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Legs for Bernie

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“Haa…” Rockbell sighed, his tongue hanging as he panted out the excess heat from working in the forge, “Another 'ard day’s work—’ere, Lyra.”

 

“Hm?” the cream-colored she-dog’s ears perked up immediately, her head tilting to the side as she trotted over to him, “Ooh, it’s done?”

 

“Yup,” almost unceremoniously, Rockbell gripped the edge of the forged staff and tossed it at her paws, “'S’e’s all yours, enjoy ‘er. ‘n’ next time, use ‘er for magic, not—”

 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Lyra dismissed him, way too fixated on her repaired, freshly refurbished magical staff. Her eyes glowed with a faint violet aura as the gemstone within the staff shined brightly in tune with her, before levitating off the ground and floating straight into her holster, “Thanks a lot, Rockbell, the revolution would be nothing without you!”

 

“Oi don’t just…” a miffed growl left Rockbell as she had already crawled out of the forge den and was scampering back into camp, “Run…off…bloody 'ell, those retrievers—they 'ave the attention span of a mouse.”

 

“Harr-umph,” he licked his chops before grabbing a pail of cold water and channeling what little amount of magic he'd learned from the ditzy Golden Retriever to douse the flames, feeling the den cool down considerably as the audible hiss of steam permeated throughout the room, “Mmm...'aven't eaten for some time...Bun-Bun seems like 'e might 'ave cooked somethin' up already.”

 

After giving a great, big yawn and a much-needed stretch, Rockbell wiggled out of the forge den and squinted upon his eyes, becoming acclimated to the bright sun beaming down on the camp grounds. It was still early afternoon and the heat didn't seem to be doing him any favors. At the very least, it looked like Kap'tan was having fun, emphasis on looked.

 

His tail was wagging, a somewhat dopey smile was written all over his face, and his tongue was flopping in the wind as he seemed to be running after Ben, Bernie, and Ken in a game of chase.

 

Huh...why's a pooch like Ken innit? Wouldn't 'e be off 'n the shadows, bein' a lonely mope?

 

A few seconds later Rockbell spotted it and snickered a little, “Haha, Kap'tan, ya nutter, 'course ya went 'n' nabbed Ken's cape to make 'im give chase. Can't ever understand ya, but ya got a good 'ead on ya, baha.”

 

It was a known fact that Kap'tan, the leader of the rebellion dogs, spoke in a foreign tongue: absolutely no one could understand him. Really, the only reason why the group even managed to stay cohesive in their planning and coordination was due to Ken's perceptiveness. The grumpy Shiba knew how to read others well, so he was able to decipher the general gist of Kap'tan's messages ninety percent of the time, with the ten-percent of mistakes, thankfully, seldom happening in dire situations.

 

He instinctively rapped his paw against a stray wood plank laying onto the wall of the forge's entrance, “Mmf...ya never know.”

 

Rockbell padded his way over to the market stand, seeing Bun-Bun hurriedly scrambling about, ketchup bottle in his jaws, as he made orders upon orders of hotdogs. He was quick to notice the approaching English Bulldog, and let out an incoherent, muffled phrase.

 

“Ah, just finish puttin' the condiment on ya sausages, won't ya?” Rockbell gruffly barked, “Don't talk with ya mouth full—can't even understand ya with that dang thing in ya mouth.”

 

Foo,” Bun-Bun dropped the bottle of ketchup onto the ground as he attended to the grilling meats, “I said, 'hold on a second,' because I thought something was burning! Also, what's with that tone? I'm the only cook this group's got, have a little respect, Rockbell!”

 

“I respect ya, I respect ya,” he shook his fur in slight annoyance, “Jus' think ya too 'ectic wit' it that's all—relax a little, no one's gonna chew ya 'ead off for needin' a bit, yeah?”

 

“That's easy for you to say, no one would mess with you—you're just as stonewall as the metals you make!” the hotdog dog chuckled as he began making Rockbell's favorite: an onions and gravy hotdog, “At least, that's what most of the others say about you.”

