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–= chapter 25 =–
   Mr. Burrey came to us late that night, in wolf form. Strolled in through the dog door like he had every right. I awoke from the noise of the door swinging, but by then he was already standing over me, jaws positioned conveniently above my throat. Not threatening, just there. The trilobite fossil hung from his neck by a strip of leather, and there was something about that stone—something that caught my eye, and held it.
"Hello, Coyote. So nice to see you again. You're feeling healthful and strong, I trust?" He was speaking magically, like Fox and the Spirit Pups did, and like I could not. Lazytail and Smokey had awakened with me, of course, and had hackles up at maximum, fear-scent starting to fill the room. Me, too. Mouse stayed unmoving under the covers, but I knew she was awake as well. None of us made any noise. That never occurred to us.
"So, Coyote. You don't smell very sleepy. How about if we go for a walk together. Or a run. I think I could use the exercise, and there's a farmer I'd like to visit. I have some unfinished business I'd like to complete with him. And with you."
I remained lying the way I was, eyes still fixed on the trilobite fossil. Mr. Burrey had said it had become a talisman. No question about that! I could feel the Power in it. But what did it do? Very carefully I answered, "You know I can't give you much of a workout any more. Nothing can run like you."
"Nothing? Oh, I don't think so. You have some new friends now. They could give me a very fine workout indeed, I expect. If they get the chance. Come now: Let us walk together." It was an order, not a request.
Mr. Burrey backed away from me and I got up very carefully, slinking down the hallway and out the dog door with the werewolf close behind. I was trembling violently and my legs were weak. When we were well away from the door, I heard it open twice more. Lazytail and Smokey were following us at a distance—Princess too, no doubt.
"Go where you like—I have no preference for now."
I had no preference either, so we just strolled down our driveway and onward along the center of West Wynoochee Road. I waited for him to do the talking, and he took his time about it. When he finally spoke it was with an elaborately casual voice—pretending to banter, but knowing he failed. Taking pleasure in that failure. "I've learned a lot about my condition over the last few days. Or rather I should say, Mr. Burrey has learned a lot about our condition. I'm afraid I had to get rather firm with him about it."
My fear-scent had been fading with the walk, and the shivering had almost stopped, but both came back again, stronger than ever. How could I have missed it? This was not Mr. Burrey! Not speaking, anyway. The spirit had finally possessed him completely, and it was speaking to me directly.
"Is Mr. Pffurrey still alive?" I hated to ask, hated to initiate anything at all, but it seemed the thing wanted some sort of conversation from me, and I really did care about that man.
The wolf laughed, then. It should have been a pleasant sound, but it did not please me. Nothing should make a sound quite like that. Not humans, and certainly not wolves. "Of course he's alive. He would be useless to me otherwise. He's hardly even damaged. Just a little… diminished. Nothing he couldn't recover from in time. However, I am growing rather tired of this 'Mr. Burrey'. He has always been something of a disappointment, and I think I can do better. I spoke to you about it just a month ago."
"Uh, I'm sorry, pffut I don't remempffer ever spffeaking with you pffefore. I…
"You remember! I was inside you then, and I wanted to abandon the human. You… wouldn't let me." I really didn't like the way he said that last bit. For a moment I felt a touch of—something—that made the Ga`at seem homey by comparison.
"I was only trying to save his life," I ventured back oh-so-softly. Even that was too great a liberty.
"His life was not yours to save! It is mine!" The words were spoken fiercely, possessively. I stopped walking and threw myself down into submission position. Not that it made much difference what position I was in. He could demolish me regardless, and I had a growing conviction that he was just playing with me, that I would be dead or worse before dawn.
"I'm sorry, Sir. Should I call you 'Sir'?" I was fawning for all I was worth, and it seemed to please him.
"You could call me 'Lykos', but I'm growing tired of that name, too. I think I prefer the name… 'Coyote'."I would not have thought it possible to feel greater fear, but I did, for a moment. Then it was gone. My terror didn't fade, it was taken from me, leaving me numb and confused. Nothing had changed, I was still in deadly danger, it just didn't seem to matter any more.
