart. It wouldn’t be long before they had me flanked, or whatever you call it when somebody’s on your sides.

One of them crouched down and tensed as if to leap. I shoved the pitchfork forward and caught him with one of the tines on the side of one of his snouts. I cringed when I saw the gash this left.

Stupid of me.

What had I thought would happen?

The fact that the pitchfork had left a mark meant they were most likely mundane creatures that had been physically altered into this state, which meant they probably couldn’t harm me. Probably. I didn’t want to test that hypothesis, though.

The other dog almost caught me napping while I was thinking this. I spun around… just managing to not get my ankles tangled up… and set the pitchfork in time to defeat his charge. One of his heads snapped at the metal tines, and I jabbed him in the mouth, then turned around to bash the other dog on one of his heads.

I was definitely more comfortable clubbing than stabbing, and I kept it up when one of the heads got too close. Stupid distinction, I know. Bludgeoning a creature to death can’t be more pleasant or painless than stabbing or cutting them, but somehow I was less squeamish about it. I knew if I could get a good hit on one of their skulls where I could apply all my strength, I’d have plenty to be squeamish about.

I kind of wished there was a way I could hit them with just enough force to knock them out without, you know, splitting something open… but that wasn’t going to happen. I was just sort of slapping and batting at them as it was. They weren’t giving me enough time or space to lift the pitchfork up high and really give it a good swing. I knew I couldn’t keep fending them off forever, but I also couldn’t keep them off of me long enough to…

Oh, duh. I could keep them off me. They were just animals, after all, not men with swords and spears. They couldn’t attack without getting close, and what animal didn’t know better than to keep a safe distance from fire?

I lit up as much as I could, keeping my pitchfork hand and the whole general pelvic area free of flames. I was hoping the two monster dogs would turn tail and run away. I would have settled for them continually approaching and backing away, barking incessantly.

I was totally unprepared for them coming closer, pressing themselves to the ground with all four heads lowered in some kind of show of canine submission.

What the fuck? Were they magically compelled to respond to fire like that? Or were they real hellhounds?

The latter possibility didn’t seem very likely, considering that the pitchfork had wounded them, however superficially. Maybe this was one of the areas that had been added or improved by the university, with mock hellhounds to prepare students for real-life encounters. Whatever. I didn’t know, or care. I just wanted to get away from the things.

I took a step to the side, my back sliding against the bars of the gate and then the wall. The dogs followed, crowding in close, but making no aggressive moves. Shit. I didn’t feel safe turning my back to them, no matter how they were acting.

“Nice doggy,” I said, trying to gently but firmly prod one away with the wooden end of the pitchfork. He seemed to take this as his due, and the other one even came up and tried to push him aside to get the attention for himself.

Well, I’d tried the blunt end. I flipped it around and angled the pointed end down, waving it in all four faces. That got a little bit more distance. Not much, but a little. I stepped away from the wall, keeping the pitchfork in between us, and waving it in the faces of either dog that got too close. I made my way around the edge of the round enclosure, using the pitchfork to keep the dogs from following too faithfully at my heels.

Once I got past the halfway point, I chanced a look at where I was going and saw the exit, with the remains of three more monster dogs on the ground around it. The bodies had arrows and other wounds. No other bodies or parts of bodies were evident. That meant if I could get out of the area, I might be able to catch up with the group who’d fought their way through here last. They could help me get the attention of their teacher and get the hell out.

I thought my luck had run out when suddenly the two dogs growled and went all tense, the hair on their necks sticking up.

“Whoa, easy, guys,” I said, my grip tightening on my weapon. “Take it easy…”

“Oh, shit! They’ve got a demon now!”

The cry had come from the doorway. The dogs hadn’t been looking at me. My luck hadn’t run out after all… it was just running its usual course.

I turned and saw four delving students, two guys with swords, one with a bow, and a girl with a staff. The archer had an arrow nocked and pointed at me. The dogs charged past on either side of me.

“Wait!” I said, holding up my hands. “Stop!”

The dogs stopped. The archer let fly. I shrieked and all the muscles in my body kind of bunched up, and something hit me in the shoulder.

I fell, my flames dousing. The pain was right up there with being stabbed in the heart with a phantasmal weapon. My eyes were open but I couldn’t see anything other than bright blurriness. I think I was in shock. Not just, you know, shocked… though after so many darts and arrows had bounced off my skin already that day, I was a little surprised when this one went in… but in shock. I had an arrow in me.

There were sounds of what must have been fighting, but they were over before I had full awareness of my surroundings again. I was on my back, bleeding, the arrow stuck in where my arm joined my torso.

“Shit, did I kill it?” one of the adventurers asked. “Did I actually kill a demon?”

“The flames went out. You must have.”

“Fuck, yeah! One hit kill.”

“I don’t think you can kill a demon with one arrow,” a female voice said.

“Fuck you, Lacey. These are awesome arrows and you know it. You saw what they did to those things in the graveyard”

“No, see?” Lacey said. “It’s moving.”

I was trying to get up, but I couldn’t feel my left arm and every movement made the arrow shift around, adding to my agony.

“Okay, let’s go finish it off, but I get credit for the kill,” the archer said.

“Stop!” I said again, though it came out as more of a scream of pain. I was about halfway to sitting upright and could see the other students now. The archer was hanging back a bit. One of the fighters, a kind of sandy-haired guy with a broadsword, was approaching with measured steps. I noticed he was barefoot.

