CP-01 The Jack of All trades

Story by Pouchlaw on SoFurry

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#1 of Cardinal Pack

When a collection of Hell Hounds are sent to Earth for their pack rites, they meet up with a new friend where upon new adventures begin. This is Cardinal Pack Episode One.

**Cardinal Pack Episode One - The Jack of All Trades By Darrel James Vanwinkle (Pouchlaw/Ratseye) November 2nd, 2013

:Somewhere in the Underworld:**

"Alpha, please reconsider..." stated the teenage Hell Hound as he slowly followed the pack leader toward the ceremonial circle. "If the elders bring five Hell Hounds from five different packs together in a single testing zone, they will kill each other. And I for one do not want to fail my proving tests simply because some lazy Hell Hounds wouldn't participate in the rites of the pack council."

"As the son of a former pack alpha, it is your job to make the others understand the importance of survival in a foreign environment. I raised you after your mother died, Southfang, and I have great faith in your ability to stand strong and not be defeated by what you are calling lazy Hell Hounds. Besides, this season... the testing will occur on Earth. The others are being told that they are being exiled to Earth, but for you to know... this is part of your proving tests. But you must pretend to be as upset as they are about being thrown to Earth. Once there, you must rally them to stick together so that your survival is ensured. It will not be easy, but you have strong blood."

"I think I will opt for the blindfold so I do not have to look at the selected others until we arrive on Earth."

"...and to preserve your stomach for the journey through the vortex as well. If you cannot see the swirling spirals you will not get sick to your stomach making the trip."

Southfang chuckled. "You always seem to guess what I am thinking, Alpha. But yes, that is the plan."

The two arrived at the ceremonial circle where the vortex to Earth was being activated by the elders and when offered the blindfold, Southfang accepted it and allowed it to be placed over his eyes as he faced the vortex opening.

"Are you ready, Southfang?"

"Yes Alpha."

"When the elders give the signal, you run four steps and jump forth through the vortex. The moment you arrive, remove your blindfold and take charge of the situation. I believe I have trained you well. If the others are as lazy as you believe, they will be cowed by your presence. Otherwise, be diplomatic. Remember: to survive you must work together. If one falls behind, you must assist them to regain footing. To do otherwise will cause you to ultimately fail."

Southfang nodded his head. "I am ready, Alpha. And thank you for the words of encouragement." He tensed up and awaited the signal.

Several agonizing moments passed and then... the vortex hummed ominously and the elders rang a gong in the background. Southfang surged forward four steps and then he leaped forth and through the swirling vortex of ethereal flames and smoke. He was glad he was blindfolded for this because he felt as if he was flying in mid air at this point. Then he began to hear the complaints of the other chosen Hell Hounds as they entered the final vortex he was sailing through during the passage to Earth.

:Ridgeview, South Dakota; Planet Earth:

Halloween night was drawing to a close as a young man was driving his padded panel black caravan along a lonesome roadway as he made his way back to his farm from the area's All Hallows Eve Party. He didn't win any prizes for his homemade costume which he was still wearing, but a good time was had by one and all. Dressed as a Cheyenne River Indian shaman definitely got some comments from the party goers; he would need to return the outfit to its owner in the morning.

But then suddenly and unexpectedly in the middle of the roadway just ahead, a ring of fire erupted from the center of the road and roared in unholy brilliance for all of a few moments and then... it was gone.

"What in the Hell was that?!" He slowed the caravan as he approached the spot and that is when he saw the five canines laying in the road, all of which were still steaming from their arrival. A rough landing that had knocked the wind out of them, but they had arrived on Earth. "Why is that one dog blindfolded? I better load them up and get them over to Dr. Holden's place so she can check them out." He stopped the caravan and got out, opening the side of his caravan. He then began picking up each hound and placed them in the back of the caravan until they were all aboard, then he closed the sliding door and got back into the drivers seat and got underway again.

Southfang was conscious as he simply let this man load him into the vehicle. The insides were padded and it was a comfortable ride. He couldn't complain with that. But he was wondering who this Dr. Holden was that the young man was muttering about. He finally sat up slowly and removed his blindfold as he padded up toward the front bucket seats and he peered just passed the young man to see where they were going. He tensed up when the young man gently petted the top of his head with one hand before placing his hand back on the steering wheel. And then the conversation began. And boy, was this human ever going to be surprised.

"Don't you worry, puppy dog," said the young man as he drove onward. "I'm taking you and your friends to Dr. Holden. She's the vet in the area and she can make sure you guys and gals are okay."

Now for the coming shock. "I am sure the others will appreciate the check up but I can assure you that I am just fine, mister human."