The wolf laughed again. "Most excellent! It's been a month since I tasted emotions like those. You're definitely worth the trouble. Now, I think—
He never finished that sentence because we were both distracted by the sound of paws and claws approaching at high speed. It's a sound that cannot be ignored. Death may come that way. This time the sound brought Lazytail and Smokey, and Princess too. Lips curled back in silent snarls, eyes staring in terrified bravery—they thought they were coming to my defense, but what they were doing was useless. Worse than useless.
I didn't need to think. Body already knew what to do, and acted. I leapt up and threw myself in front of Lazytail to block her approach, and I tried to stop the others as well.
My move was not the expected one, and it broke their rush—drove them all aside in confusion. I should have been helping them. They could smell how I felt. Why wouldn't I fight?
The werewolf was not idle. He stepped around me like I was a tree stump—moving almost languidly by his posture, but so fast he caught Lazytail while she was still off-balance.
 A push to the shoulder and he had her down—teeth pinning throat, just as I had been pinned when he first met me. He hadn't even bitten her. Lazytail held still, just as I had that other time, and it worked for her as well. For the moment. I feared she had no 'use' for him except as food.
My terror was still gone, leaving me with a ragged clarity of mind. I had Power too, and I needed to use it this moment. Now. Before I lost the chance.
I summoned the Spirit Pups, or perhaps they summoned themselves. They were already with me, after all, sharing my thoughts and life. First hint of a call and they were all around me, solid and menacing as bears. Bear-sized, too. As one, they left me to attack—faster than I had ever seen them move before.
There was no real fight then. Fast as they were, it was still not fast enough for surprise. A flurry of action too rapid to follow, some crashing in the roadside brush, and then near-silence… only a few twig snaps heading off south and west. Soon those sounds were gone too, and we were alone. Just me and Lazytail.
Lazytail stood up shakily as I walked over to her. She was dazed and frightened, but apparently unhurt. Smokey and Princess crept back while we were comforting each other, and joined with us. After a time my fear came back to me, and I was actually glad to have it. The effect might have been permanent, for all I knew, and I didn't want any part of me taken away, no matter how unpleasant or inconvenient it might be at times.
We were still not far from home, and I headed us back that way, still on the main road. This didn't seem like a good night for wandering.
It wasn't.
I almost made it back to Sunbow—was already on our drive—when he struck. No warning at all; didn't even hear him coming, just a massive shock to my leg and flip through the air in cruel, deliberate duplication of that first attack near Mr. Burrey's smokehouse. Tooth for tooth, motion for motion he matched it. Arrogant bastard. As if I needed proof of what he could do.
He held me a long time before speaking, long enough for me to feel the pain fully, and to fully grasp my position. I was helpless. This creature had defeated me; he could do anything he wished to me, and he did not wish me good things.
"I think it's time for us to review your lessons, little dog. Your progress so far has not pleased me. But before we start, a new lesson—a lesson about power: There is other magic in this World besides your Indian magic, your 'Medicine Power'. Stronger magic. You will learn to know it well."
Even magically, he couldn't talk well with my throat in his jaws, so before he spoke he had lifted his head up and away, causing the trilobite talisman to dangle before my eyes. It was mesmerizing—made me want to lift my head and touch it with my nose—but I didn't dare move. The wolf-creature noticed my stare, though.
"You like my new toy? You should. You helped make it. Delightful irony, isn't it? Your own actions helped create the instrument of your defeat. Such a wonderful World we have been given! You and I will help make it even more wonderful. But enough talking. After tonight we won't need to bother with it any more. Why don't you just rest a bit, now? Your leg won't hurt so much that way. Probably you hardly feel it at all any more. In fact, I expect you can hardly feel anything any more. Or move, either. Isn't that right, little doggie?"
He was right. I heard every word, but they sort of slid by me without sticking, like that time Dr. Benton gave me the ketamine shot. One big difference, though; that drug had made me lose interest in everything, but the magic stone made me lose interest in everything but itself. I stared fixedly—following its movements as the wolf slipped it off to lie on the wet gravel beside my head. Nothing else mattered.
I felt a touch on my thigh. The wounded one, of course. It was being licked. Not tenderly, as with care and cleaning, but more as I would lick the wounds on a kill before ripping them wider to begin feeding.
Thoughts came to me from inside myself. Not important, of course. Nothing was important.
