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Musings

  • There are few things in life more relaxing than sitting on a porch swing, listening to a hard rain fall on a lake, and reading a good book.
  • Either teenagers or raccoons raided the cooler we left on the cabin porch last night, because I awoke to find all of our beer gone.
    • I have a mental image of a couple of fuzzy masked bandits sitting up against a tree, a pile of empty Leinenkugel bottles at their feet, just talking about how great life is.
  • Canned, iced coffee just isn’t a very good substitute for fresh brewed.
    • But, in the words of one of my grandmothers, it’s better than nothing.
  • For a weekend at the lake where we tried to not haul a bunch of our camping stuff there and back, we sure seemed to haul a lot of stuff there and back.
  • Irish Woman and I have decided that we really like the little two room cabins at the state park we visited. If we were going to construct something like it for ourselves, thought, we’d add a bathroom and a kitchen.
    • I don’t mind cooking outside, but the 15 minute walk, in the dark, to get to the restroom was less than optimal.
    • I know, I know, bear, woods, whatever.
  • At the end of these weekends, when everyone is trying to get out of the campground at the same time, I always wonder if the temperature and chemistry of the lake changes as a couple hundred coolers are either drained or emptied into it.

News Roundup

  • From the “I’m Good, Thanks” Department – A distillery in New Hampshire has debuted a new whiskey flavored with “beaver secretions”.  Sophomoric humor about which intern got assigned to gather beaver secretions aside, I think I’ll pass.  I like my whiskey neat, not musky.  While major Kentucky distilleries have made no official comment, this reporter has observed an elderly gentleman at a local establishment push his hat back, cock his head to the side, and utter, “What in tarnation?” upon hearing about the new product.
  • From the “I Feel A Disturbance In The Force” Department – In related news, two trucks recently collided on an Arkansas highway, dumping several hundred bottles of Fireball cinnamon whiskey.  Officials report a mass gathering of mourning frat boys and party girls near the site.  A monument made up of forehead-crushed beer cans, discarded screwtop wine bottles, and empty gallon jugs of bad moonshine is being erected at the site.
  • From the “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” Department – A family in Kansas is on the hook for $132,000 to replace a statue their child destroyed.  It appears that the little scamp knocked it over while giving it a hug.  Obviously, the person who set the thing up in the first place has never been around small children.  When my hellions were small, I had nothing within their reach, meaning less than 17 feet from the floor, that wasn’t made out of titanium, wrought iron, or rubber.  Even then, things got mangled in rather creative ways.  Ahh, the memories. So much rending of expensive materials, so much damage.
  • From the “Unintended Consequences” Department – A restaurant in China has had to close after an all-you-can-eat special caused it to go deep in debt.  It seems the management was offering the deal for $19 a month, and customers were loaning their cards out to family and friends.  So, basically, it’s Netflix for dim sum.  Anyway, I’m reminded of the Korean buffet in Killeen that had to change its lunch policies after a few weeks because the Army guys took “all you can eat” as a challenge.  Trust me, you don’t want a Korean grandmother to chase you out of her restaurant because you’ve been grazing for a couple of hours.

Review – Galaxy’s Edge, Part II

Question:  How much do I enjoy the Galaxy’s Edge series by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole?

Answer:  Enough to spend an Audible credit to listen to the audiobooks, read by R.C. Bray, after I’ve read all of them already.

Legion Dark Ops calls upon Chhun, Wraith, and the survivors of Victory Company to form an elite Kill Team of legionnaires in the aftermath of the Battle of Kublar. Their mission is clear: find and eliminate those responsible for the Kublar disaster.

Standing between them and their objective are a maze of corrupt Republic officials, a spy on the verge of losing himself in deep cover, and the Zhee – a murderous species that will stop at nothing. But the biggest threat of all might be the truth they seek to uncover – a truth that could ignite a revolution. And engulf the galaxy in flames.

Fleets collide in this audiobook in a moment-by-moment account of tactics, heroism, sacrifice, and the start of the final war of the Republic. The stakes have never been higher – and it’s winner takes all.

Galaxy’s Edge, Part II, includes the third and fourth books in the series, ‘Kill Team‘ and ‘Attack of Shadows‘.  The first half of the audiobook deals with the aftermath of the Battle of Kublar, as Chhun and his team are drawn into the shadowy world of Dark Ops.  They soon find themselves embroiled in a race against time to stop a devestating attack.  The second half brings us back to Goth Sullus and his forces as they begin their war against the Galactic Republic.

