The short rock creature threw Help aside as easily as one could toss a small rodent. Leader and Growl rushed to his side to protect him from a repeat attack, but the rocky creature just stood there. Four other rock creatures appeared out from the forest to stand by the first one.

“Good?” Leader asked, not taking his eyes off the group of creatures.

Help just grunted in response, getting to his feet but obviously in pain.

Leader was truly afraid for his pack. Help was easily pushed aside and wounded, and that wasn’t even the largest of the creatures before them. If they attacked, would it be anything but a slaughter? He didn’t worry about himself, but for his mates and his cubs. Without him, they could survive with the pack. Without them, he…he didn’t want to think about it.

On top of it all, he was tired. They had traveled for many days away from the spot where the Old One had left. Leader didn’t want the bad luck to linger around them, and a long trip took their mind off the loss of the Old One. Many still mourned, including Leader, but the daily activities of keeping the cubs moving kept them in the present instead of lingering on the past. Yet, the trip had taken its toll on the pack.

Had the bad luck followed them? What manner of creature looks like rock but moves like like a creature? What did they want, and why did they come straight toward the clearing?

Leader’s noticed a noise in the bush the three of them had been hiding. A small head popped out and made a small roar. Leader glanced down and saw his own Big Cub. Why did he follow them?

Suddenly, the smallest rock creature moved away from the other group and directly toward Big Cub. The creature was making a low, slow noise of rock scraping against rock. It stretched its arms out, reaching out for the cub.

Leader’s protective instinct kicked in and he jumped between the rock creature and his cub. He turned in mid-air toward the rock beast and brandished his claws with a warning growl. After the attack by the green ones, he was taking no chances with anyone or anything getting too close to his cubs. The smaller rock creature backed off then ran toward its group. The largest rock creature moved forward in what might have been a protective gesture.

Growl and Help moved into place behind Leader. He could feel Help’s unsteadiness and fear contrasted with Growl’s cool determination. Leader tried to take strength from Growl’s stance, but his heart was racing with fear for the pack. Puffing himself up, Leader hoped that he could scare off the rocky creatures as he had when the small one went toward his cub. He stepped forward with a roar, swiping at the large rock one and connecting his claws against unyielding stone; his only reward was pain as the claws bounced against the rock creature. Giving an involuntary yowl of pain, Leader stepped back to his other two members while holding one paw in the other.

The two groups sat and watched each other for most of the day. The rocks collapsed into what looked like piles, while the three crouched low or sat with their legs ready to spring. It was late when the hunters arrived back to the clearing, carrying chunks of fresh meat from the day’s kill. The smell of food caught the attention of the three after the long day’s standoff.

“Hungry,” Help said quietly, not wanting to show cowardice.

“Yes,” Leader said. “Rocks not leaving.”

Growl exhaled loudly. “Let’s get food.”

The three moved backward as a group, keeping the creatures in sight as they went to eat with the rest of the pack. Once near the rest of the pack they sat down, still keeping the rocky creatures in sight, and ate with everyone else.

One of the rocky creatures then made an unusual chattering noise. It started to move toward the group while making another strange noise. Leader’s mate stood up and growled at the approaching figure, wary of the group that had hurt her mate. The creature in front made the chattering noise again while pointing toward the meat.

“Rocks eat meat?” Growl said, amused. Help ripped off a small bit of the meat and threw it at the rock creature. It picked up the meat and put it near its head. No obvious mouth opened, but the meat eventually disappeared and the creature made a chirping noise. Other pack members nearby watched the rocky creatures.

“That good?” Scar asked. Help just shrugged and cut off more meat to throw toward the rocky creatures. The rest of the creatures picked up meat and ate it as well.

While they were eating, Help stands up. “Trying something,” he says, then mimics the chattering sound the rock creatures made earlier by biting his teeth together. He then points to the meat with a paw.

The rocky creatures stopped what they were doing and looked toward Help. He looked at the rest of the pack, then repeated the noise. One of the rocky creatures made a chirping sound then the whole group made a lot of noise.

“What is that?” Leader asked, looking at Help.

“I think it’s their word for food,” Help said.

“How do you know?”

“Same way I learned to say ‘food’ after meeting the pack.”

“Huh,” Leader said. “Maybe they not so bad.”

As the light faded, the pack gathered together to sleep for the night. The rocky creatures collapsed into their individual piles near the bush, a little ways away from the pack. Overwhelming curiosity drew some of the cubs and pups near, despite warnings barked by parents. Big Cub lead the way to the smallest rock creature. After sniffing at it, he then curled up next to it and promptly fell asleep. A careful rocky arm reached out and stroked the little one gently before making a quiet noise.

Not so bad after all, Leader thought to himself as sleep overtook him.


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