And yes, the caravan came to a immediate stop as the young man looked at the Hell Hound almost point blank. And when he saw those eyes... he knew he had picked up something from beyond the coil of mortality. "Oh my god... you're a Hell Hound! Please don't kill me!"

Southfang chuckled briefly, then he got serious. "I think we can forgo the doctor. Just take us to your place and I will let you live. By the way... is there an Arden's Pizza branch in this area? My friends and I will be hungry soon and we like Arden's food."

The young man arched an eye. "You guys eat... pizza?" He looked perplexed by that statement. "Yeah, there is a 24/7 outlet near here with drive through service. Want me to swing by there and pick up some pizzas for us?"

"I think that may be for the best. We will repay you for this service while we complete our proving rites. That is... if I can keep the others from killing each other. We are not part of any single pack; but five different packs. The elders thought it would be for the best. I have my doubts. My name is Southfang. What may I call you?"

"Isaac Freeborn; jack of all trades." He shook Southfang's paw. "I own a farm to the southeast of here where I live in quiet bachelor solitude. I inherited the place from my father who disappeared one night. It used to have a lot of animals and livestock, but these days... the outbuildings remain unused. My brother works for a horse racing ranch to the south where he grooms the equine stallions and mares. He once told me it was the only way he could be near horses without anyone complaining."

He then got the caravan moving again. "I don't normally dress like this. Its a costume I borrowed for a Halloween Party I went to earlier tonight. In the morning, I'll return it to the shaman I borrowed it from."

"A shame since you look so good in it," stated the Hell Hound in a matter of fact manner. "Or perhaps you might look better out of it, yes?"

Isaac grinned as he drove the caravan. "Horny Hell Hound."

"On the contrary, Isaac," Southfang remarked with a smile. "Hell Hounds do not experience heat until the Spring. So until then, it was merely a statement. I frankly do not care what you look like naked as long as you are comfortable."

"What are you guys yapping about up there?" Now one of the two female Hell Hounds among them had awoken from the arrival on Earth and she sounded irate.

Southfang took the liberty to reply, thankfully, which left Isaac to focus on the road ahead. "Our host has agreed to pick up some Arden's pizzas for us to enjoy tonight. His name is Isaac Freeborn. As for me, I am Southfang of Cometmoon Pack. And who are you, if you will?"

"Dragontail of Dragonbane Pack. Former military general during a war that occurred while I was still an early teen. I got my rank from killing a dragon invader. When my proving time came, they sent me here. You have the air of an alpha... may you be the son of an alpha?"

"Former alpha. My current Alpha raised me after my mother died. Sadly, I do not know who my father was. All I was able to glean from Alpha was that my father was not of his pack."

"A pizza sounds like a tasty idea," stated one of the other two male Hell Hounds as he sat in the back enjoying the ride. "Firepaw of Brimstone Pack. Former slave of the Hell furnaces. And oh so glad to be out of that fetid excrement pile."

"Spiritfang, formerly of Eyremist Pack," commented the other female Hell Hound. "Totemic shaman of the clan. I have no home to go back to. When my time to be proven came, I opened the vortex myself and stepped within to accept my fate. I have the abilities of a healer as well as a spirit reader. If I am treated well among you, I can treat you well in return."

"You Hell Hounds crack me up," said the shadow hound male among them with an ever present smile. "Coingazer of Shadowsight Pack. We serve the Imperial Council, well, that is what my Alpha likes to drill into my head. But how boring that is; I prefer to gamble. It is more fun. He disagreed and he sent me here. Oh well... you did say pizza, right?"

Isaac was the one to chuckle now. "Sounds like quite the makeshift pack, Southfang. We're coming up on Arden's. And guys, please... let me do the talking here. We don't need to freak out the service clerk on Halloween night. I think making them have messy drawers may make them raise the prices deliberately. And I have little cash, so please... stand down and behave back there. Everyone will get a pizza. I hope their 6 for 1 deal is still on."

Isaac was glad for the Witching Hour discount that they got with the 6 for 1 deal simply because they ordered between Midnight and 1 A.M. The clerk had been wearing the worst looking Hell Hound costume ever put together; although Isaac did take some pity on the guy and comment favorably to say it was a creative costume for a last minute project. He personally knew what it was like to improvise. Not to mention, the clerk knew him since he had been occassionally called in to make small repairs at the pizza chain business.

When the caravan pulled into the driveway at the Freeborn farm, Southfang noted that the sign over the parking entrance looked as if it had seen better days. When the young human stopped the vehicle, he got out and went around to open the sliding side door which permitted the five canines a chance to hop out and sniff over their new surroundings. Isaac was carrying the pizza boxes and drinks toward the front door of the house for which Southfang held the door open for their human host.