As always, Bray does an outstanding job in voicing and pacing. He brings the tension and urgency needed for Kill Team, but then works magic as he hops from one scene to the next in the frenetic battle sequences in Attack of Shadows.

This is an excellent book to listen to while you’re on your morning commute.  I found myself lingering in the truck for several minutes so that I could get to the end of a chapter.

If you’re a fan of military science fiction that moves at the speed of light, you’ll enjoy Galaxy’s Edge, Part II.

Review – An Airless Storm: Cochrane’s Company: Book Two

Peter Grant has debuted the second book in his ‘Cochran’s Company’ series, An Airless Storm.  The book picks up a few months after the end of the first book, and continues the story of Andrew Cochrane and his crew.

Andrew Cochrane and his mercenaries have warded off a deadly onslaught by asteroid thieves. Now they’re riding high, buying more ships and looking for more contracts.

However, the criminal Brotherhood isn’t about to accept defeat – not after Cochrane’s Company killed their Patriarch. They’re out to rebuild, rearm, and get revenge.

What started as a simple patrol job in a deserted binary star system explodes into a multi-planetary arms race, with survival on the line!

Airless Storm is a treat, especially for fans of space opera.  Grant does a good job of developing his characters and their stories, as well as introducing new folks to add to the mix.

The book is well plotted, and reads fast.  It’s not a thriller, but Grant has a talent for pulling you into a story and holding on for dear life.  I read it over several evenings and was always surprised by how much time had passed while I was wrapped up in the book.

I’m looking forward to see how this story continues in the next book, due out next month, and I hope you enjoy An Airless Storm as much as I have.

Escort Duty – Part 25

In the hallway outside, the two servants listened to the noise and exchanged a knowing look.

“He’s found one with some fight in her, hasn’t he?”

“Remember that one from Pesht with the dark hair last fall? The duke spent three days in bed once he was finished with her.”

“Too bad about the woman, though. She’s the prettiest one yet. Hopefully, he’s more gentle this time.”

The pair stood next to the door and listened to the moans, shouts, and rumbles coming from the hall.

~~~

Simon eased his way along the wall. He could hear people talking in what seemed to be a summer kitchen on the far side of the tower as he crept closer to the tall building. The smell of roasting meat overpowered every other scent, but his ears did not pick up the sound of soldier’s boots on the courtyard’s flagstones. When he reached a door at the tower’s base, he silently pulled Gnarlthing from its scabbard and eased the door open a few inches.

Looking through the crack, he saw a hallway lit by torches. Two men wearing silver and black livery stood next to another door. The sound of a man bellowing and furniture moving across the floor came from beyond the door, and the two men chuckled and talked in a low whisper.

Simon slipped through into the hall and approached the pair. Their attention was on what was going on in the banquet hall, and the soft footfalls of Simon’s boots were lost in the ruckus. Simon brought Gnarlthing up, its blade gleaming in the torchlight, and brought its pommel down on back of the larger one’s head. The servant stumbled forward, bumping his head on the heavy wooden door, then dropped as Simon bludgeoned him again.

The second servant opened his mouth to shout. Simon flicked his arm down and rested his blade against the side of the youth’s neck. The servant closed his mouth immediately.

“Where is Princess Erika?” Simon hissed, “Speak!”

The boy, wisps of hair on his chin quivering in the torchlight, pointed to the door behind Simon and stammered, “In there!”

~~~

Erika kicked out at Kyrali’s knee and missed. Her heel impacted on his shin, drawing a howl of pain from him as he stomped down onto her ankle. Erika cried out and scooted away from the larger man. Kyrali heaved himself up onto the table and reached down at her. His fingers entwined in her hair, and he yanked her out from under the table. Erika twisted to get free, but the duke wrenched her around, tightening his grip.

“Bitch!” he growled, “You’ll pay for that!” He lunged forward to slap her again.

Erika let her legs go out from under her, her weight pulling the duke off balance. He fell to the floor beside her, his breath coming out in a whoof as he landed. She leaped onto his chest and struck at his face with her fists. The duke pulled back on her hair again, then struck her on the side of the head.

The princess recoiled from the blow, falling hard on the stone floor next to the duke. For a moment, both lay there, stunned and breathing hard.

Kyrali heaved himself up and used the table to regain his feet. Looking down at Erika, he kicked her in the ribs with his uninjured leg. The blow rolled Erika onto her side, her arms flailing away from the duke.