Listen carefully, Brother: I will not be able to repeat this. The demon thinks it has beaten us, but we have a trick or two left, maybe. Be ready! That talisman of his has confused our Children and the others, so that they can't perceive where he is. That's how he escaped from them, and that's why no one is here now to help us. Watch carefully—soon will come a time when the talisman spell weakens. Destroy it then! Crush it with your teeth—do anything you can. Its magic will fail if the damage is great enough. I'll see to it that you get your chance. Good luck!
And… whatever happens next, know that I am proud of you. I have always been proud of you.

Teeth, then. Teeth inside me. The wolf-thing was settling its jaws precisely back into the wounds it had just made—easing in and then grinding down to the bone—clamping there like the pincers of an ant. It should have been agonizing, but it wasn't. Everything was numb and unreal. Everything except the trilobite talisman.
It was done, or nearly done, and I made no defense. I didn't even care at first when the struggle began inside me.
It was a thing of emotions. Emotions coming from within me, but not mine. Puzzlement first, then irritation, then anger. Anger more powerful than I had never felt before.
I began to feel pain, again. It was not my own pain, but it might as well have been. It came from my belly, like a cramp—same place everything else was coming from. The pain was real. It mattered. I curled into myself and whimpered, forgetting the talisman.
Now I felt my own pain. My very own. It had been with me all along. A wolf had hold of my leg, and it hurt.
I could think again, sort of. There was something I needed to do about the talisman… bite it?
That was stupid. The thing was made of rock. Hard rock. I would break my teeth.
The pain was getting worse—that other pain from inside me. I felt panic, and despair. And triumph.
Mooney says I tend to act first and think later. She is right. I unclenched myself, scrabbled for the talisman with eyes closed, found it in an instant with the help of my whiskers, and took it into my mouth. It felt good there. Soothing. Satisfying, like food. I pushed it back with my tongue, back between the bone-breaker teeth. The strong ones. I bit down.
I bit down with all of my strength, knowing it would hurt, but trying not to think about it.
It hurt. Doing something deliberate like that is much worse than having things done to you. Your body feels betrayed, and lets you know all about it. The pain that consumed my jaws was truly worse than anything I had known before. I felt the two teeth shatter, felt the fragments tear and twist out sideways through the gums. I gasped, and retched, and spat out tooth chips and stone chips and blood.
Things happened very quickly then, and I missed a lot. All I could think about was my poor mouth. And my teeth… I loved those teeth.
Lazy and the others were there first—attacking the wolf from three sides. It released me to defend itself, but it was slow. Dazed. It gave a token snap or two, then tried to run away, and Lazy's teeth sliced deeply at least once before they all disappeared from view.
The turmoil in my belly pulled away from me somehow, and the feelings from it became less personal, but they didn't change much otherwise. The feeling of triumph was gone, but all the others were still there. A desperate struggle was going on right beside me, but it was a spirit struggle. I couldn't see a thing, and I didn't know how to help.
"Back away, Coyote!" It was Fox, and he had the Spirit Pups with him. I could feel the Presence of other beings too, but I couldn't see them. They formed a circle around me.
"Move! Now!"
I backed away—backed past Fox and the Pups, past the circle entirely. I was ignored.
The others closed in on the place where I had been, terrible in their wrath. Earth and Air sang with their power, and then they were gone.
They were all gone, everyone, and I was alone with my mangled mouth and leg. Had I done the right thing? Someone would come back to tell me soon, I hoped.
Lazytail came back first, with Smokey and Princess close behind her. There was blood scent on their muzzles, but they were unhurt. The blood was Mr. Burrey's.
Lazy wanted to tend my wounds, and I let her. Soon I would get up and continue toward Sunbow. Soon.
Fox came back. He looked tired and lost. "We won." He spoke slowly and almost doubtfully, as if he didn't quite believe his own words. "The demon is destroyed. It was a demon, you know. Not Lykos. I should take comfort in that."
"What is wrong, then?" I wanted to say, but I didn't even try. The pain in my mouth was too great. Fox noticed right away.
"I can help you, at least." He joined Lazytail in licking the thigh wounds. She had never met Fox, but she moved over respectfully as if she had always known him. How do they do that? Maybe someday I'll learn the trick too.