"Come on, guys... we can explore later," stated Southfang with a grin. "The pizzas await us. Isaac said we could use the 'den' tonight while we decided what we would be doing with ourselves. If anything, Firepaw, think of this as a rare luxury you get to partake of... considering what background you came from."

The 'Pack Den' was decorated with eight love seats, four recliners, and a wide screen projection TV. The floors were carpeted and there was a mini-bar stationed along one wall. The walls had various pictures and paintings while over the fireplace was the head of a large moose. Dragontail was impressed by the mounted head.

"How hard was it to bag that beast?" the militant female Hell Hound asked as she looked it over with an inspecting eye.

The young man who had stripped out of the shaman costume was now wearing clean undershorts and a tank top tee shirt as he set the pizza boxes out. Then he laid out five bowls which he filled with the Arden's drinks. "I wouldn't know to be honest, Dragontail," he replied as he placed his own pizza on one of the coffee tables next to his own drink. "My missing father made the kill with a few friends a few years before I was born. Now please don't freak out when I do this."

And he picked up the remote and pressed the on button which caused the television to come to life. Since the view was a commercial, Isaac flipped to the channel menu and surfed over to a late night news station where he clicked the submit button before setting the remote down to enjoy his meal.

Firepaw watched television for a bit before asking the obvious question. "Do you get DTV-66? They were having a marathon game show run when I was waiting for my rite to start."

"I have never heard of that channel, Firepaw," Isaac replied as he watched the news which was then reporting on a horse race that occurred earlier that day. "How would I get access to that network?"

"Horse number 12," calmly stated Coingazer with a grin. And not surprisingly, the news reporter not more than two minutes later reported that number 12 had won.

Isaac was a little surprised at the shadow hound's prediction that came true as Firepaw opened his shoulder pouch and pulled out a programming card. "Simply insert this card into your receiver and wait for the on-screen confirmation command. Then click yes, followed by the agreement statement. Then click yes again, then click the following yes. And the channel will be available on your system. Please install it. I love DTV-66." He hands over the programming card to the human.

Opening the card slot bay, the human slid the card into the slot and closed the hatch. A download bar appeared across the bottom of the screen along with a percentage read out to show how much was being installed. When it reached 100 percent, the on-screen confirmation appeared which read, Do you wish to install free access to Devi-TV Channel 66 into your programming menu? Clicking on the yes button, the agreement appeared on screen which Isaac read over slowly. It seemed to be in order (or rather he hoped it was) and he clicked on yes. The final question then appeared which stated, Are you sure you want Devi-TV Channel 66 on your system. He clicked on the yes button. He then saw the words, 'You now have Channel 66. Enjoy.'

He then punched in '66' on the channel menu and the schedule for the network appeared down the side of the screen. At the moment, there was only one show being shown. It read, 'Truth or Dragon Slitting, Halloween Day Marathon'. He clicked submit and the game show in progress appeared on the screen.

"...and it is false that your employee never suspected that you cheated him?" to which the naked human contestant shouted, "Yes, I mean no!" This was followed by draconic laughter as the audience went wild with utter excitement.

Coingazer grinned as he leaned back in his love seat. "I've seen this episode. Still a good one to watch. That money launderer really squealed like a little girl during this episode."

Dragontail laughed as the next question was answered honestly. "These guys never learn. Two truths are followed up by a trick question so they end up lying."

Southfang and Spiritfang quietly went out and entered the bathroom together. "Something tells me that organizing these Hell Hounds is going to be nearly mission impossible."

"That is exactly what I was thinking." She was now looking at the porcelain throne. "Er... what exactly is this?" to which Southfang proceeded to show her as he got on and used it.

The next morning while Isaac was off returning the Native American costume to its shaman owner, the Hell Hounds and Shadow Hound conducted an exploratory of the 'farm' and its outbuildings. As Southfang had suggested, it would be good to know the layout of their new surroundings just in case they needed the information later.

"Do we have to scent mark every post?" whined Dragontail in some annoyance as she wet down part of a fence post. "This is rather embarrassing."

"Would you rather allow strange canines to think that we don't have a claim on this property?" remarked the son of an alpha as he padded along with the others. "Isaac said we could stay here as long as we liked and that means we have his permission to scent mark the borders. His home is our home now. Not to mention, I like this guy for some reason; I can't explain it."

Firepaw grinned as he took his turn on a post which almost set it on fire. "He fed us; that makes him okay in my book."

Coingazer chuckled as he flipped a nickel he had found in the house. "I think he might be good in bed, but that's just my horny side talking. Heads again; I'm good."