He reached behind his back and tugged at the knife. His eyes rolled into his head for a moment as he did, and his knees buckled. Catching himself on the edge of the table, the duke kept himself from swooning from the pain.

“We’ll just see how much fight you have left in you after a few months in the cellar,” he wheezed, turning toward the door, “You’ll beg me to put you up in that nice, dry tower.”

As Erika returned to her senses, she felt something cold and hard under her hand. She wrapped her fingers around it and wobbled to her feet.

~~~

Simon looked around the hall, but saw nowhere to stash the two servants. For a moment, he considered slitting the young man’s throat and moving on, but thought better of it.

“Kneel,” he hissed, his eyes ablaze in the torchlight. The young servant gulped hard, but obeyed.

Simon pointed to the prostrate form of the other servant.

“Take his belt off and wrap it around your wrists,” he ordered.

With shaking hands, the servant reached over and pulled the leather strap from around his friend. He wrapped it loosely around his wrists. Simon took a hand from his sword’s hilt and pulled the belt tight.

Cinching it down, he said, “Now, don’t make a sound, or I’ll come back and finish the job.”

“But the duke…” the servant replied, flinching as the leather strap bit into his wrists.

“Sounds like he has his hands full,” Simon said, lifting his blade from the young man’s neck.

Just then, the door swung open, striking the half-elf in the back and shoving him forward. His blade skimmed along the servant’s cheek, laying it open before falling from his grip. Simon stumbled to his knees, then twisted toward the new threat.

Duke Kyrali stood in the doorway, his fists raised. He roared incoherently at Simon and pounced upon him. Simon was quick, but Kyrali was upon him before he could bring his sword around or dodge out of the way. The big man clubbed the half-elf with his fist, sending him to the floor in a heap.

Kyrali snatched up Gnarlthing from where it had clattered to the floor and swung it up to stab at Simon. He stopped, though, as he raised the sword, a look of shock on his face. Then, with a gasp, the duke slumped, face first, to the floor. He lay there, his breath coming in short, gurgling gasps.

Simon looked at him in shock, then saw the carving knife sticking out of his ribs. As the half-elf watched, a pink foam came from his mouth and dripped to the stones. The duke took another shuddering breath, then stilled. His lifeless eyes stared at Simon in disbelief.

Erika stood over him, her hair tangled and her dress ripped and smeared with blood. Her lower lip was swollen, and the skin under one of her eyes was already beginning to bruise.

The young servant took all of this in, opening his mouth to scream, both from the pain of the wound on his cheek and at the sight of his dead master sprawled on the floor.

Erika pointed to him, snarling, “If you make a sound, I will cut your throat and send your liver to your mother!” Her teeth gleamed sharp and white in the torchlight as she spoke.

The servant closed his mouth.

~~~

Hollo squatted in the bracken, looking down the chalk bluff at the city below. His purse was much lighter than it had been before he had entered Booda, but he had been able to get through the gate and across the bridge without anyone raising an alarm. Now, he gnawed on a crust of bread while he waited for Simon.

Where is he? Hollo thought as he looked at the dimly-lit road which led up from the river, We’ll need to get far away before sunrise.

He waited some more, each minute making him more impatient. Finally, he heard footsteps on the cobblestones.

He pursed his lips and whistled in a low tone. After a moment, a whistle from down the hill responded.

Hollo stood and stepped out onto the road. In the dim moonlight, he saw Simon and Erika walking up the road. Hollo’s smile at seeing his friend melted when he saw that the princess’ dress was stained with blood as Simon helped her hobble up the steep incline.

Erika saw his concern and said quietly, “It’s not mine,” before following Simon off the road and toward the tree where Hollo had tied their horses.

Simon collapsed next to the tree, his hand on his bruised ribs.

“You didn’t happen to steal a skin of wine, did you?” he asked bleakly.

“Nope, but we’ve enough money left to buy some if we can get into those hills without getting caught. My cousin has an inn on one of the side roads.”

“Thanks be to the gods,” Erika said, holding up the gold chain around her neck, “I hope this will be enough to buy me some decent clothes, too.”

“How did you get across the river?”

“A woman saw a phantom drenched in blood looking through her window. Her screams drew the guards away from the bridge,” Simon replied.

Hollo mounted his pony, and his companions followed suit.

“If we get moving, we can be there by mid-day.” he said, “How far back is the pursuit?”

“Well, unless someone discovers the duke’s body or his servants know how to get out of my knots, we’ve probably got a few hours before they even know to come looking for us,” Simon replied.

