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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 5th day of Celebrating, Yr 21
The Neopian Times Week 53 > Continuing Series > Alliances: Part Three

Alliances: Part Three

by solargriffin

THE BIG STONE alpha swaggered forward, his blade poised at my throat. I knew his aim; he was waiting for me to break, to grovel at his paws and beg for mercy. Yet, I was a Lupe of integrity, and, as such, would not reward him with so much as a cringe. Right when he was practically on top of me, standing so close that I had to crane my neck back to look him in the eye, the stone Lupe took a fake swipe at me with his sword, just to watch me squirm. I did not even flinch. Infuriated at my lack of emotion, the alpha let out a howl of rage and drew back his arm to deliver a mighty blow with his weapon. But, even as he moved to attack, an unexpected sound echoed across the desert, catching the attention of the stone Lupe and every member of his pack. It was another howl, one made in challenge to cry of fury let out by the outlaw leader a second before. My curiosity aroused by the looks of bewilderment of the outlaws' faces, I followed their gaze to the horizon. There, framed by the rising sun, a lone fire Lupe rode forward at a full gallop on a buckskin mare. He let out another howl, which was joined by many others, and seconds later about fifteen other Lupes on horseback came riding into sight.

     "No, not now!" I heard the stone Lupe growl under his breath. Then, to his followers he shouted, "everyone, back to camp. Now!" Not a Lupe hesitated, and within moments, there was not a bandit in sight. I sat dumbfounded on the ground, staring in the direction they had departed, when the fire Lupe rode up to me and halted.

     "Greetings, stranger," he said warmly, "What do they call ya 'round these parts?" I shook my head to clear my thoughts.

     "Uh, Lone Star," I replied, still a bit confused. The fire Lupe smiled.

     "Well, Lone Star, it's a pleasure. My name's Griffin L. Kingsley, and these," he gestured to the Lupes who had now halted behind him, "are members of my pack, Cougar Canyon."

     "Um hmm," I said distractedly as I stood up and dusted myself off. I shot a quick glance at the group of riders, but stopped and swiftly looked up again when I recognised one of their faces. It was the white Lupess I had met up with a few hours ago, and she was obviously enjoying my current state of bewilderment, seeing as how I had left her the same way earlier. However, my attention returned to the fire Lupe, Griffin, as he addressed me again.

     "Our camp isn't very far. Would you like to join us for breakfast?" he offered kindly.

     "No thanks," I replied, finally getting a hold of my wits. "I'll make some myself," I said with a smile, inwardly not wanting to get involved with any pack, no matter how brief my stay. After what had happened to me, I was decided on staying a loner. Griffin stifled a laugh when he heard my response.

     "What? I'll be quite fine," I said indignantly.

     "Oh, I'm sure you are quite capable of cooking a meal," the alpha replied with a smile. "However, considering the current state of your supplies, I think you would find yourself much more satisfied if you came with us." I turned and looked around my camp and immediately understood what Griffin meant. All of my equipment had been mangled. My utensils were bent, my ropes cut, and my pots cracked. The outlaws had stolen anything of value, and destroyed everything else. I sighed. My foolishness had not only hurt my pride, but it left me helpless as well. Though I still had no desire to return with Griffin and his pack, there seemed to be no other option. The fire alpha sensed my reluctance, but misinterpreted it.

     "Don't worry," he reassured cheerfully, "like I said, it's not very far!" The Lupes waited patiently as I collected anything salvageable and loaded it into my saddlebag. I patted my horse affectionately, quietly thanked him for attempting to warn me, and swung into the saddle. Once I had mounted, the group of Lupes turned back towards the rising sun, and headed off. They were a cheerful bunch, and chatted happily amongst themselves the entire ride. They were also very personable, and tried to include me in their conversations. I replied politely, but my input was always brief, so they soon understood I was not in a talking mood, and left me to my own thoughts.

     Griffin was true to his word; the camp was not far. We had only ridden for around fifteen minutes before we crested a hill and a little group of tents and campfire came into view. Griffin let out a howl to announce his return and all of us galloped down to the pack. As we dismounted, the fire alpha shouted over to a jade Lupess stirring a large, simmering pot.

     "Better get out another bowl, Emerald!" he said cheerfully. "We've got company."

     "Oh?" the Lupess replied, glancing up at me. "Where'd ya pick up this one, Griffin? He looks a bit scruffy to me," she commented with a kind smile. "You're just lucky I always make more than we need!" Emerald added as she pulled out an extra bowl.