 

“Mmf...that's jus' talk. I'm not that big a Cluff, I just like it short.”

 

“Yeah, I get it—it's always nice to be succinct, right?” the mutt's nostrils twitched, smelling that the meat was now well-done, “Alright, got your onions 'n' gravy coming up, Rockie! Since you've been at Lyra's staff since dawn, I'll give you one on the house!”

 

“Appreciate ya, Bun-Bun.”

 

“You owe me next quest though, 'kay? I might need some help rounding up some more boars for our meat.”

 

“'Our meat?' 'ow about the other favor ya asked me? Maybe I should tell Lyra, Ken, Poppy, 'n' Kap'tan ya make extras 'cause ya eat--”

 

Bun-Bun cleared his throat, “Hey, listen, we're still good buddies, right? I just need a helping paw sometime next week, that's all! Swear on dog, I'm not gonna change my word—honest!”

 

“Be better be careful...” Rockbell flashed him a smirk, “Ya might end up turnin' 'nto one if ya keep eatin' that many.”

 

“Pfft—what's it that they say where you're from? 'Poppycock?'”

 

“Ya accent's too thick for that place.”

 

He was about halfway finished with his hotdog when Kap'tan and the two dogs came running back, panting heavily but with tags wagging fast like flags in the wind.

 

«Раквэйль, мы скучали тебя! Где ты был? Наш день был очень весёло -- я воровал плаща Кэнь!»

Kap'tan eagerly alternated the weight on his paws, as if whatever he was recalling was so fun that he'd do it again in a heartbeat.

 

“Uh...” Rockbell glanced over at the extremely disgruntled Shiba Inu, trying his best to keep down an amused grin, “Ken?”

 

A soft, somewhat irate growl accompanied Ken as he made sure his cloak was snugly back on, shooting daggers at his captain, “He said my name—pretty sure that translates to: everyone was laughing while he had my cloak and these two...”

 

He pointed at the trying-not-to-giggle duo of Ben and Bernie, “Were definitely in on it. Just tell him you were working on the staff Lyra broke because she decided to wack that armored panda in the face when it scared her.”

 

«Ах, панда? Что проиходит?»

 

“Uhh...” Rockwell stammered, trying to sound polite enough despite how he understand zero of what his captain just said, “Don't know what ya askin', cap, but Lyra, Ken, Poppy, 'n' Brave went out for a supplies run 'n' Lyra got scared by some rogue panda soldier. So, s'e yelped, used 'er staff like a club, and it broke 'n 'alf, so, I fixed it.”

 

«Ах я понял! Хаха, Лайра очень комедийная, да?»

 

He did his best not to sound uncertain, “Yup, s’e can be reckless haha.”

 

Apparently satisfied with this answer, Kap’tan held his head high with pride and brushed past the blacksmith, heading over to the quest board to join Ken and Lyra—probably discussing further plans of actions against the cats. Meanwhile, Rockbell turned his attention towards Ben and Bernie, strolling towards them, “Ya two seemed to be 'aving a frolic, ‘uh?”

 

“Rockbell!” The two called out in unison as they excitedly bounded towards him.

 

While Ben seemed to make it over just fine, Rockbell could feel his ear pin back as he heard a frightened yipe from Bernie as he fell face-first onto the overgrown, stone-covered path.

 

The leader wannabe skidded to a halt, his claws scraping across the stones as he made a beeline back for his friend, “BERNIE, ARE YOU OKAY?!”

 

Rockbell did his best to follow close behind, his shorter legs could take him so far until Ben beat him to Bernie first.

 

“Oww...” Bernie whimpered before slowly lifting his head up and delicately prodding his snout with his paw, “I forgot to look down before I started running.”

 

“But, but--” the young Bernese Mountain Dog started pacing back and forth in front of him, anxious, “Are you okay? Did you break your nose? Ahh—I think Lyra should be in the Cauldron Den, right? She'd know something, let's go--”

 

The Saint Bernard shook his head with resolve, “No, no, I'm just sore, I'd know if I broke something. After all, I'm the one who tends to everyone's wounds!”