The fifth Hell Hound remained on quiet alert; not because anyone was around their quiet territory but because she was mystically 'sounding' out other animals in the local region. It was always best to know what species lived in the area before getting completely settled in. When she did speak, it was to say, "Don't forget, mates... we are here for our proving rites; this isn't a whimsical vacation." Spiritfang then looked at Southfang. "You are the only one here with Alpha blood; what do we do next?"

After making a slight wrinkled display of displeasure on his muzzle, Southfang replied, "Just because I have Alpha blood doesn't mean I have to be the Alpha of this outing. But you are right, S.F.; we do need to focus on our proving rites. When we complete them, we can finally go back home. And my Alpha told me that I should help you others in your rites or we would all fail. And I don't aim to fail. As you all know, the proving rites consist of five tests. Some are easy; the others, not so much. Test 1: sniff your pack mates as well as every other animal in your testing region. It is always important to know just who your neighbors are because you never know when you might need their help."

With a growl, Dragontail made a fierce snarl at the others. "OH NO! The first one of you who sniffs my ass is getting killed!"

Coingazer smirked as the coin landed on tails. "Why? Are you in heat already? Or are you simply on the rag?"

And then the two were wrestling on the ground. But it was obvious what the Shadow Hound was doing for the others... he was distracting the feminine General so the others could sniff her without her knowing that they did it. Then to repay the favor, when the Alpha son distracted Dragontail to help pull her off of Coingazer, the Shadow Hound quickly sniffed the irate female Hell Hound before she knew what had occurred.

"Is it out of your system, Dragontail," the lead Hell Hound asked with a smile.

"For now... but I swear; no sniffing my tail."

In unison, the others all replied with smiles, "We promise."

After allowing the irate General a chance to sniff their tails, the next part of their test began. Visiting every animal in the rural area to get a sniff of them. This wasn't a hard task, although Southfang did stop his friends from making the fatal error of trying to sniff a skunk without permission. But they somehow managed to get the task complete without any of their group smelling worse than the Hell Furnace excrement piles... something Firepaw knew of all too well.

Finally, they had returned to the farm where they saw Isaac's caravan parked in the driveway and they could hear the nice human working inside one of the outbuildings. Sounded like he was hammering on something. When the Hell Hounds all poked their heads through the open doorway, they saw Isaac trying to repair a twisted metal car bumper. It was Firepaw who stepped up to the plate with a smile. "Need some help?"

"It would be nice, except you guys don't have hands," replied their host. "I have to get this reforged by nightfall. The owners did a heck of a job on it."

The fiery eyed Hell Hound grinned as he struck a pose while facing the twisted wreck. "Stand back... I did grow up in the Hell Furnaces." And once the human was out of the way, Firepaw exhaled a gout of white hot flame from his mouth all over the twisted vehicle bumper. When he stopped exhaling fire, Isaac carefully untwisted the malleable bumper back into its proper shape with the occasional reheating breath flame from the Hell Hound. Finally, the bumper was lowered into cold water where the metal was solidified back into its hardened shape.

Isaac smiled as he gave Firepaw the nice head rub that dogs seemed to like. "You guys have earned some more pizza for helping me with this. But tomorrow night is steak night."

The mention of a luxury food made the five hounds smile with delight.

It was the day after steak night when Firepaw had Southfang and Spiritfang out in the middle of the field in full view but speaking quietly. "What did you say your complaint was, Firepaw?" asked the son of the alpha Hell Hound to the Hell Hound from the Hell Furnaces.

"You heard me, Southfang," replied the fiery former slave hound. "Every time one of us hounds do something really nice for Isaac, he rewards all of us with either Arden's Pizza or steak night, which isn't bad, mind you. But upon doing a head count, we have all done something useful for Isaac... all of us save one; and I think you know who I mean. Look at the facts, you two... the first night, I offered my own VIP DTV Programming Card so Isaac could get Unlimited New Infernal Television Service, UNITS for short. You know how much getting access normally costs. Coingazer correctly predicted that horse number 12 would win and it did. This is important in a moment, so bare with me. The next morning, Isaac had a little trouble getting his van started and Spiritfang gave it a literal jump charge. The caravan hasn't died once since she did that. When we returned from greeting all of the animals via sniffing in the area, Isaac was working on the bent fender; I used my flame to help him with the job. The next day when Isaac had you and Coingazer with him in town, he had left the keys in the caravan and that bad guy reached in to steal the vehicle; you about made the guy mess his pants. Inside the convenience store, Coingazer told Isaac to buy $20 of a certain lottery ticket and the 17th scratch card paid off an easy $200. Isaac made an easy $180 profit thanks to Coingazer. And he really needed the cash, too. Feeding us isn't cheap. And after he made sure we all had steaks, Isaac even let you share the bed with him, Southy. He had told us originally that he rarely ever let an animal sleep with him."