I felt a lethargy come over me, and I didn't fight it. If Fox was going to help me with his Medicine Power, he could do it any way he liked. I slept.
I woke a bit later, just a little while I'm sure, and I was cured. I knew what to expect, but so lovely to feel that it was true! So lovely. No pain, no weakness, and I wasn't even very tired. I ran my tongue over teeth as smooth and slick as ice cubes, and nuzzled a thigh as strong and handsome as it had ever been. "Thank you, Fox, Pffrother. Thank you very much."
"You're welcome. This is what friends and allies are for. I just wish I could do the same for your other self."
"OldCoyoteSpffirit? Pffut he's just a spffirit, isn't he? He's dead already! What could he do to get himself hurt more than that? What hapffened to him?"
"Don't you know? He's the one who saved you just now. OldCoyote is the hero who sacrificed himself to give us this victory."
This wasn't the OldCoyoteSpirit I thought I knew.
"A hero?"
"Don't be so judgmental! OldCoyote was a lot more than you realized. Such a loss. Such a great loss."
"Pffut what did he do? Was that OldCoyote I felt inside? I remember now. He talked to me. He said he was pffroud of me."
"Yes. The demon used that amulet to mislead the rest of us, but OldCoyote was already with you. He slipped in with the Spirit Pups that first day you mated with Lazytail, but you were unaware of him, and so the demon was too. OldCoyote had no Power to use in your defense, but he still had his guile. When the demon began to leave its old body, OldCoyote placed himself in its path, and shaped himself to seem like a part of you. The demon was fooled, and entered him instead. Good for you, but not good for OldCoyote. Or for Lykos. Your Children are holding them together for now, but the damage is too great. We can't even separate them."
"What do you mean? Was his spffirit destroyed, or wasn't it? I thought you said a spffirit can heal itself."
"It can in a living body, sometimes. Even there it may still go mad or die. In the Spirit World it is much harder. Our spirits are created from life, and only when living can they change or grow. Or heal. OldCoyoteSpirit and LykosSpirit have no self-awareness left at all. If placed with a living host like you or me, they would be overwhelmed and absorbed. Best to do that anyway, though. At least we can save some of the habits and memories. You were closest to OldCoyote, so you should be the host. You'll receive the residue from LykosSpirit too, of course. Honor them both!"
"Fox—how can you stand it? Do you do things like this a lot?"
"No, Coyote, we don't. OldCoyote and I have dealt with more new ideas during this little life of yours than in the previous thousand years. Enjoy yourself: You're at the center of it all now, and we're all watching you. You've always craved that sort of attention. May it bring you happiness."
"I already had hapffiness. What I crave now is to pffe left alone."
"Ah, Little Brother—you know you don't really mean that. Come. Let us do what we can for my oldest and best friend. I can't bear to lose him completely, even if it's just a certain twist of the ears or joke from you now and then. This way—it's easier if you stand in the exact spot where they entered into the Spirit World."
I hadn't realized Fox was so sentimental. I owed him so much—promised rashly what I thought he wanted. "I'll pffe Coyote for you! Tell me what he was like, and I'll pffe that way. I can't have changed that much."
Fox licked my cheek affectionately. "What you just said is 'OldCoyote' all over. You don't have to try to be like him. Just be yourself! But come. We must act now, or lose even more of what once was."
I positioned myself exactly where I had been when I destroyed the talisman, except that Fox didn't make me lie down again. He said standing was fine. Bloody fragments of stone and teeth still lay on the gravel just beneath my nose. I ran tongue again over the new, perfect ones Fox had made for me, and worried. The World is such an unstable place! Possible and impossible are not such easy concepts at all.
"Fox, why can't you just pffut OldCoyote into a new body without any spffirit in it? Then he could maypffe heal and grow pffack the way he was."
"I can't do that, Coyote."
"Why?"
"You don't know what you're saying. What's left of him isn't really a whole, complete spirit at all—just tatters. Not strong enough. Even if I could find a body without a spirit already in it, the body would die."
"Why?"
"Because a body cannot live if the spirit cannot help it. The heart would stop, and so would the breathing. Other parts would fail too."
"Why?"
"I don't know, they just do. Bodies always need to have a spirit with them, even before they're born. That's just the way it is."