 

“The fall looked bad, t'ough,” Rockwell spoke up, glancing down at the rounded wheels of Bernie's metal wheelchair, “Do those things always trip ya up over uneven surfaces?”

 

“Oh, well...” Bernie sheepishly nodded his head, “Yes, I have to careful of any cracks. But, it's much better than nothing, really! I'll always be thankful that doctor found me in that hailstorm and made it for me—even if it's not the best, it's manageable, at least.”

 

“C'mon, Bernie,” Ben urged, pawing at the other's barrel collar, “We gotta check you and make sure you're really okay. If you got inju--”

 

Before the young pup could even finish his sentence, an eager, brash voice yowled from afar, “Beeennnnnn! BEEEENNNN! WHERE ARE YOUUUU?”

 

The trio turned their heads in the direction of the noise: just a few yards away from them was the plucky, ragged, gray-furred neighborhood kleptomaniac, Brave, “BEEE—oh, Ben!”

 

Instantly, she picked up her pace and sped through the sea of passerby dogs with ease until she a nose boop away from the tri-colored whelp's face, “Lyra wants us for a patrol in the Ursine borders right now, and you're comin' with us! It'll be lots of funnn—did you know their armor can be sold for up to ten thousand coin a piece?? Ehe, not that I'm gonna steal it or anything, but y'know, if we beat them they can't exactly not give us their loot, right?”

 

“But...” Ben whimpered, glancing back at Bernie, who was still pawing at his snout, “Bernie is--”

 

Rockbell stepped up, “I'll stay be'ind 'n' stick wit' 'im—ya better go 'n' get wit' 'em, Ben.”

 

He then flashed Brave a wry smirk, “Gotta keep 'er in line, right?”

 

“Hey!” she yipped back at him.

 

The Bernese Mountain Dog giggled, “Hee-hee, right...okay.”

 

He padded his way over to Bernie, gently prodding the side of his face with his nose out of concern, “Hope you're better soon, okay? I'm sorry you fell down.”

 

“It's alright, really,” the medic reassured him, his tail wagging slightly, “Go ahead and have fun, make sure you bring back lots of loot for us!”

 

Ben gave them an affirmative bark before bounding off with Brave to the north entrance of the camp, leading to the Ursine borders. For a moment, Rockbell sat in an awkward silence next to Bernie, watching their colleague vanish off into the distance with Lyra and Brave—what was he supposed to say?

 

“Umm...” he cleared his throat, “So, about the wheelchair ya got: ya said ya just deal wit' somethin' that dangerous?”

 

“Oh!” Bernie seemed a bit surprised by the question, “Well, yes? I mean, it's helped out a bunch in comparison to the days I had to maneuver with only my front legs. I'd rather deal with falling on my face than deal with that again.”

 

Rockbell frowned at this; while of course he was concerned about his colleague hurting himself, he also was concerned about the wheelchair's design. If anything, it seemed like the thing was more of a liability for the pup than a help, and as a blacksmith, inefficient tools were an absolute no-go.

 

“What if...” he found himself unable to look Bernie in the eye, knowing that his expression would give his intentions away too easily; he hoped the pup wouldn't notice his wagging, stubby tail, “What if ya 'ad somethin' that...made that problem go away?”

 

He thanked dog that Bernie happened to stare off in the other direction as he answered him, not noticing a thing, “Hmm...I'm not sure? That seems like...like a dream? I wouldn't know what it'd be like to have a wheelchair that I didn't have to worry about the wheels being snagged in anything...but in a good way, I think? It's a strange feeling.”

 

He paused for a moment before glancing over at Rockbell and raising an eyebrow at him, “Are you...are you up to something, Rockbell?”

 

“Uhh, no! Haha, nothin' at all, Bernie!” the bulldog immediately sat down, concealing the furiously wagging stump behind him, “Just was...bein' nice, ya know? Ya're not that...ya're a pretty good dog to be around, so...yeah.”