“Apparently, it’s not unusual for his lordship to spend the night…. entertaining his lady guests in that hall. The servants know to not disturb him. Those two will lay there, trussed up like Yuletide gooses all night, and I doubt their master will stir to raise the alarm,” Erika said through her fat lip.

The three rode away from Booda in silence. The only sound that split the gloom was that of their horse’s steps across the field of soft bracken and fern as they left the road behind them. Soon, the lights of Booda’s watch fires faded from view as they crested the hills above the city. They rode through the night, putting more distance between them and anyone who tried to track them.

As they rode into the foothills of the mountains, the eastern horizon turned a rich pink and gold. Erika turned to look at it, then looked around at the ground around them.

“I’m starving,” she said to Simon, “Do you think you could find us a couple of squonks for breakfast?”


I hope you’ve enjoyed Escort Duty.  There will be more stories of Simon and his adventures in time.

Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

Movie Review – The Incredibles 2

For Father’s Day, Irish Woman and Boo took me out to see Incredibles 2, the long-awaited sequel to 2004’s The Incredibles.  The sequel literally picks up right where the first one ended, and it’s a roller coaster from beginning to end.

The whole gang from the first movie, including the voices of Samuel L. Jackson, Helen Hunt, and Craig T. Nelson, return for this installment.  Catherine Keener and Bob Odenkirk join the cast as brother and sister bazillionaires who want to help the supers regain their place in the sun.  As before, the development and voicing of the entire cast is excellent.  While the baby Jack-Jack stole the show, the most interesting character, to me, is Violet.  She spends the movie trying to figure out how to be a healthy teenage girl who happens to have superpowers, and goes to extremes in that quest.

We rewatched the original yesterday, and I am amazed at how well the animators and voice actors kept the same look, sound, and feel for both movies.  I was worried that after almost a decade and a half, the transition would have been rough, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Like I said, the plot moves quickly, and it’s easy to slip into it and stay there.  All three of us laughed, hard, at many points, and the places where there was action or tension were done with an expert touch.

The only quibble I had with the story is the shop-worn “Dad has to take over for Mom and he’s a mess” schtick, but it fit with the story and Mister Incredible figures it out eventually.  I guess I can’t blame Pixar for using a cliche if it’s done well.

If you’re a fan of the original, or if you have kids that can take a little action in their entertainment, Incredibles 2 is a great summer watch.  This one is definitely going to be added to our collection when it’s released on disk.

Repost – This We’ll Defend

When someone wants to protest the government, whether we agree with them or not, this we’ll defend.

When a citizen wants to vote, no matter for whom or what, this we’ll defend.

When a mother wants to buy a gun to protect her children, this we’ll defend.

When someone wants to worship, or chooses not to, this we’ll defend.

When someone wants to write, or sing, or draw, or paint, or dance, whether it be for the joy of it or to send a message to the rest of us, this we’ll defend.

When our people want to live in peace, in security, in freedom, this we’ll defend.

Today is the 243th anniversary of the establishment of the United States Army.   It’s been made up of larger than life heroes and ordinary folk.  Our ranks have included Douglas MacArthur, Andrew Jackson, Audie Murphy, and Nathan Hale.  They have also included the quiet men and women who go to do their duty and then come back to build up that which they have defended.  Our places have names like Valley Forge, Omaha Beach, Pusan, Ia Drang, and Antietam.  They also have names like Grafenwohr, Camp Red Cloud, Hood, Riley, Carson, and Lewis, and all the other cold, hot, dusty, wet, and whatever-else they-can-throw-at-us places around the world where quiet professionals train and prepare.

To my brothers and sisters around the world, I’ll be raising a toast tonight.  If you can, please join me.

 

Rakkasan

Garryowen

Climb To Glory

Iron Soldiers!

Toujours Pret

Always Out Front

This We’ll Defend

Musings

  • Sometimes, there isn’t a trick to doing something.  Sometimes, you just have to pay attention to what you’re doing and execute.
    • Following directions never hurts, either.
    • Neither does a bit of practice.
  • Nothing  brings a couple of neighbors together like seeing a third neighbor doing trauma care on a labrador retriever on his porch at nine o’clock on a Friday night.
  • Our blueberries are coming on strong this year.  Irish Woman has done everything except sit in a blind with a shotgun to keep the birds off of them.
    • She did not seem surprised to find out that Crash the Psychotic Feline was less than helpful when harvesting blueberries.
  • Having a few hours of mandatory training that needed to get done soon gave me something to do between conference calls.
    • I tell ya, there’s never a dull moment around here.
  • Either the whitetails are doing really well this year, or I almost hit a tan wildebeest on the way home from work on Saturday evening.
  • Is it a sign of old age when you find an old scar and can’t remember where you got it?