"Where do the spffirits come from? Are they reincarnated?"
"Sometimes. In a way, that's what we did with you. Mostly they just seem to form out of nothing—new spirits that have never existed before. Or maybe the spirit-seeds come from somewhere else. It's one of the mysteries we lower-plane creatures don't understand very well."
"So what apffout the really little ones? There has to pffe a time pffefore they get their spffirits. What keepffs them alive then?"
"Oh, I don't know, Coyote. Why do you keep…"
"No, wait a minute. That's it! Yes! The very youngest ones are not so dependent. We'll put them both into a new puppy—one so new it has no spirit yet. We'll make a puppy, just for them! Put OldCoyote and Lykos together in a living body with no distractions, and let them sort it out themselves." Fox's weariness had left him. He danced over to me, and nudged me with his shoulder.
"Step aside, Brother. You can relax for a bit while we make our preparations. I should speak with Wolf, first. That part will be tricky, and we can't do it without his help. Her help. She'll need to be female for this." Fox closed his eyes and took on that thoughtful look he had when he was speaking without words, and then his Presence was… gone. Fox still breathed—I could see the rise and fall of his chest—but I felt no life from him at all. Weird feeling!
Fox remained that way for several minutes, then abruptly roused himself. He turned to me and beamed triumphantly. No shortage of Presence now!
"Excellent, excellent! She has agreed, and she'll be here shortly. I was worried she might refuse to participate wholeheartedly in a project that benefits OldCoyote, but she says she'll do it for Lykos' sake, and she doesn't mind changing right now. She says it was about time anyway. That just leaves the Spirit Pups and Lazytail. Shouldn't be any problem there! But we'll let Wolf talk to Lazytail about her part in things."
Lazytail and the others had been standing by somewhat awkwardly through all this. They could tell that things were finally going well, but the details were beyond them. Of course, that pretty much summed it up for me as well. I wandered over and started a play fight to keep us occupied.
Lazytail had me pinned down by the throat when Wolf appeared. I think she was pleased to see that. Wolf spoke to Fox first.
"Well, Fox, you've certainly been busy tonight. You've led us to one of our greatest spirit-victories in memory. Certainly our costliest! But that was not enough for you. Now you aspire to reverse even those losses! I'm to help you save Lykos and Coyote through some new style of sex-magic that has never been tried before. That's a glorious plan—if you succeed. Don't you ever get tired?"
Formidable creature! Wolf was the size of a small horse. She glowed faintly, you could see through her just a little, and she was beautiful. I scrambled up to stand facing her, ears and tail down respectfully.
"So you are the new, improved Coyote. That shouldn't be hard. I see you've started your career in true character by stealing one of my people and getting her pregnant. It appears you haven't betrayed her yet, though. She still seems to like you."
Wolf paused, staring down at me impassively. "Well? What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Uh, greetings. Wel-welcome to my home. Thank you for coming to helpff us, Sir… ah… Wolf. What should I call you?"
"'Wolf' will be fine." She seemed to relax a little. I had said the right things, so far, but the less said, the better. I waited.
Fox spoke. "Enough visiting. We don't have time for it. If OldCoyote and Lykos can be saved, we need to do it now. You know what is needed, Wolf. I thought it more fitting that you explain to Lazytail."
"Yes, I agree." She turned to Lazytail. "You are already pregnant, as I mentioned a moment ago. Most thoroughly pregnant! You have only four, but they've been quite well attended to. The pups are nothing, yet, but already they have spirits of their own. They should not be harmed, and we will not harm them, but Fox wishes to help you make one more. It will nurture his friend OldCoyote, and my friend Lykos. If Luck favors us, the pup may even be born alive.
"Fox feels he can do this, but it will require great Power. Fox and his… friends… the ones who serve Coyote… will make the Medicine using Male Power from Coyote and Female Power from you and me. You are not strong enough to do this by yourself, but I will be with you.
"This is a great honor we offer you. Step forward, if you wish to accept."
Lazytail stepped forward. I think she understood every word. Magic, again. She touched noses with the phantom wolf, and then it was gone. I still can't quite remember if it blinked out like a light bulb, or was drawn into her somehow like smoke into a vacuum cleaner, or something else. There was no doubt about what had happened, though. My Lazytail was now sharing her body with Wolf. Daunting thought!