Spiritfang nodded her muzzle. "And when Isaac hurt himself in the shower this morning, I used my healing powers on him. But aside from our good deeds, Firepaw, what is your point?"

"My point is simple," he replied as he turned his gaze from the healer to the leader. "All of us have chipped in something to help Isaac. Everyone except the freeloader. The Hell Hound who is obviously not carrying her weight in this rite pack. Yes, I am referring to Dragontail. During the vortex transit, she complained the loudest. When she woke up in the van, she immediately made it a point to set up the alpha order, which wasn't important at the time and still has no relevance to our current situation. When we arrived at Isaac's place, she did comment on the moose trophy, but after that, she was the first to grab a slice of pizza. The next day when we tried to complete Rite Number One, sniffing each other, she adamantly refused to allow us to do that with her. We had to trick her so she didn't know we had done it. Yet she still got to sniff us. For someone so against it, she was certainly open to doing it to us. In the encounter with the skunk, which you alone stopped all of us just in time because for some reason you were the only one of us who even knew what a skunk was... Dragontail blatantly said we should just kill it then sniff it. Miss Kill-Happy. And just yesterday while you and Coingazer were off in town, when the rest of us were to be out here doing our personal training, she lounged on the pack couch all day long watching a soap opera while Spiritfang and I were in training out here. Am I wrong?" The last to the healer.

She shook his head. "No, you are not wrong. And when we walked in panting and coated in sweat, she glanced over from her spot on the couch and asked us with a smile if you guys were back yet. Normally I wouldn't lose my temper against another pack member, but Firepaw and I were dog tired from our training and this lazy cat goofed off the whole day in the comfort of the pack den. I almost zapped her right then and there. But I didn't want to damage Isaac's house. Firepaw has a right to bring this up. Dragontail is an utter failure and I think she will be the one to make the pack fail. She doesn't care about the rites we are supposed to be doing."

Southfang closed his eyes as he considered the complaint with an open mind. He knew Firepaw's words to be true and they hadn't even been on Earth for a week as yet. And Dragontail who seemed to originally show the most dedication was more than obviously the pack slouch. Her story of serving in a war was obviously a lie. When he opened his eyes, he looked at both Spiritfang and Firepaw before nodding his head. "Come on... it's time to send an inquiry back to the Underworld. We need to know Dragontail's stance once and for all."

Soon within Isaac's blacksmith forge, the male Hell Hounds were watching Spiritfang conduct the rite of communication to an information service in the Underworld. Within the flames, the images of an information devil mouse and a law imp came into focus in which the latter stated, "This is most unusual, Rite Pack... for what reason do you contact us?"

The son of the alpha stepped forward and stated their case openly for he had nothing to hide. After finishing the explanation, the Hell Hound asked, "Do you have any records of Dragontail's war claim and perhaps any mention of her old pack's personal opinion of Dragontail's presence? We are personally finding her claims and action to be less than acceptable."

The information devil mouse magically checked a few ley links and made contact with Dragontail's old pack to ask about the claims. Finally, the infernal encyclopedia rodent was seen in the image once again looking more than mildly disgusted. "It is good that you made contact with the home base, Southfang. The Hell Hound bitch in question is NOT Dragontail nor has she ever been in a war. She chose to go AWOL when she learned that her alpha was about to sell her off to a suitor in an alliance with another pack realm. They have been searching for her ever since. Detain the Hell Hound for deportation and when the portal opens, throw her through whether she wants to go or not. Her own alpha's forced polite words. After that, the real Dragontail will arrive later that night. And for the record... he has worked his tail off in preparation for these rites. You hounds might like him."

That night, all five Hell Hounds and Isaac as witness were present in the forge. The false Dragontail seemed a bit annoyed since she was missing a show that was on TV at that moment, but Southfang had said that this was pack important. Anyone not attending would be punished. Of course when the Hell portal opened and both Coingazer, Isaac, and Southfang forcibly grabbed the Hell Hound impostor, she definitely put up a fight to prevent herself from being sent back... all to no avail especially when Southfang used her true name; as Isaac learned that night, when you knew the true name of an Underworlder, you had absolute power over them. And this was no exception. With a swinging thrust, the female Hell Hound was tossed through the portal and she vanished from sight, although cursing and screaming all the way back through the vortex. Then the portal changed color and the new Hell Hound arrived.

"Thank you for contacting my father, Southfang," stated the nicely built and cleanly groomed male Hell Hound. "I am the real Dragontail. Inform me of what I am to do and I will do it."