Escort Duty – Part 24

Erika watched in distaste as the duke picked up his fish and ate it in two large, rapid bites. She took a dainty bit of trout from her plate and chewed it thoroughly before swallowing.

“You need to eat more, my dear,” the duke said, grease from the fish glistening on his lips and beard.

“I’m enjoying the meal,” Erika replied in a soothing tone, “but what I’m craving is a good bit of meat.”

“Ah, then you’re in luck,” the duke said, raising his hand and snapping his fingers. Two servants came in bearing a large haunch of meat, steam rising from it in the hall’s muggy air.

“This is my kitchen’s specialty,” he said, watching the servants as they set the food down. One of them picked up a large carving knife from the tray and sliced into the pale flesh.

“Boar?” Erika asked.

“Oh, no, this is hand-raised sow, just finished weaning her first litter of piglets. The meat is so tender and mild that it will melt in your mouth!”

Erika nodded in thanks to the servant as he laid a slab of meat on her plate, then poked at it with her fork.

“It certainly looks good, my lord,” she said, “but why have I no knife? Am I to pick it up and eat it like an animal?”

The duke looked at her in shock, his serving of the meat already halfway to his mouth.

“Of course not, my lady,” he said after setting it back on his plate, “You, fetch us a pair of knives for our meat!”

The servants bowed and scurried off. One of them returned a few moments later with a pair of knives from the kitchen. Erika noted that, while they were rather plain compared to the rest of their cutlery, they looked to have a fine edge on them.

The princess picked up her knife and drew it across the pork. The blade cut through the meat as if it were warm butter.

“Oh, much better,” she said in a pleasant tone, “Nothing like good meat when you’re hungry.”

~~~

Simon crept through the shadows between the market stalls and the castle wall. Behind him, he could hear the guards talking to one another.

“If you ask me, that new subaltern is going to be a good officer,” one was saying quietly to his comrade, “Stays out of our way, and doesn’t poke his nose in the wrong places.”

“Sounds better than Captain Torok. I swear, you could measure your entire watch by how many times he’s come by to check up on us.”

“Speaking of which, he should be along soon.”

Simon crouched next to the wall about fifty feet from them. Its stones, their rough exteriors facing out from the compound, towered ten feet over him. After listening to the guards complain a bit more, he heard them take a step away from the guardhouse and begin trooping in front of the gate.

“Halt!” one of them called out in a loud voice.

“It’s Torok, soldier,” a deeper voice responded. Simon heard the guards brace to attention and started climbing up the wall.

“Anything happening?” the officer asked.

“Nothing, sir.”

“Quiet as the grave, captain.”

“Good. The duke has a guest tonight, and he doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Someone important, sir?”

“Don’t know. Just got told to make sure nothing interrupted his lordship or there’d be hell to pay.”

Simon pushed up with his legs and felt his hand go over the top of the wall. He clasped the iron spike projecting between the stone blocks and pulled himself up. He lay on top of the wall, waiting for a chance to descend.

“We’ll keep a good watch, sir.”

“Good. I’ll see you two in a bit.”

Simon listened as the officer passed below him. The guards also listened, and when his footfalls faded, went back to their spots next to the guardhouse.

“Three more trips around the perimeter, and we can go to bed,” one said in a low tone.

“Did you bring your bottle again? I’d kill for a nip.”

Simon silently crept down the wall. There was just enough space between the stones for his fingertips and toes. Crumbling mortar occasionally slipped out of the crevices, and once, an entire chunk pivoted out, threatening to fall and alert the guards. Simon carefully pushed the sandy mortar back into its space, then dropped the remaining few feet to the ground.

Flagstones met his feet as he landed, bending his knees and leaning against the wall to blend into its shadow. Simon listened tensely for a few moments, but the guards gave no hint that they had heard anything. Standing up, he slowly walked along the wall toward the long, low building at the foot of the tower.

~~~

The meat was almost tasteless in Erika’s mouth, even after she liberally sprinkled it with salt from the cellar one of the servants offered to her. With skill which would have made her mother proud, she kept a saccharine smile on her face and made small talk with the duke as she ate.

“So, my dear,” the duke said, pushing his chair back from the table and patting his belly once his portion was gone, “have you given my offer any thought?”