I walked over to touch noses for reassurance. She smelled the same. I continued with the greeting ritual, even though we had been playing together just minutes before.
"Yes, Coyote. I'm still me. And I'm not planning to bite you." She spoke by Medicine Power, just like all the others. I didn't know whether to be happy or outraged. I had never been able to share words with her before.
I took my nose back to her front end. "Is it really you? Just you?"
"Yes, Coyote. Mostly. Wolf is lending me her Power, but she's trying not to overwhelm me with it. I won't be able to talk like this after she leaves. But I really am me! I'm ready when you are." She pushed her body close beside mine, and nuzzled my ear tenderly.
"Ready for what?"
"Why, ready to make one last puppy! Weren't you listening? Come on now, Fox says time is important."
"You mean Fox wants us to mate again, right here?"
"Yes. And you need to put some real feeling into it. Fox says that makes all the difference. Now, come on over this way. You know where we're supposed to stand. Let's show Wolf what we can do!"
We put some real feeling into it, but a lot more happened than that. Fox and the Pups manipulated us outrageously. I know that now, but at the time I was hardly in a condition to think. It was early dawn when we were finished, and given a choice at that moment I would have died willingly, if that were the price to do it again. I felt dazed, and exalted, and exhausted.
I was not alone. My Spirit Pups were back with me, and Fox, and Lazytail. Ah, Lazytail!
Fox was breathing heavily, and his eyes were shining, and he burned with triumph and elation. I could actually feel it on my face, like the warmth from a fire. "We did it! The pup is alive and stable. It will be long before we know if what we did was the right thing, but I have a good feeling about it. At one point I could distinctly feel higher-plane intervention. I was counting on that. Without help we're not really capable of completing a task like the one we started here last night, but I know about Coyote's special status, and I was hoping we would not be allowed to fail."
Fox turned to me, suddenly serious. "Never count on that help, Coyote. They don't like it when you become dependent or complacent. And with two Coyotes alive in the World now, they may decide that one of you is no longer needed. A charmed life is not all you might wish it to be.
"But enough gloom! We've won two great victories, and it's time to celebrate! Coyote can be host! Wolf—can you stay long enough to celebrate with us? All of us? I have it on very reliable authority that there are at least five chickens left in Coyote's freezer. At least five."
Lazytail answered, "Yes, of course Wolf will stay! She wants… she wants to inspect Coyote's home and mother. She says I always need to keep a careful eye on Coyote and on his… family. She'll be leaving some of herself behind to make sure I'm properly taken care of."

   We found Mooney in the yard by her van. She was dressed for heavy-brush hiking, and she had her shotgun under one arm.
"Mooney! What's wrong?" Lazytail and I ran toward her anxiously, leaving the others behind. Mooney jumped and almost lost her balance. She set the gun down carefully, and knelt down to hug me. "Coyote! Oh, Coyote… you're alive! And Lazytail! I was going over to Mr. Bell's to ask if he and Jake could help me look for you." She had to stop then, because her throat wouldn't work any more. She hadn't even noticed the others yet.
Lazytail and I flanked her, pushing and rubbing in greeting joy, but she stopped me. "Please, Coyote. Go to Mouse now. She needs you more than I do. I'll stay here with Lazytail."
"Okay, pffut look pffehind you. There's someone else you might like to meet. He's a friend of John's. His name is Fox."

   Mouse was on the bed, covers over her head. I'm not sure she had moved from it since we left her there. She smelled of despair. Animals in traps smell like that.
"Mouse?" I nuzzled her hand, but she jerked it away. "Mouse, I'm sorry. I had to go last night. I had to! If I tried to fight here in the house, we would all have pffeen killed. All of us, even you and Mooney. Don't you understand?"
Mouse pushed the covers back and spoke in a raw voice, "Oh, I understand, Coyote. I understand that I failed you, just like I failed my mother. All I could think of was saving myself, but I don't deserve to live. I should have died myself. Go away. I can't stand feeling you here with me."