 

“Huh...” he tilted his head at him, not fully believing him, “Alright. Well, I'm heading off to read the board—maybe there's another shoreline patrol they've got posted that I can do? The sand can be a bit hard to walk through for the wheels, but it should be more cushioned if I end up tripping again.”

 

“Ah, um...”

 

Play it cool, ya bloke, play it cool! Don't make it so obvious ya doin' this 'cause ya wanna make him some proper legs! Rockbell cleared his throat again, “'ow about I go wit' ya? Just so ya 'ave 'n extra pair of eyes 'n' ya don't risk fallin' on ya lonesome again?”

 

“Oh, well, I'd hate to trouble--”

 

“No, no, it's fine, it's fine,” just to make his point and not face any more awkward white-lying, Rockbell trotted ahead of him, “C'mon, let's see if they 'ave a shore patrol we can do.”

 

The duo ended up finding a post from Ken, Head down to Crabby Shores and gather more coconuts—we're low on drinks. Bucket wagons are provided at the south entrance. Thanks. -Ken.

 

After ensuring they had packed what they needed, the two headed out the southern entrance, following the winding down path until they could smell the salt of the sea. Bernie designated himself as the bucket-holder while Rockbell used the blunt edge of his sledgehammer to rustle the thick palm trees, trying to make the coconuts all into the bucket.

 

He did his best to be discreet about it, but Rockbell observed Bernie's movements, zoning in on the wheels' composition and structure. They were too heavy, causing them to dig slightly into the sand and make it more work for Bernie to tread through. He needed something that functioned like organic pawpads: traction but adjustable to various terrain.

 

Could make 'em slightly webbed, like retrievers'... the English Bulldog found himself contemplating as he continued to swing at the trunk, Webbed...retractable-length pads...claws for gripping...sensors for changing pad surface to ice, sand, etc...

 

“Jus' 'eed ah bi' ah m'gic...” Rockbell mumbled aloud, despite his mouth being muffled by the sledgehammer's handle.

 

“Magic for what, Rockbell?”

 

He nearly dropped his sledgehammer onto his paws, spitting in surprise, “GAH! Uh...just thinkin' 'bout a future project. If we don't end up needin' repairs for everyone, I could get it started. Jus' needs some magic for the final touches.”

 

“Ah that sounds so handy! It sounds like you're making some kinda back-up armor, that'd be really great if we get into a bad spot in any of our raids.”

 

“Yup...ya could call it that.”

 

Once they filled up the buckets with enough coconuts, Rockbell and Bernie trekked back to camp, pulling their wagon of coconuts with all the strength they could muster back up the long path. Even though the two were panting, working their muscles against the weight of the wagon on their backs, Rockbell took the time to analyze the other dog's wheels just a little more as he brainstormed the blueprints in his mind. The magic the legs would run out had to be the same affinity as the kinda Bernie could channel from his aura, just prevent any physical strain.

 

In that aspect, the blacksmith was lucky he and Bernie had the same type of aura: Rockbell's biggest concern was the conversion process. If Bernie had been used to feeling physically nothing in his hind legs for years and then felt a powerful source of magic connecting him to parts he'd long become a stranger to, then there was a small possibility of complications arising because of it—he needed to be thorough about this.

 

“Hey, Rockbell?” Bernie suddenly asked out of nowhere, catching the bulldog slightly off guard.

 

“Uhh...” he snapped himself out of his thoughts for a moment, “Yup?”

 

“Can you believe we've been part of the group for a year now?”

 

“Oh...'uh...” the blacksmith hummed in thought, “Didn't even realize it. Doesn't feel like much's changed for me.”

 

“Oh, really?” the younger pup chuckled a little, “I dunno, I feel like it has for me. I was so unsure how I was going to manage, even though I wanted to join a cause to repay the kindness that doctor gave me—I wanted to give him freedom. But after doing this for a year, I feel silly for being worried about not making it.”