Erika looked to the servant with the carving knife. “May I have a bit more, please?” she asked sweetly. The servant, a young man with a wispy beard, blushed at her attention, then cut a large hunk of the pale flesh and placed it on her plate. Erika smiled radiantly at him, which only made the boy blush more deeply.

“Yes, my lord,” she said, turning her attention to the man across the table, “I have.”

“And your answer?”

Erika glanced at the servants, saying, “Might we speak in private?”

Kyrali snapped his fingers at the servants, who turned and hurried from the room. Erika picked up her knife and began to cut her meat into small pieces.

“So, your answer, my lady?”

Erika took a long time eating a bit of meat, but looked up and smiled at the duke as she chewed. The duke smiled back, his eyes twinkling. Erika put her hands on the table, and stood. As she did, she palmed her knife and slipped it into the sleeve of her dress.

She walked around the table, then stood in front of the seated duke. Looking down on him, she said, “My lord, I believe that your idea of joining our kingdoms would be most profitable.”

The duke’s smile warmed, and he stood, putting his arm around Erika’s waist.

“So you’ll agree to marry me?”

“So long as I can come down from that wretched tower, yes.”

“Well, that depends on whether you’ve gotten over your opinion of my plans for Pesht, now doesn’t it?”

“They aren’t my people, my lord. What you do to them is none of my business,” Erika said, putting her arms around the duke’s neck.

Kyrali pulled her close. Erika could smell the wine on his breath as he said, “An outstanding way to look at it, my dear.”

“So, when shall we be wed?” Erika asked, slipping the knife out of her sleeve.

“Oh, as soon as we can get a proper ceremony together,” Kyrali said, slipping his bearded cheek down to lay next to hers, “There’s a summer festival next week. That would be perfect.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Erika said, “I’ve always wanted to be a June bride.”

With that, she drove the knife into the duke’s shoulder, feeling the blade grind against bone. He roared like a skewered boar, and shoved the princess away. The knife stayed embedded in his flesh.

Erika jumped back on him, trying to grasp at the knife’s hilt, but Kyrali struck her across the face, throwing her back against the table. The haunch of pork, its silver tray, and the carving knife the servant had used to cut it, clattered to the floor. Kyrali swung at her again, but Erika ducked below his arm and scooted under the table.


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

Defending His Master’s Keep

This one is for Moonshine, who ended up in the emergency vet’s office last night for stitches after taking on an assault gopher.  That’s what most normal people call a groundhog.

If you like this, and want more, check out “Coming Home“.


 

Water of Fire settled down upon the floor in front of the fireplace. The mistress and her pups had left him inside this day, believing that the ground outside was too wet and sloppy for him to stay in the yard while they were gone to visit neighbors. He did not understand this reasoning, for there were few things in life he enjoyed more than taking a long run at a mud puddle, then slipping and sliding across it. A smile came to his muzzle at the memory of mud dripping from his sides and tail as he lined himself up for another run at the low spot in the corner of the yard.

Other than him, the house was empty. The new dog, whom his humans had christened with the name “Bounder,” was with the Master of Beasts, he of the liver-flavored biscuits and occasional stabs in the rump, for the day. She was a good sort, if a bit too energetic for him, but she was fitting in well with his family. The elder war hound, Turf of Azure, rest her soul, no longer occupied her usual spot in the warmest part of the kitchen, and had gone on to that place where the sunbeams never moved and the bowls never emptied.

The cats, those skulking hunters of mice and filchers of treats, had been banished to the barn so that they could clean out an infestation of mice, which had chewed their way into the grain stores for the coming winter. One of the felines, the tan one with the black face and blue eyes, had cursed in his high, lilting voice the entire time that Water of Fire’s boy had carried him out of the house. That memory caused the hound to chuckle as he lay his head upon his paws.

The warmth of the fireplace and the absolute silence of the house, not even broken by the soft pads of a cat’s paw on the pantry shelves, overwhelmed the hound with bliss. As the sun peeked through the tall windows in the north wall, a broad sunbeam washed over him, infusing his black fur with even more heat and relaxing every muscle in his body. Soon, the silence was broken by his snores and an occasional whimper as he chased a horde of bloodthirsty squonks in his dreams.

Overhead, a flight of geese honked loudly as they cleared the manor’s roof. Their calls to one another caused one of the sleeping dog’s ears to cock up for a moment, swivel as he tried to find the source of the disturbance, then drop as the noise faded. His mahogany eyes never opened, and the incident only intruded momentarily on his dream of small, fuzzy creatures in an open field.