Needless to say that with the real Dragontail among their number, the Rites Pack found him to be a hard worker who upheld every part of his position in the pack. Even Isaac was impressed with this guy. Although the new Hell Hound still growled when the human jack of all trades was around, he kept his peace when Isaac was bringing in the bacon, so to speak.

Then one evening, Isaac found the Hell Hounds preparing for a weekend outing to a private canyon where they could complete the next part of their rites. "Southfang?" he asked as he watched the hounds from Hell prepare for the trip. "Where are you guys going at this hour?"

"We are getting ready to head down to Diablo Canyon so we can perform the next part of the rite tests that we have to do," Southfang replied as he made sure his backpack was secured in such a way that he could open it later. "I apologize for our not telling you earlier but we had been a little lazy in our putting this off like this. Dragontail suggested we get it out of the way while we still had good weather."

Their human host knelt down on all fours and brushed his face against Southfang's muzzle. "It's going to be really lonely around here without you guys being around. I wish I could come with you guys. Say... er, um... maybe I could come... under conditions that you and the other rite hounds set for me. What do you think?"

From the side doorway leading into the pack den, Dragontail having heard the request stated, "If you come with us, you can only wear what we wear. You have to walk as we would. And you have to agree to undergo whatever rites the rest of the pack undergo. Including the first rite test which even I had to perform when I arrived. Yes, that means no clothes and we get to sniff you and you get to sniff us. After that, you travel as we travel; in the nude to the canyon. You are only allowed a single backpack with only the necessities which Southfang approves of your bringing. A word of warning, Isaac... this is the official Hell Hound bonding outing this weekend. The only one being permitted to bow out if she chooses to is Spiritfang because what we will be doing she is incapable of performing. Although she may come with us not to bond but to use her healing powers if need be. Furthermore, Isaac... if you choose to join us on this outing, you must agree to undergo every rite we do; not just what we will be doing this weekend. And... by joining us, we have to assign you a Hell Hound name."

Southfang smiled secretly since he knew Dragontail was spot on in his information. And just seeing Isaac in the nude was always a pleasure for him. Turning to the human, he said, "He is right, Isaac. Those are the main rules. As for conditions set by the pack, those would be extra. If you agree to this, then you are in this until the end and we get to rename you."

Coingazer laughed when he heard what the human was offering to do. "Issac? Naked in public? Doing our rites with us? I'm all in for sure! I can't wait to see this!"

Firepaw showed more concern however. "You could get really hurt if you join us, Isaac. Please reconsider."

Spiritfang patted the human on the back with one paw as she quietly said, "Whether you come or not, you give us a roof over our heads, a nightly meal, and compassionate entertainment when you have access to it. If you join the rites pack, I would call you a brother. If you choose to back out, you will always have a spot in our hearts. But I get the feeling that Dragontail is testing you with his own brand of the rules to see if your offer to come is simply in statement. Southfang is correct; if you join us, it is to the end. What we get into, you will also get into. No matter how smelly, sticky, or even painful. Would you accept this knowing what is to come?"

Isaac then said, "If you hounds knew what all a jack of all trades gets into during the course of their jobs, you likely wouldn't be so worried about my getting hurt by coming with you. Remember the car bumper? I dropped that on my foot when I was loading it up in the van the other day to bring back home to repair it. I've had an engine load of oil and grease dump on me while fixing someone's car once; I was black and sticky for the rest of that day. And when I had to dig out a neighbor's old septic tank, I knew then what Firepaw can likely vouch for regarding the Hell Furnaces. I smelled worse than a pole cat until I was able to get home and wash myself in gasoline. Pain and the rest of that stuff you mentioned happens on my jobs all the time. Therefore if Dragontail wants to know how dedicated to my offer I can be, I will prove myself. What do I do first?"

Southfang said, "Remove all of your clothes and get down on all fours. Each of us male Hell Hounds will get to mount you while you are in the recruit position. It may hurt at first, but as you transform into one of us, the pain will subside. After your transformation, we will rename you something to fit your new form. After that, we will help you achieve the first few rites that the rest of us have already accomplished. Then we will return here and pack up for the canyon outing. Once on the outing, you will in effect be one of our rite pack brothers."

Spiritfang then said, "After your transformation, I will give you the Hell Hound spirit kiss which will enchant you so you can resume your human form during emergencies. You won't have to remove your clothes to transform the next time because the enchantment will permit your clothes to make the change with you. I am proud of you that you did not back down from your offer, Isaac. Maybe someday, we can return the favor by helping you discover what happened to your father. A mysterious disappearance doesn't always end well for the victim."

Dragontail then added, "To mark you as one of our pack, Isaac, the rest of the males and I will scent mark your Hell Hound form to give it the scent appropriate for one of our pack brothers to have. This scent marking will only be on your Hell Hound form and once applied, it cannot be removed without magical aid. And surely you wouldn't do that if you are serious about joining us."