 

He thumped his thick tail against the rims of the moving wheels, “Even with these clunky things, I've worked hard and made myself into a good medic. I would've regretted being hesitant otherwise, I think.”

 

“Mmm...I jus' wanted to work for somethin' freelanced,” Rockbell tried to recall his first thoughts when he joined Kap'tan's oddball group, “I was getting' tired of the 'igh lords 'n' ladies shovin' me around, and Kap'tan seemed like a guy w'o'd just let me do what I thought best. So, guess that's why it didn't change much for me.”

 

“I think I can understand that...though, what do you think you'll do when we win?”

 

“Mmm...don't know; will cross that bridge when I get there.”

 

“Right...” the young pup's ears perked up as he remembered something, “Oh, this morning was so nice by the way! The carrier seagull dropped me off a letter from my family back home—it was a little late, but my birthday was a couple of days ago and so they were sending me their best wishes. They even sent in a new barrel collar for me to wear, which was really nice because the cloth in this one is starting to wear down.”

 

“Ahh, didn't even know it was ya birt'day: 'appy belated birt'day, Bernie.”

 

“Oh don't sweat it, I know we haven't talked too often so it's alright.”

 

The legs would be a nice birthday gift too, then...and it'd be a nice show for all the 'ard work 'e does for us... Rockbell nodded, “I'll make ya somethin' next time, cross my 'eart onnit.”

 

“Aw, Rockbell, you're really nice you know that?” Bernie's tail thumped even faster against his wheels, “You know, yeah...I think if a lot of the dogs only see you for your toughness, but if they spent a little bit, they'd see you're pretty nice too.”

 

“I've been 'earing that a lot today...”

 

“Oh, from who?”

 

“Bun-bun'd told me that today, too.”

 

“Pfft, yeah, I figured someone like him would be up to date with everything that gets passed through the grapevine. Oh, look, there's Ken! Let's show him what we've brought in!”

 

As they crossed the southern gate, the black and tan Shiba was quick to approach them; his cloak looked a little stained and tattered—like something else besides Kap'tan had stolen it—and Rockbell noticed he had an unusually worn out expression written all over his face, “Glad to see someone noticed the note I left in this camp, thanks you two.”

 

“Of course, Ken,” Bernie beamed, “Anything to be of help! Do you want us to drop everything in the harvest pile?”

 

Ken looked like he was about to say yes, but then a somewhat resigning sigh escaped him, “Actually, no...I think I have an idea.”

 

He glanced over to his right, spotting his two feisty Pomeranians of interest, “Poppy, Poof? Bernie and Rockbell brought back more coconuts and I need someone to...”

 

The Shiba seemed to grimace before uttering the horribly-made pun, “...'Axe-sassinate' them.”

 

“Oooh, sis, did you hear that?!” with zero hesitation, as expected, Poof immediately came dashing over to the southern gate with her sister at her heels. “He said the codeword!”

 

“You bet Poppy did!” the tan-colored Pomeranian affirmed, eyeing her holster in anticipation, “Don't start without me, Poof! Look's like today's not so boring after all!”

 

“YEAH! We get to chop things!!”

 

“And we can pretend they're the faces of cats!

 

“YEAH!”

 

Ken grunted as he helped Bernie and Rockbell out of their wagon harnesses, “I'd get out of the way if I were you, knowing how those too furballs get; Kap'tan's been making them stay more at camp for training until we scout out what's been happening with the Ursines.”

 

“Aha, explains the 'boring' we 'eard, doesn't it?” Bernie grinned as both he and Rockbell obliged, following Ken to an area away from oncoming mini-stampede of two very pent-up, eager to battle sisters.

 

“Yep...it's for their own good.” Ken then took a seat and began casually licking his paw.

 

“Uh, Ken,” Rockbell brought himself to speak up, “Ya...alright? Ya seem...tired. More tired th'n ya I always see ya, ya know?”

