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[personal profile] lb_lee
The Deity of Forever Road
Universe: Reverend Alpert
Word Count: 1333
Summary: Lupa is a very good dog, and when she dies, she protects a stretch of highway.
Notes: This story was supported by the Patreon crew: Alex Feinman, Nat Ford, Suzanne Hillman, KC Clearwater, Kaylin, Caelyn Sandel, Holly Bianchi, Bitmap Prager, Anna Mudd, cloudiah, Lydean Kenzall, Jay Toves, Sara Gussin, Seamus Johnston, and Anonymous! Thank you very much! More notes at the end.


The Forever Road had once been the longest unbroken interstate highway in the country, stretching from border to border, north to south. Even after the Plagues, it was still a major thoroughfare of trade. A long expanse of crumbling asphalt, stone or packed dirt (depending on the area), it stretched through the Scattered Cities, linking the numerous towns and settlements that relied on it for trade.

Lupa had died there, secure in the knowledge that she was a very good dog.

In life, she had been the stalwart companion of one of the many peddlers who traveled up and down the highway. Together, they sold odds and ends from one trade settlement to another: pots, pans, baubles, toys, all carried in heavy packs on their backs. When those didn't sell, sometimes Lupa would perform tricks for the amusement of the townspeople.

Lupa's mistress traveled alone; Lupa never wondered why. Dogs only see life as Is and Was, not Should or Why.

Lupa's parentage was as mysterious as her mistress's. She had the long ears and clear bay of a hound, but the thick jaws and shoulders of a mastiff. Patient and strong, she carried wares, hunted small game, and helped protect her mistress—mostly from plague zombies, who she could smell coming from a mile away. Lupa had her mistress and the wide open spaces of Forever Road, and she was happy.

They faced trouble, of course, because Lupa and her mistress traveled alone, and were often strangers to whoever resided wherever they were, but Lupa was a big dog, and protective, and usually, that was enough.

One day, it wasn't.

Lupa never understood, of course. Human business disputes meant nothing to her. But something had happened that had necessitated a speedy exit from the current town. This had happened before enough that Lupa wasn't concerned. She was always happy to be out moving again.

For a while, things seemed normal. But some night (Lupa was not particularly savvy with time; all nights blurred together in her mind), townspeople on horses caught up to them. There was some shouting back and forth on the part of the humans, but Lupa knew from the start that it'd end in a fight, and it did.

Lupa was strong and brave, and her mistress had a staff and a stout bullwhip. (Lupa's mistress had had trouble with horses before; they hated the noise even more than they did Lupa.) Together, they fought. They won. But Lupa fell.

Lupa's mistress held her, rubbing her ears, murmuring love and endearments that she didn't fully understand but appreciated anyway. The peddler stayed that way, kneeling in the dust and holding Lupa in her arms until everything faded away. The last thing Lupa heard was her mistress's voice, uttering, among other things, one last order:

“Stay.”

And because Lupa was a good dog, she obeyed.

It didn't occur to her to be surprised when she woke up in spirit form above her grave, carefully dug and decorated with a ring of stones and dried flowers. What does death mean to a dog? For Lupa, it only meant change, and she adapted to it the way she would've anything else. Her mistress was still there, and fussed over her, and did her best to explain things to Lupa, and Lupa did her best to understand.

Every year, Lupa's mistress would visit her grave. And every year, Lupa would come and be fussed over and played with, and they would walk the Forever Road together while Lupa warned her of plague zombies. And every year, Lupa would eventually be left behind. She could go a little further up and down the Forever Road every time, but she would never be able to leave it, or travel all of it. Death had restricted her territory to where she had died.

Lupa's mistress got a new dog, and Lupa helped train him. The peddler grew older, smaller and bent. Sometimes, when she visited Lupa, she brought mates. Then children. And grandchildren. Every year, she'd tell them the story of Lupa, the hound who protected the road, and they would all leave Lupa offerings of meat and flower garlands.

As the years passed, Lupa grew stronger and stronger. She began to lose track of who exactly was part of her pack and who wasn't, (it had been an awfully long time, for a dog) and so just to be safe, she took to patrolling her stretch of the road, frightening away bandits and nudging away plague zombies (who found her inedibility deeply unnerving). After all, she wanted her mistress to be pleased.

Time passed, and Lupa's mistress grew unsteady in her visits—her legs just couldn't keep the routines they used to. One year, she stopped coming. Her children stayed, though, and their children, and their mates and friends and various packs, and Lupa cleared the Forever Road for them. By now, she had forgotten exactly why she guarded the road, and where her mistress had gone, but she wasn't alarmed. She had the wide open spaces, and people who loved her, and that was enough. She was a minor deity now, but that didn't matter to her. What are gods to dogs?

The town that had killed her became aware, over time, that the dog was still there. Once they realized that she was keeping the area safer, they decided to make amends by keeping Lupa's stretch of the Forever Road as clean and neat as possible, and leaving regular offerings to maintain her strength. Lupa was a forgiving dog, with a dog's short memory; this pleased her. She was happy. And so she brought prosperity to the area.

Many years passed, and one night, as Lupa rested in her quiet grave of flowers and offerings, she heard a cry. Her ears pricked. Someone on her road was in trouble! But it was far away, just out of her reach. A camp of bandits had set up there, banking on Lupa's limitations as a spirit and the complacence of travelers who had faith in her.

Lupa did not understand this, of course. She only had the frustration of being unable to do her job, and the sense that these humans had unfairly tricked her. She materialized as close to the bandits as she could, determined to do her best. Like those who had killed her, they rode horses, smelled of blood-lust, and they were chasing a… a woman? It was certainly a woman, but she smelled like fear and something, and she carried an old man in her arms. He was bleeding.

Lupa bayed, hoping to frighten the bandits away and announce her territory but they ignored her. They knew she couldn't get them. She dashed up and down the invisible line she couldn't cross, howling with frustration.

The woman heard her and must have recognized the protector of the road. Churning up dust, she swung out her tail and turned on a dime, aiming for Lupa. But Lupa already knew the woman wouldn't make it. She was fast, but the horses were faster.

But then the bleeding man cocked his arm and threw something round and white towards Lupa. She automatically leaped to catch it in her mouth, and as her jaws closed down, power rippled through her. Her sense of space expanded, deepened. She could smell everything for miles.

The bandits never had a chance.

Afterward, the woman-thing and the man thanked Lupa, giving her many pets and praise. Then, with chalk and powder, they gave her strength to expand her boundaries in short leaps and bounds, in times of emergencies, so as to catch anyone who tried to play such a trick again. It was a good offering, and Lupa happily included them as part of her pack, to be protected and watched over.

They told her that she was the best dog. But she already knew that.

Notes: I got the idea for Lupa's story from a news story about a pitbull who died protecting her master, and Tama, the Japanese train station cat who got promoted to goddess over time. The Forever Road is I35, if you're curious—it stretches from the Texas/Mexico border up through Minnesota.

Plague zombies are generally just aware enough of spirits to be greatly upset by them. If it acts like something edible but can't actually be eaten or grabbed, it scares them. This is why Prudencia doesn't have to worry about them in the Cursed City; it's so infested with spirits that the plague zombies don't touch it.

Date: 2016-01-23 11:37 pm (UTC)
chanter_greenie: a cream-colored yellow Labrador lying at the top of a staircase, one paw draped over the top step (mellow yellow)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
This made me cry. I miss my dog now. See icon for his sweet face.

*hugs* Wow, you're good at this.
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