Then, an almost imperceptible breeze swept across the study, which ruffled the fine silver hairs frosting the hound’s black fur and caused some of the papers on his master’s desk to stir. Water of Fire opened his eyes at this, wondering if there was a window open somewhere, when he noticed more movement upon the desk.

Lifting his head, he saw a piece of paper swirl, as if caught in a zephyr, and lift from the desk. He sat up completely and cocked his head to the side, never taking his eyes from the floating piece of vellum. Then, to his surprise, it began to fold inward upon itself, first pulling one side toward the other, then the top to the bottom.

After a few moments, in which the paper fluttered and twisted a few feet in the air above the desk, it took the form of a small paper bat. Flapping its wings, it sailed around the room. Alarmed at such wizardry, Water of Fire stood up and barked at the paper flying mouse, causing it to hover for a moment and turn its face toward him. The hair on the back of the dog’s neck stood up and his ears lay back when he saw that instead of eyes, the apparition had two red, glowing spots, which bored down at him.

A deep growl rose from the hound’s chest, and the war dog leapt at the paper bat, trying to grasp it in his teeth. The bat swooped away, making chattering noises as it flew higher than he could jump. As he watched and snarled at the creature, it flew up to settle on one of the high beams supporting the peaked roof. Water of Fire barked again, filling the study with his high-pitched war cry.

“This is my domain!” he cried out in a way any foe worth having could understand. “I accuse you of being a coward and a fool if you do not come down to face me!”

This caused the bat to squeak loudly in indignation, hurling insults down at the war dog. It launched itself from its perch, pulling its wings back and diving directly at the black hound. Water of Fire jumped up to meet it, barely missing its tail with his teeth. The bat whooped in triumph, and banked hard to avoid crashing into the polished wooden floor.

Water of Fire tracked his foe as it swooped back up toward the rafters, then leapt at it. Two fast strides brought him to his master’s chair, and he reared up on his legs, pushing off from its high back to leap high into the air. Behind him, the chair fell back onto the floor with a thud and a rattle, but he was rewarded with the taste of parchment in his mouth as he caught one of the demon’s wings with his teeth.

The hound landed on his mistress’ writing desk, scattering papers, crystal vials of potions and ink, and a book of poetry, in which she was pressing several flowers from the garden. The bat squealed in pain, tearing at his face with its papery claws, then shrieked as he shook it as if it were a rat. Pieces of paper fell like new snow upon the desk and floor beside it as he tore it to bits. Finally, he chewed up and swallowed the pasty remnants of his foe, triumphant in defending his home.

Water of Fire sniffed the scraps of vellum scattered across the desk, then surveyed the mess around him. Iridescent ink dripped from a vial without a stopper, causing a swirling purple puddle to expand on the floor. Meanwhile, another vial lay in the middle of a sizzling pool of some potion or another, which was slowly eating into the desk’s finish. The vapors from it smelled of rotten eggs and ashes, and made Water of Fire sneeze when he sniffed them.

The book of poetry, most of its pressed flowers scattered across the floor, moved when his paw brushed it as he descended from the desk. The hound pushed at the tome with his nose, curious about the many smells that its contents exuded, then left it behind as he returned to his spot next to the fireplace.

Water of Fire pushed out his front legs, arching his back and tail to stretch after his exertions. As he took the first of his customary three turns before resuming his favorite resting position, he heard something scrape on the floor behind him. He turned in a flash, his ears back and teeth bared, ready to pounce. But instead of another paper bat diving at him, the dog saw the book standing up on its own. As he watched, small arms and legs popped out from the cover, and with the rustle of pages against one another, it sprinted toward the door.

The hound yipped in surprise. His nails skidded on the floor, trying to gain purchase as he pursued the demon in its new form. He skidded into a bookshelf on his way out the door, dislodging a vase of dried flowers, which shattered against the threshold. Bits of glass and flower petals flew in all directions as the war dog righted himself and shot out into the hall.

The book, still running as fast as it could go, vaulted onto the bannister at the top of the stairs. Water of Fire heard its evil laughter echoing from the stairwell’s high ceiling as it slid down, leaving him behind. He sprinted down the stairs, gaining ground by touching only every third step. His teeth crashed together several times as he tried to catch the book, but always missed by not more than the width of a few of the book’s pages.