 

“Yeah, I'll be fine—just got into a scuffle with Kap'tan,” he abruptly stopped licking the pad of his paw, remembering the altercation, “Turns out those feline savages decided to turn the tables on us and make a pact with the Ursines: they promised them more land and food in Lupinia, if they help them detain us. We got jumped by some guerrilla grizzlies and had to make a retreat; one of them nicked me as I was covering Kap'tan.”

 

Bernie's ears drooped, “I'm sorry I wasn't there, I...I don't know if Ben told you, but I injured myself and I figured it was--”

 

Ken shook his head, “Save it, Bernie, the bear soldiers jumping us 'cause of Gideon pulling some strings behind the scenes isn't your fault, so don't blame yourself.”

 

He then stretched his haunches before shaking his fur, “Anyways, I better make sure Poppy and her sister don't get too trigger-happy with cutting the coconuts. You two enjoy yourselves—see if you can get any of the others to do some supply runs too while I hunt down Kap'tan and Lyra to figure out battle plans with this new information. I'll make sure I go update the stock numbers so everyone else knows we're not low again”

 

Bernie, still looking somewhat ashamed, only nodded his head, doing his best to acknowledge his superior's words.

 

Rockbell let out a grunt of understanding, “We'll do our best, Ken.”

 

As Ken headed off, Rockbell figured it was time he headed down to his forge and start working on schematics and figuring out materials he needed; he couldn't stick around Bernie for too long, it was already hard enough keeping the whole project a surprise, “Ahem, ah, Bernie...”

 

Bernie's ears perked up a little, “Oh, yes?”

 

“I gotta 'ead back to my den, got weapons to make 'n' mend,” the English bulldog gestured to his nose, “Are ya...do ya need anyone to 'elp wit' ya nose?”

 

“Oh, that's alright, thank you,” the young pup looked over at the Cauldron Den, “I better go head in there and see if anyone needs help—that, and I should restock the potions supply, too: I could use a little something to aid my nose pain.”

 

Just as he was about to leave, Bernie halted in his tracks and glanced over at Rockbell, “Thanks for everything again, Rockbell, you're a pretty good dog, too.”

 

“Ah, it's nothin',” the blacksmith insisted, trying to prevent his hips from swaying upon receiving such sweet praise, “It's really nothin'...”

 

Once he had crawled back into the forge den, Rockbell began taking inventory of his available supplies; he needed more silver ore and a handful of blue embers to power the sensors and have them infuse with Bernie's aura, his life force. Keeping his peeled for any visitors at the entrance, the blacksmith used his magic to visualize the design of the legs and which parts he should forge first.

 

Seeing that he had enough ore for it, Rockbell decided to craft the portion of the prosthetics that would fit onto the base of Bernie's thighs. He figured he would leave in the evening, when Bernie and most of the other dogs were fast asleep, to gather more ore when he ran out. Much to his surprise, the blacksmith didn't have any incoming requests or customers approach his den for the rest of the afternoon. By the time he could tell the sun was setting, Rockbell had made the pieces that would provide support and attach onto Bernie's thighs, the numerous rotating ball and joint sockets that would allow the hind legs to move and rotate, and one of the metal bases for the paw pad sensors.

 

He was taking a well-needed break from his work, resting just outside the forge den when he could hear pawsteps approaching his direction, getting closer and closer. Somewhat groggy, Rockbell slowly opened his eyes and stretched, making himself stand up to give full attention to the dog coming his way.

 

“Hey, Rockbell!” Ben greeted him from afar, the plucky Bernese Mountain Dog bounding towards him with his tail slightly raised in excitement, “Were you sleepy? Ken and the others noticed you weren't at the meeting.”

 

Rockbell stifled down a yawn, “Sorry 'bout that...'ad to work on a big project 'n' it took all my energy.”

 

“Ohh, well hope it's done soon—I've got some big news!”

 

“'Big news?'”

 

“Yeah! Well, basically, it's really, really, life-risking, but Kap'tan's made me temporary leader of the camp while he's away!”