The girl called Lacey and the other fighter followed a couple steps behind. The second fighter, who had brown hair, seemed to have lost his pants somewhere, unless chain mail and boxer shorts were the fashion now.

Or maybe I was hallucinating. I did feel a little woozy.

The archer was definitely topless, except for a leather vest.

“It’s naked,” the darker-haired fighter said. “Fucking Khersis, is it on the rag?”

“She,” the girl corrected. “Um… it kind of looks that way.”

“I’m a student,” I said, trying to make the words as clear as I could. My mouth felt all heavy.

“Hold your tongue, vile fiend,” the leader said. I guess he had an appreciation for the classics. “Make no move to resist us and your end will come quickly.”

“Um, you know, there is a demon student,” the other fighter said. “In Harlowe.”

“This creature is here in the maze, naked and wreathed in flames and commanding the devils’ hounds,” the leader said. “I doubt she has anything to do with any student, harlot or otherwise.”

“Well, supposedly, she does run around naked a lot,” Lacey said. “Her name is…”

“Quiet,” the leader said. “Creature, what is your name among humans?”

“Mackenzie,” I said. “Mackenzie Blaise.”

The group looked at each other.

“The demon student’s name is Mack something,” Lacey said. The fighter nodded.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Student or no, she became our lawful enemy when she set her hounds upon us,” the leader said.

“I didn’t!” I said.

“It did kind of look like she was holding them off or something when we came in,” Lacey said.

“I didn’t notice that, but now that you say it that way, I can kind of see it,” the fighter said. “I think we’d probably better not kill her… it… whatever, just in case. I mean, we are talking about a student.”

“We are talking about a dangerous monster,” the leader said.

“Oh, just look at her, Justin,” Lacey said. “The poor thing’s so hurt she can barely move. I say we leave her alone.”

The leader sighed and sheathed his sword.

“This is bullshit,” the archer said. “I finally get a kill on a major opponent and you guys…”

“Oh, stick a sock in it, Seth!” Justin said. His voice went up about half an octave when he said this. Just a guess, but I figured that was his natural speaking voice. “You aren’t the only one who wanted to kill a demon. Okay, Riley, I’ll keep an eye on this gate and you guard the other. Lacey, Seth, take half the room each and start searching.”

The others moved to obey him. It seemed like having decided I wasn’t a threat, they were going to ignore me.

“Hey!” I said. “I’m hurt here!”

“We have all suffered injuries this day,” Justin said, in his affected leader voice. “You knew the risks when you entered the labyrinth.”

“I didn’t!” I said. “I was dumped here by mistake. I need to get out of here… and I need to get healed before I die.”

“Can you really die from one arrow in the shoulder?” Riley asked. He was talking to his party, not me. “It’s not like there’s anything vital there.”

“You can die from any wound,” Lacey said. “If it’s not treated.” She looked at me with an apologetic smile. “Sorry, nothing personal, but I don’t think you’d like my kind of healing.”

“If she bleeds to death, I still get the kill, right?” Seth said.

“Can you please contact your teacher?” I asked.

“Absolutely not. If we summon our sponsor, we fail the exercise,” Justin said.

“This is an emergency,” I said. “People should be looking for me.”

“There are many emergencies when you’re on a dungeon crawl,” Justin said. “The real test is how you handle them.”

“And how are you handling this one?” I asked.

“It’s not ours to handle,” Justin said. “Everybody, back to searching.”

“You’re going to leave me to die,” I said.

“You’re a monster, this is a maze, that’s life,” Justin said.

“If we find out later that she never made it out, I’m counting it,” Seth said.

“I’m really sorry,” Lacey said, with a shrug and a smile. Under any other circumstances, I might have found Lacey cute. She had curly auburn hair and freckles on her cheeks. As it was, I found her manner irritating. That, and I had an arrow stuck in me. “I’d heal you if I could. Hey, though, our professor looks in every hour or so. If we’re still here the next time he checks, he might see you and tell someone.”

“Do you understand that I am going to bleed to death if I don’t get out of here?” I asked.

“I said I was sorry,” Lacey said. She sounded a little irritated, as if she felt she wasn’t being given proper credit for her efforts. She reached for the pitchfork. “Oh, and look. You still have your trid…”

She froze, her hand inches from it.

“Where did you get this?” she asked, in an awed whisper.

“There was this farm,” I said.

“You’re lying,” she said.

“No,” I said.

“But that’s… though it would explain why you’re naked… though…”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Justin?” she called, ignoring me. “You’d better come take a look at this.”

“What?” Justin asked. “You find something?”

“I didn’t,” Lacey said. “She did. She’s got the pitchfork from the cursed farm.”

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2 Responses to “180: Hounded”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Let’s keep our priorities straight….
    First kill everything in sight. check
    Second pillage and loot. check
    Third help your teammates. ehh, maybe later
    Fourth assist any lost students you shoot. not interested
    Fifth get your ass out of the labrynith
    alive with the loot, and if it isn’t inconvenient
    retrieve your wounded comrades. Unless that would
    interfere with the amount of loot you could carry.

    double check

    Current score: 8
    • Hoopla says:

      Sounds a lot like Weed from “legendary Moonlight Sculptor” except that he heals every opportunity he gets because it raises his skill level.

      Current score: 3