The spectral beast, a flux-matter shaping that projected the spirit of a long-deceased animal, stood guard for her mistress and the other pack members. The post she had chosen lay at the edge of the small camp, within the open breech in the fortress walls. In the darkness, she might have been mistaken for a bear due to her size, but in mind and soul she was the very image of all the faithful hounds that lived before her.
Mord loved this job of night watch more than any other, and she deeply valued the trust her mistress held in her to stand guard as her mistress slept. Despite her lack of human intellect, her soul knew to its core that this was her species’ oldest and proudest responsibility. Since the first time her kind shared a human campfire, guarding the camp against the threats of the night had been the most vital purpose for their existence.
Her mistress’s actions often led to danger. In their travels together, threats could appear at any moment and often did so, and she and her mistress would stand together against them. But her mistress was strong and fearless, an invincible huntress. She felt no qualms following such a leader.
The reasons for their travels were seldom clear to the ancient dog spirit, even after having the experience of many more decades than a canine’s natural lifespan. Although they often ventured into wild locations like this, they seldom hunted prey in order to eat it and only occasionally in order to kill it. But despite that, they hunted often, and the hunting was always good.
And most important of all, she never went hungry. In the end, that was all she needed to understand. It was her ironclad proof that she served a worthy huntress.
This night, they slept in an easy place to find danger, a place that stank of bitter death in great number.
She could feel the many hunting things out there casting this way and that for prey. None sought this place at the moment, so she held her peace. Still she sensed an uneasiness on the wind, the scent of things neither prey nor predator, watching them.
Any time they made camp in or near the woods, it became a given that enemies threatened. Her mistress did not seem to make camp in such places at any other time. The question became only whether those enemies would reveal themselves while Mord stood guard, and when would it become necessary to raise the alarm.
A sound of movement came, far closer than any she had noted until this moment. Her massive head swiveled toward it like a battleship turret and the quiet motion faded back into the darkness. It stopped receding after a bit, perhaps foolishly thinking it faced a less observant sentry. Her senses were far to keen to miss the presence at this distance, now that she knew about its existence.
She stood to investigate. Her primary tool was the grand canvas of odors in the air, the olfactory worldview that a dog knew better than sight or sound. Her nostrils considered the myriad presences in detail, soon identified the watcher. It crouched in the darkness not far inside the woods, waiting to see her next move, apparently thinking that merely standing still would hide it.
After a long pause, once Mord faked looking around and losing interest, the presence crept closer once again. For a dog, the next move was a simple decision. Mord bound into the darkness with a speed that would have surprised any dog handler, while letting out her mighty bay to alert her mistress.