With a cry of glee, the book sailed off the end of the oaken bannister, flying through the air toward the open door to the kitchen. Water of Fire vaulted off the last step, colliding with the book in mid-air and dragging it down. The two combatants slammed into the wall and ripped down a tapestry depicting a scene from the Eyrisch countryside. The book hopped up and tried to make its escape, but was slammed to the floor by a mighty paw. It screamed as Water of Fire sank his teeth into its pages, then shook it back and forth. The book opened and shut itself forcefully, smacking its cover into the dog’s face in its struggles.

Water of Fire shook the book again as he stumbled into the kitchen, then slammed it back down onto the floor again. He held it down with one paw, ripping at its soft paper underbelly. Finally, the book moaned and ceased its struggles, its pages torn and its spine broken.

Water of Fire panted for air as he lifted his head from the demon’s carcass. His mouth was gummy with ink and the remnants of the dried flowers he had consumed during the fight. One eye was sore where a stiff corner of the cover had caught it in the battle, and one of his ears rang from a blow. He gave the book a final swipe with his foot, then limped over to the water bowl to wash the taste of paper from his mouth.

Lapping up the water, Water of Fire pondered what was to be done about the state of the house. While she was an intelligent creature, his mistress could not understand him when he tried to communicate with her, only catching the occasional vague idea of his meaning. Lifting his head to gaze back toward the hall, he knew that there was no way that she would not notice the mess his battle had created. Perhaps if he were to show her the items the demon had possessed, she would sense the residue of its presence and forgive him.

As he pondered what would happen when the family returned, he heard a noise coming from the other side of the kitchen. A sound, similar to that made by a morsel falling from the table to be scooped up, made his ears perk up and his mouth water. He bent down to look along the floor and sniff, and saw an entire loaf of fresh-baked bread lying in front of the oven.

He approached the bread, sniffing the intoxicating aroma of yeast and wheat deep into his nostrils. The loaf remained inert, even when he poked it with an outstretched paw.

No, he thought, better to leave it. He was not that hungry, and he knew that the mistress would not want to bake more bread, even though this piece was on the floor, which was normally his domain when it came to food.

Water of Fire turned away from the oven and took a few steps toward the door. He just wanted to go back upstairs and sleep until the family returned. Perhaps he could think of a way to deal with their displeasure. His reverie was broken, however, when he heard the sound of small, soft feet padding across the tiles.

The war hound spun around, expecting to see a maniacal cutting board or meat mallet racing toward him, but was surprised to see the loaf of bread, now sporting a set of stubby, crusty legs, running toward the open window. It left a trail of golden crumbs in its wake as it raced across the floor. With a growl of frustration, Water of Fire gave chase once again.

This time, the demon chose to fight, rather than run, when it noticed his pursuit. The bread turned, red eyes glowing in the wall’s shadow, and launched itself at the dog. Surprised, Water of Fire skipped to the side with a yelp as the heavy loaf impacted on his hindquarters, knocking him sideways. The bread jumped upon his back, grabbing at his fur with two stubby hands. More crumbs flew about the kitchen.

Water of Fire whirled around in a desperate attempt to rid himself of his attacker. The bread cackled as it hauled back on his fur, then grasped at his tail. The war dog cried out in pain as he felt the end of his tail pull at an odd angle toward his back.

The hound rolled onto his side, extracting a squeal of anger from the yeasty demon as he crushed it with his weight. He swung his head around, again catching his foe between his teeth, but this time he took no chances. Rather than rip the loaf to bits, as he had done with the book and the paper bat, he swallowed it in three large bites. The demon screamed as it went down his gullet, then fell silent.

Water of Fire collapsed to the cold tile floor. His tail ached badly, and he whined in pain every time he tried to move it. His stomach hurt from being overstuffed with paper and bread, and his back was sore where patches of fur had been ripped out by the savage baguette monster. He limped out of the kitchen, his belly gurgling and his ear ringing, and up the stairs to the study. There, he found that the potion, which had pooled on his mistress’ desk, had stopped smoking and sizzling, although it had eaten a hole about a quarter of a paw’s depth into its thick wooden top. The numerous papers and other things he had knocked to the floor were intermingled with the spilled ink, which was coagulating into a pearlescent purple blob. He almost cut his paws on a few sharp pebbles of glass, but made it to his spot next to the fireplace without injuring himself further.

The war dog, the silver highlights in his fur now muted by dust, crumbs, and bits of his enemy, flopped down onto the floor without any of his customary ceremony. With a final sigh, he closed his eyes. Perhaps the mistress would not be too upset about the damage if he met her at the door and tried to explain.

Besides, he thought as he drifted off to sleep, I did it defending my master’s keep.

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