     It was not long before the entire pack gathered around the fire. There was a circle of stones for seats, and everyone took a rock. As we were getting settled, Emerald ladled out what was in the pot into the wooden bowls at her side. She handed them to the Lupes next to her, and they were passed around the circle. As I leaned forward to accept my bowl, I caught a whiff of its contents, which caused my mouth to water and my eyes to tear up. Chili! Without hesitation, I took a large spoonful. It was absolutely delicious; steaming hot and extremely spicy. The next few minutes, I was completely occupied with my meal, but after I was satisfied, I looked up to observe the Lupes They were a talkative bunch, and those who had ridden with Griffin were telling those who had stayed at camp the story of the outlaws with great excitement. I heard my name mentioned once or twice, and was aware of some of the young Lupesses staring and giggling at me. But, I ignored their comments and finished my meal on silence.

     The pack finished eating rather quickly, and a small group stood up and collected the bowls, dumping them into a bucket of soapy water where the wash crew began the task of scrubbing them clean. The rest of the Lupes stood up and stretched before going off to amuse themselves. Some remained around the fire talking, while others got out decks of cards to play Cheat or Neopoker. After depositing my bowl in the wash bucket, I sat down in the shade to watch a pair of blue Lupes spar. However, I was attracting too much unwanted attention out in the open. While resting, I became aware of a band of curious young pack members that were inching closer and closer to my position. Feeling very uncomfortable, I got to my paws and slinked off to locate Griffin. I found him in his tent and asked if there was any work I could do to repay him for breakfast. After another five minutes of pleading and insisting, he finally relented and told me that the storage shack could use some reorganising. So, I spent the rest of the day out of sight, stacking cans and ordering boxes.

     When twilight fell upon the canyon, the members of the pack began to yawn and stretch as the temperature grew colder. Many headed for the group of tents set up in the far end of camp while a select few unrolled their sleeping bags, ready to spend the night under the stars. I pulled out an extra blanket from my pack and curled up under the layers to keep out the biting chill of the desert night. For the next half hour or so, chatter still circulated around the camp, but one by one the Lupes fell asleep. By the next hour, the only sound to be heard was the soft snoring of the pack. I laid still for another couple of minutes, listening carefully to makes sure everyone was sleeping. The only sound audible was the snorting of Lupes as they rolled over and fell into a deeper slumber. With the coast clear, I cautiously slipped out of my sleeping bag and stood up. As quietly as possible, I rolled up the bag and folded the blankets before creeping over to my horse. Carefully, I patted him on the shoulder to wake him up.

     "Come on, boy," I whispered as I put on his saddle and tightened the girth. "We don't want to overstay our welcome." With that, I swung into his back and took up the reins. I was feeling pretty smug as I wheeled my horse about, but the feeling vanished instantly. For there in front of me the white Lupess stood blinking the sleep out of her green eyes; her face full of confusion and worry. I opened my mouth to explain, but my words failed me. In the end, I could only sigh and gallop away, leaving her to stand there puzzled.

     I had ridden quite a distance before I brought my steed to a halt at the top of a steep hill. I turned and gazed over my shoulder, back in the direction I had come. Though the darkness hid it from view, I knew the camp lie out there, asleep and unaware of my absence. In an hour or so, they would wake, and not one, save the white Lupess, would know of my departure. For some reason, the thought pained me greatly; so much, even, that I thought about turning back. However, I shook off my doubts, collected the reins, and prepared to gallop off. Yet, I paused once again when a loud, high-pitched howl reached my ears. A distress cry! And it was coming from the direction of the camp! My heart was in my throat as I wheeled my horse around and galloped back towards the pack, only hoping that I would not be too late.

     I tore back over the way I had traveled; cacti and other scrubby bushes passing like blurs as I urged my steed faster. I pressed my head close to my horse's neck and strained my eyes to see in the darkness, desperate to get a glimpse of the pack. Soon, shouts and cruel laughter reached my ears, and slowly the camp came into focus. What I beheld was a terrible sight; the outlaws had taken the pack by surprise, surrounding them on horseback. Still groggy, the Canyoners were unable to reach their weapons or their horses, and the bandits were now delighting in lashing at the group of vulnerable Lupes This enraged me, for it was a terribly cowardly act to not only attack while your enemy is asleep, but to strike them when they are completely unarmed. I charged forward, straight for the circle of outlaws, and when I was but a few yards away, I let out a howl of fury. Caught off guard, they fled when they saw me, but when they realised I was alone, they turned their horses back to surround the Canyoners once again. Still, the momentary lapse had been all that Griffin needed.

     "To your horses!" he shouted desperately, and his Lupes scattered. With lightning speed, they grabbed weapons or mounted their steeds and began to take the offensive. The small group outlaws had been totally unprepared for any type of resistance. Their plan was only to subdue a group of unarmed foes, and the angry group of Canyoners was more than they could handle.

     "Back to the pack!" a burly skunk Lupe shouted. With that, all the bandits turned tail and disappeared into the shadows. Growling angrily, a blue Lupe leapt forward and shook a fist at the retreating outlaws.

     "Why don't you stay and fight, you cowards?" he snarled, but Griffin placed a paw on his shoulder and the Lupe fell silent.

