FoxHound

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4.

On the silent feet of a scurrying centipede, the fox crept its way out of the woods with careful steps. He hadn’t been terribly concerned about his flight into the woods. That had all been a rouse to get the pup to give chase. Even had he fallen for one of the old farmer’s many, poorly disguised traps, it wouldn’t have mattered. The fox was too clever to fall for one or stay in one too long. His pursuer was surely less capable about dealing with those toys. Diving over snares and triggering jagged tooth traps was far too easy for the fox, yet Perc hadn’t been so lucky.

The dog didn’t get to scraped up when the fox first showed up on the scene; he mainly focused on the old hound. But when Perc had realized what those noises were, he charged out, driving the fox from the lot. He didn’t stop; Perc threw himself forward hard enough to pull the stake out of the ground, allowing him to charge after the fox. Once he was in the forest, the pup got all turned around, and before he knew it, he was trapped. Perc fell paw first into a bear trap, sending the metallic tang of blood through the air. Had that not alerted the fox enough, the snare springing immediately after certainly did. The cry Perc made as one of his hind legs was jerked high into the air was enough to deafen anything nearby. His body was pulled taut between the two traps, leaving it up to the fox to decide if the pup were worthy of mercy. As the sound of the revolver reached the fox, he decided it would be better to finish off one of the hounds rather than leave the little one to be found.

Now with one dog down and the hunter out of the way, there were only a few things left for the fox to do. It was time to clean house, take care of that last dog, and leave no vestige of the hunter’s home should any come along the path. The door blew wildly in the wind, giving the fox an easier time of getting access to the house. Creeping inside, muzzle low, he took in the many scents that clung to the air within. Charred smells from the wood stove, a greasy, meaty flavor from the kitchen, an unwashed stench that would have otherwise chased any reputable creature with a nose away, and the dense odor of country brewed swill. Had the alcoholic reek been less thick in the air, the fox may have detected the old hound before it threw itself at him.

The fox let out a yowl of pure shock, not that the teeth in his neck didn’t hurt, but they weren’t quite so alarming as the sudden attack. Ams forced the intruder low, not applying too much force initially, then he realized what he had nabbed. This wasn’t Perc skulking back after breaking loose and probably loosing the fox, it wasn’t a forest creature looking for some nice warm shelter it could take, and it most certainly wasn’t Moslay. Realizing the culprit’s identity before it was almost too late, Ams clenched his jaw tight until hot blood poured down into his muzzle. He jerked and pulled, trying to shake the fox about. In only seconds, the fox concluded he was in a no-win situation unless he evoked some of those more esoteric gifts the old woman had endowed him with.

Letting up on his grip on the fox form, the creature forced itself into an entity of pure spirit. His specter raged with great intensity, like a sunrise localized entirely in Moslay’s home. Ams saw the flowing wisp and dropped the body out of sudden shock. He growled then, hoping that teeth and claws could scare away the noncorporeal fox, it would not. Like Perc had done to him not more than ten minutes removed, the fox flashed into Ams, burning the hound with the immense power of its spirit. Against this threat, Ams had no recourse. He had never fought or even chased after something that was lacking a physical body. Moslay had even been right-minded enough to teach the hound that those things that do not walk but float through the world were a mighty danger to real flesh. Now, in Ams fleeting moments of life, he realized just how right the old man had been.

The old, gray hounds fur and flesh became little more than a reeking puddle of oddly colored fluid marring the cabin’s wooden floor. As the fox pulled away that spirit within, he forced it to join his self, merging a second that night into him. Flowing back into his body, slowly growing cold and rigid, the fox drew on the pile of vital things that had been living. Through sheer force, the fox caused the fluid to arc from the floor into his open neck wound. The material would fill him, replenishing his blood, and then seal the bites completely. After a few more minutes, the fox was again not only at full health but nearly doubled in his strength. Looking into the half-shattered mirror hung on the wall, the fox admired his new look. Three eyes on each side of his muzzle, each set in its own color, a muzzle grown wider and longer to accommodate more teeth, and his size far greater than it had been at dusk. He was a growing pup that much the old woman had been right about. And now it was time for him to do what that hag had asked of him. He set his sights on all those things in the cabin that could be broken.

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