I backed away a little, but I didn't leave. "Mouse, I was very pffroud of you last night. You did exactly the right thing. You held so still he thought you were still asleepff, so he didn't pffother you. You did the right thing for your mother, too. Your mother didn't want to die, pffut if you had died with her it would have pffeen much worse. I know she would say that if she were here with us. I think she'd also tell you it's time to stopff pffretending you forgot her. If I were dead, I wouldn't like that."
Mouse was quiet for a long time. "You think she wouldn't like that? I never thought of it that way before. I don't want to disappoint her any more than I have already. Do you really think I should tell them?"
"Yes, Mouse."
"Okay, I will. But not now.
"Do you really think there's nothing I could have done to help you? I couldn't think of anything, even if I was brave enough to try. I should have at least screamed. Oh, Coyote! How did you get away? I knew he was going to kill you. I could feel it. But we'll be ready for him tonight! Mooney has the shotgun, and we can board up all the doors and windows, and wait for him right here. Just tell me what to do, and I'll do it. I'm not going to be a coward any more. I…"
"Mouse, it's okay. He's dead. Some of my magical friends came to helpff me, and they destroyed him, or at least the spffirit that was making him act wrong. I think Mr. Pffurrey may be dead, too." I had forgotten to ask Lazytail! So strange, that I could do that now.
"Come on. Out of pffed, you. You can feel guilty and worthless some other time."
"Okay. But I need to go pee. And wash up. You can go back outside until I'm ready."
"Why, thank-you-so-much," I said, and slipped my head between the sheets to press a cold, wet nose against her side. She screamed, and I left, tail up again. My friend might be dead, but that didn't mean I had to drag myself around. It's possible to grieve and joke at the same time, and his soul had been saved, at the very least. I walked straight over to ask about him.
"Lazytail, did you kill Mr. Pffurrey last night?"
"No. We tried to, but he didn't stay slow like he was at first. He got away finally, but we did hurt him." Mooney was looking very funny. Absolutely flabbergasted. We both ignored her for the moment, while Fox and the Pups sat innocently silent. Smokey looked lost and confused, as usual, and Princess was no longer in evidence.
"I should pffropffapffly track him down, now. He'll pffe awfully cold if he turns pffack in a pfflace where he doesn't have clothes ready. And humans can hardly even walk without shoes."
"Whatever. He tried to kill you. I no longer have any concern for his welfare." Lazytail had rather liked Mr. Burrey as a human, but I could understand her feelings. I didn't like being attacked, either. After a moment Lazytail amended, "Wolf says I shouldn't blame Mr. Burrey for what he did last night. She says the demon might have defeated even her, if she had faced it alone. Come on. Let's look for him together. We can have our victory celebration when we get back."
I turned to Mooney finally. "We have two very famous guests today. The cute, short, soft-furred one really is Fox. The real one. Our other guest is Wolf. She is visiting Lazytail in spffirit. That's why she can talk today. If you have any spffecial questions you've pffeen wanting to ask Lazytail, this is a good day to ask them. Also, they've invited themselves over for a victory dinner, for saving me. They would like chicken and dumpfflings. All of the chickens. Okay?"
"Uh, yeah. Sure. Whatever you say, dear. You're certain you didn't invite anyone else? No humans, I suppose?"
"No. Pffut don't forget the Pffupffs and me. We're famous too! And Smokey and Pffrincess. They're not famous, pffut they like chicken as much as I do. Have I forgotten anyone?"
"I doubt it, but I'm sure I'll hear about it if you have. Chicken and dumplings, eh? With this many mouths, it may turn out to be dumplings and chicken. Whatever."
Mooney turned toward the house. "Here, let me get that backpack I made for you. I have sweatpants and a sweatshirt and a jacket that should fit, and rags and a roll of duct tape for his feet. That should get a naked human home well enough. I sure wouldn't mind if you could spare the time to tell me what's happening, but if Mr. Burrey is out there freezing his buns off, I can understand why you may be in a hurry. Good luck! Oh, and a jar of peanut butter. Good trail food. I'll loosen the lid for you, so try to keep it right side up. I don't want oil dripping out on the clothes."

   The trail was blood, with very little rain during the night, so it was an easy one to follow. Mr. Burrey's blood led us all the way back to where he had parked his van. The van was still there, and so was Mr. Burrey. He was lying under it, and he was still a wolf.
So . . . whatever happened to Mr. Burrey, anyway?

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