As Isaac submitted to the request, the males took the naked human out behind the house for the mounting and the scentmarking. They didn't want to do that in the house and cause a mess.

Once the human male was a Hell Hound male like themselves, Southfang said to Dragontail, "About the pack name. How does Jackpaw sound? Since he is a jack of all trades, and the -paw extension makes into a good Hell Hound name."

Dragontail agreed that it was a good enough name.

: Diablo Canyon, South Dakota; Planet Earth:

Because Isaac had been to the canyon before and he knew where the safe trail down into the canyon was located, he led the rite pack to the entrance trail of the canyon. Each of them was loaded with a backpack. Although Isaac's backpack had his cellphone within it just in case they had to use it to call for a doctor. As Jackpaw, he said, "This is the way in, guys. And now like the newest member of the pack, I should be following you."

Dragontail and Spiritfang were looking at the map of the area as the former noted that where he had considered entering the canyon from was a sheer cliff drop off. He likely wouldn't have survived the fall. In fact, they could see the location from where Isaac had led them to. It looked ghastly at night. Spiritfang smiled. "If you still want to try it your way, and you don't make it, I will make sure your spirit joins the others in the eternal hunt so your spirit isn't simply lost."

Southfang then said, "Okay, Pack, let's head on in and find the rites camp we had selected from the map." And he began to lead the pack down the dark trail.

Coingazer loved how dark and shadowy the canyon was at night. Being a Shadow Hound, this was fun for him. However, he was choosing to walk on one side of the former human, Jackpaw, while Firepaw walked next to Southfang in the front and Dragontail and Spiritfang brought up the rear. "Say Jackpaw... since you are in this with us until the end, when we return home to the Underworld, would you be coming with us? I mean, Southfang really likes you and I must admit, you are nice to be around."

Jackpaw replied, "In your own opinion, how does being nice in the Underworld fare for those not used to the Underworld."

Coingazer quickly got the point but he continued anyway, "It really depends upon whose favor you have rightfully earned. Southfang would make a great Alpha, except the thought of being one currently disgusts him. But if he wanted to form a permanent pack of his own, I'd volunteer to join it. You could join it, too. As long as Firepaw didn't have to return to the Hell Furnaces, he would likely join it, himself. I cannot speak for the two behind us."

Just then, Spiritfang who had been close enough to overhear the conversation, remarked, "If Southfang was leading it, yes, I would join it. As I revealed the first day of my arrival, my entire pack was wiped out. I am all alone in the world. If Southfang made a pack, I would apply to join it."

Dragontail nodded his head. "As would I. From what I have seen about Southfang so far, he does have Alpha blood yet he doesn't seem to want to abuse that fact to get what he wants out of the rest of us. That is what makes a good Hell Hound leader. Knowing when to do the right thing and knowing when not to."

Jackpaw said, "I think he's pretty swell to be around. In fact, everyone in the pack has been useful around the farm. Including you, Dragontail. Oh sure, you didn't seem to like me at first, but you stayed your peace when I fed the pack real food and not disgusting stuff which normal dogs might be fed."

Dragontail smiled. "That steak night you served was pretty darned good. The rest of the pack said that you prepared steaks once a week. And ordered Ardens Pizza the other nights. If you wouldn't mind experimenting in the kitchen one of these nights, I could teach you how to make my favorite meal. Of course, you would have to try it yourself. Its only fair to share."

From up ahead, Southfang said, "Guys, the trail forks at this point. I'm not sure which way to go now. Jackpaw, would you mind coming up here and showing me the safe way down to the canyon floor. I don't want to go over the edge at night."

Jackpaw padded ahead to where Southfang and Firepaw had stopped and he looked at th fork in the trail. "It looks different at this eye level, Southfang, but I think I remember going left the last time I was down here with the Cheyenne River Shaman. Yeah, left stays level, then it descends to the floor. The right trail goes over an old suspension bridge. Not fun at night."

Southfang nuzzled his nose along Jackpaw's muzzle as he licked him. "Thanks. Left it is then. Follow the trail to the left at the fork, guys. We're almost there."

Soon, the trail did descend to the canyon floor where the pack laid out for a bit while Southfang prepared the pack circle for the next Proving Rite. "By the way, Jackpaw, does anyone come into the canyon at night, other than us?"

Jackpaw replied as he looked around. "Just old Blackie the local wolf, a local wild donkey called Number 47 and a few coyotes. It would be very rare to meet any of the shaman's tribe in the canyon at night."

"Wolf and coyotes, "stated Southfang. "I guess that explains why I smell other canines around the canyon. Why is there a wild donkey in the canyon?"