“Wait, w'at?” Rockbell barked in surprise, “W'at do ya mean 'temporary leader?' W'at in dog's name 'appened w'ile I was out?!”

 

“Well, Ken told everyone that he and Kap'tan found out about Gideon and the Felidae-Ursidae Pact meant to take us out. So, they decided that he, Lyra, Poppy, Poof, Kap'tan, Scorchy, and Ruu are gonna come with them to scout. But in the meantime, they need someone to keep bearings and stock up at camp and Kap'tan thought I'd be great for the job, since it's a chance for me to be a leader!”

 

A second of silence passed before Ben corrected himself, “Well, Ken said that's what Kap'tan probably said? And, y'know, Ken is pretty good at guessing what he's saying, of course!”

 

“Ah, two 'n' eight, Kap'tan's lost 'is 'ead...”

 

“Hey, hey don't worry, I'll be able to handle it okay?” Ben leaned in, standing on the tips of his paws to whisper, “I got Yang helping me out, too! Oh, and Tiffany! We'll be in good paws, trust me!”

 

“Mmf...I'll do my best to 'elp ya, too.”

 

“Great, I'll happily take it!” the whelp slid past him, “Say, what were you working on for the whole day, anyway? Can I see?”

 

“Wait!” Rockbell almost tripped, trying to run after him, “Stop! Don't go in there, ya lid, that's my personal--”

 

“Oooh!” Ben exclaimed in awe, the bulldog being too late in his efforts to stop the pup from peeping in, “What're are--”

 

“Oi, 'ush it, dustbin lid!” Rockbell snapped, making Ben's tail droop down in between his legs.

 

He sighed upon seeing the whelp looking frightful, “Look, it's...”

 

After taking one last glance at the entrance, double-checking that no dog was listening in, Rockbell lowered his voice and murmured, “I'm makin' something for Bernie. T'e w'eelc'air 'e 'as jus' ain't gonna do--'im falling on his face like that? No lid needs to be walkin' around askin' for injury like t'at! 'Sides, it was 'is—did ya know it was 'is birthday some week ago? Jus' would be nice for 'im to 'ave as a belated gift appreciation, too, but it's gotta be a surprise, ya get it? I want 'im to be surprised.”

 

Ben slowly blinked at the English Bulldog, remaining speechless for a few minutes before squealing, “Oh my dog, Rockbell that's so--”

 

SHH!”

 

“Oh, right,” he pinned his ears back, trying to listen and make sure no one else was close by, before muttering, “That's so sweet of you!! Dawwww, who would've thought the toughest guy in came had the heart of a pork chew??”

 

“Listen,” Rockbell stared up at him assertively, “Ya gotta keep it a surprise, alright? It won't do nothin' if it ain't a surprise for the lil' pup, okay?”

 

“Eep, this is gonna be so hard,” Ben anxiously shifted on his paws, but his tail was moving at a thousand miles per hour, “But alright! As your temporary leader, I will make sure no one else stops by your forge without a notice in advanced!”

 

“Appreciate it, Ben,” with that, Rockbell grabbed his sledgehammer and levitated it back into his holster, “I'm goin' out for supplies tonight; mind standin' watch over the forge for me?”

 

“Sure, but wait: you're going out right now?”

 

“Yup...need more supplies for the legs. I won't be long.”

 

“Alright, but you might wanna be careful?”

 

“W'y?”

 

“Um, San's part of the night watch tonight.”

 

“Bollocks, of course s'e is...” Rockbell sighed, “Thanks for the 'eads up...I'll figure somethin' out.”

 

San was going to be a slight wrench in plans as she did not approve, or more accurately: “not permit,” anyone traveling to areas in proximity of the mountain mines. And, unfortunately, the mine where Rockbell harvested silver ore was part of the path that lead to the mountain mines, the very area she preached often to Kap'tan about destroying. Due to this, she and Rockbell tended to clash when it came down to their ideals.

 

“Haa...just keep calm...keep calm...maybe if s'e 'ears it's for Bernie's sake, s'e could lighten up...” the bulldog psyched himself as he approached the eastern gate, spotting the red she-husky's approaching him.