     "Let them go, Braver," the fire alpha said softly. "We have our own troubles to deal with now." Then Griffin let out a sigh and gazed about the ravaged camp before bending down to pick up the debris. All the Lupes cast their eyes downward. Those on horseback dismounted as the others put down their weapons and, all of them solemn and silent, began the tedious job of cleaning up. The only one still on my horse, I was able to survey the full extent of the outlaws' damage. The rising sun revealed collapsed tents, torn blankets, cracked bowls, and countless other destroyed goods. The Lupes milled around, taking no notice of me as they picked up the pots, cans, and other items littered about the area. Now was my chance to get away undetected. However, as I readied myself to ride off, I looked at the pack once more. Griffin and the four other strongest Lupes were trying in vain to lift the heavy metal roof back onto the supply shack. My eyes flickered back to the wide-open desert then back to the group as they struggled with their burden. With a sigh, I swung out of the saddle and took up the empty space next to Griffin. He glanced over and smiled at me before encouraging the others.

     "Okay now, let's try it once more!" The six of us lifted with all our might, and set the roof back in place.

     The rest of the morning was spent getting the camp back in order. The main item of concern was the toppled water tower, which had held the pack's water reserve. The water barrel itself was, thank the faeries, undamaged, but we could not seem to get the frame up again. However, by the time noon rolled around, the tower and some supplies scattered here and there were the only signs that the outlaws had ever sacked the camp. By now, the sun wad becoming unbearable, and Griffin let out a whistle.

     "Right, let's take a brake," he called out. Few needed further encouragement, and most of the Lupes gladly sat down to rest, though a select few still wandered about trying to find an answer to the water tower situation. Griffin stood talking with one such Lupe, a muscular red fellow who seemed determined to get the thing up and running as soon as possible. With a laugh, Griffin patted him on the back and turned away. He walked forward and motioned for me to follow. As I slid up to him, he said quietly,

     "Let's take a walk." My stomach clenched, for I could easily guess what he wanted to discuss. When the rest of the pack was safely out of sight and out of sound, he faced me and began to speak.

     "Look," he said gently, "it's obvious you don't want to be here." The remark made me wince, for I realised how ungrateful I must seem. "However," the alpha continued, "Something tells me these outlaws are up to something. I've dealt with their likes before, and I know they want to take us out of the picture. That's why we need a strong Lupe like you with us," he smiled, "for the time-being, anyhow. And I'm willing to bet my Neopoints that you wanna see these bandits behind bars as much as I do. So," he stood up tall and looked me straight in the eye, "here's my proposal. You stay with us until we get rid of these criminals for good. Deal?" Griffin gave a pleading smile as he held out a fiery paw. With a grin, I took it in mine.

     "Deal!"

     "Terrific," he replied as we shook on the agreement. "Now," here he became far less solemn and gave a wry smile, "about the way you made those outlaws scatter. Genius, my friend, absolutely-" but Griffin was cut off when a loud crash came from camp.

     "Oh for the love of Fyora!" an angry voice cursed. Griffin paused and gave a nervous laugh.

     "Looks like Rampage is having some trouble with that water tower. I best get back there and see if I can help. Why don't you stay here and think things over a little bit?" he suggested. Then he politely tipped his hat to me before sprinted back towards the pack. I watched his swift departure before settling down on the ground, lying back, propped up on one elbow. I remained there, undisturbed, for some time, allowing everything to sink in. After a while had passed, I heard footsteps behind me, followed by a light voice.

     "Hey pal, whatcha doin'?" I looked up as watched as the white Lupess settled down next to me.

     "Not much," I replied with a half smile. Remembering my manners, I went to address her formally when I realised I still did not know her name. "I'm sorry, but I never asked you your name…" I trailed off, not knowing how to continue.

     "They call me Aury," she answered with a smile. "And you're Lone Star, correct?"

     "Yep, that's me." She tilted her head and stared at me.

     "That sure is an interesting name."

     "Why thank you, I made it myself," I said with a sad smile. Her brow wrinkled a little bit as I delivered this information.

     "Made it yourself?" she questioned. I was beginning to get a sense of dejavu, but was thankfully saved from further explanation when a white Lupe in a black cowboy hat trotted up to us.

     "Hey, Aury!" he called out, "Oh, hello Lone Star," he added politely, though uncomfortably, with a tip of his hat.

     "Hello, Amaroq," she replied with a beaming smile. "What's up?" At the sound of her voice, the Lupe's attention returned once more to the Lupess "I came to let you know that Griffin wants all the pack members back at camp so we can set the tower straight."

     "Oh, okay," Aury said as she got to her feet. "See ya around, Starry!" she called before walking off with Amaroq. I sat there and thought for a moment before getting to my paws and dashing after them.

To be continued...

Previous Episodes

Alliances: Part One

Alliances: Part Two

Alliances: Part Four

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