Jackpaw replied, "The story goes that the miner who owned him had a claim down here someplace and late one night, the miner died in the mine itself when his dynamite exploded in a mysterious manner. The donkey simply wanders the canyon looking for the miner, or so the story goes."

Remembering what Southfang had said about the second proving rite, Jackpaw had to receive a mounting and tying from every pack brother in the rites pack. This often meant a juicy filling at the same time. Then he had to perform the same mounting on all of his brothers. But it wasn't just from behind; he had to take it in the muzzle as well. This often left the Hell Hounds feeling as if they were high on drugs. Thankfully Spiritfang guarded the perimeter of the bonding circle to make sure no one bumbled into the Hell Hound bonding circle.

Around midnight, black clouds rolled in and it began to rain and the wind began to blow. Spiritfang led the male Hell Hounds through the wet torrential downpour into the opening of an old mine shaft. "This will do for now, guys. Looks like you were right, Dragontail, while we had good weather didn't last very long. That rain is pretty cold."

Firepaw had snagged some branches from trees that had not been soaked as yet and he gathered them into an old circle of rocks that looked like an old campfire, then he exhaled his fire breath on the sticks to start their campfire. It was while he was doing that, when Old Number 47 lifted his head up from where he had been resting nearby. "What are you guys?" he said in a language that Jackpaw was surprised that he could understand. Southfang replied, "We apologize for disturbing your sleep, Mr. 47. We're Hell Hounds but we promise, we are not here to hurt you."

47 said, "As long as it is raining out there, you can share the mine with me."

Jackpaw then opened his backpack and pulled out a fresh carrot and he took it over to the donkey and fed it to him. "As Isaac, I would bring 47 a carrot whenever I visited the canyon, but as Jackpaw, that is why I brought the carrot this time. So he would know we were friendly."

47 smiled as he nosed Jackpaw, "Thanks much, Jackpaw. I almost didn't recognize you, Isaac, but your talk about the carrot reminded me how nice the human version is. I'd do anything for you."

Jackpaw smiled in return, "The barn on the farm has a nice dry stall you could use, since you're saying you would do anything. You dont' have to stay in the canyon. These other guys are alreay staying there."

47 replied, "What about your vet friend, Dr. Holden? If she sees me at your farm, she might give me a shot. I might kick her. I trust you, Isaac, but I don't like her and that weird husband of hers."

Jackpaw said, "When Maria went to college, she said she wasn't going there to get married, but one she had her degree and moved back to the area, she had a husband with her. I had one lunch with Maria after that, and the creep told me to stop flirting with his wife. He made quite the scene at the cafe that day. The sheriff told the man to stand down or spend the night in jail. No one in town likes Mr. Holden. And now I am getting confirmation from you, 47. You don't like him either."

47 said, "That man smells like a rotten claim jumper."

Coingazer then said, "If Mr. Holden is that kind of man, maybe Maria is actually afraid of him and needs our help?"

Spiritfang smiled. "Want me to hit him with a bolt of lightning where the sun don't shine?"

Firepaw grinned. "I can cook his goose."

Dragontail chuckled. "Sounds like we really do not like this man. Well, Alpha Southfang, what do we do about this man?"

Southfang started to reply then he stopped when he realized what Dragontail had just called him. "First names only, Dragontail. I do not want to be an alpha right now. Not during the proving rites." He then snuffed to clear his nose before continuing. "We finish up our rite then we return to the farm to take advantage of the towels there. Jackpaw can become Isaac there and prepare us a hot meal. Roughing it during the proving rites is one thing, but the rest of the time, I like a good meal in my stomach. Not that the fluids we drank earlier wasn't good enough. No real nutrition in that stuff. Enjoy it too much and you get fat. Not to mention, Isaac has to work in the morning. Especially if we want to keep eating well."

Leading the pack and 47 back to the farm, Southfang arrived at the back door where he led the pack into the mud room where the towels had already been laid out for them earlier that night. Once inside, Spiritfang educated Jackpaw in how to change back into his human form. And after a quick change into his human form, he helped the others with their towels before bringing out a larger dry towel for Number 47 and he proceeded to dry the donkey as well. "Dragontail, join me in the kitchen, please. You said you wanted to teach me how to make your favorite meal. And I had to try it myself when we were done."

47 was saying to the others in the pack, "I didn't expect Isaac to bring me into the house with you hounds. He really is a nice guy." The others guided 47 into the pack den where they set up a dry bed where the donkey could bed down at in the back corner. Then Firepaw turned on DTV-66 so as to listen to the latest Underworld news.

**End of CP-01 The Jack of All Trades

Stay tuned for the next episode, Farm Filling**

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