 

“Halt,” she stepped in front of Rockbell, eyeing him from head to paw, “Where are you headed for tonight?”

 

“I'm 'eaded for the Charred Mines, San.”

 

“You are aware of--”

 

He cut her off quickly, having heard her song and spiel so many times before, “I am.”

 

“Then you'll destroy it, the mine?”

 

“No.”

 

“Then you're not going,” San dismissed him, pointing in the direction of his forge, “Head back to your crafting den.”

 

“San, we need weapons—we can't make 'em if we don't 'ave metal!”

 

“Those mines were built on the sacred grounds of the mountain spirit, and you wish to desecrate its lan further?” she drew her lips back in a snarl, “With our captain, I understand quelling the attack from the Felines is forefront, but you? You bear no grounds to keep those wretched mine places in tact!”

 

“The Charred Mines're only a few yards off that path 'n' go nowhere near that bloody mountain,” Rockbell growled, “Or ya wanna forget that blade on ya axe is crafted from the finest metal, too?”

 

A strong gust of wind blew past the blacksmith, nearly knocking him off his paws as the stones in San's axe gleamed with a green hue in the moonlight. The weapon floated at her side, its sharp edge prodding just against Rockbell's chin, “This blade was forged in a place where the spirit permitted me to forge it. I did not impose myself and disrupt the life that were already present there: do not insinuate I would ever do such a thing, ever again.”

 

Her fiery, amber eyes burned into his soul as she stared him down intently, “...You won't stray any further than a few yards?”

 

“Ya 'ave my word,” Rockbell never broke eye contact from her, fighting the urge to growl back, “Jus' going to the Charred Mines, 'n' coming back.”

 

“If you're not back before the torch fire simmers I'm coming after you,” San then drew her axe back into her holster and stepped aside, “Proceed.”

 

On the plus side, for the following week, Rockbell was able to sneak out of the camp just fine. Ben made sure to keep watch on the forge at night and, despite his clear struggle of wanting to tell everyone and Bernie what the surprise was, he did a fairly good job of telling a white lie and dissuading anyone from poking their head in. Of course, everything had to have some form of a trade off, and it came as no surprise that San applied for night watch every night during that entire week period.

 

The drill went down the exact same way it did the first time, mostly: San would interrogate Rockbell where he was going, argue with him about the how immoral it was for him to be foraging metal in an abandoned mine shaft that desecrated spirit grounds, but ultimately let him go every time he emphasized he'd stay far away from the mountain further down the path. At one point, he really had to wonder if San kept pestering him just because she wanted to see if she could “win,” or if she kept approaching him out of not buying that he was gathering ore for general purposes but wanted to appear as if she were fighting on the hill she wished to die on.

 

Regardless, Rockbell could finally sigh a breath of relief in the steaming confines of his forge: the pair of movable, metallic legs was finished. The blacksmith had just finished pouring cold water on the freshly forged item, but the last support plate attachment was made and all that was left was to infuse the pieces of metal with magic and then make sure the conversion process went alright for Bernie when it came time for him to put them on.

 

“If 'e doesn't take it well, this could get really, really bad...” he mumbled, pacing around his room out of stress, “Mmf...ain't good, that's what. Ain't good...”

 

“Hey, Rockbell!”

 

“Bah!” he jumped, quickly whipping around to face the voice that came from behind, “Ben? What ya doin' 'ere?!”

 

“Oh, well, I know you were still fixing up Bernie's legs, but,” the tricolored whelp cleared his throat, donning his best professional tone, “Kap'tan and his scouting group has returned! I think they're gonna be looking for you?”

 

“Aw, bugger off,” Rockbell growled furiously, facing the pair of legs laying on the forging table, “I 'aven't put magic in 'em yet—they're gonna spill it to Bernie if I ain't quick.”

 

“What if,” Ben tilted his head in thought, “What if we just told them? Like, told them before Bernie comes out? Lyra knows magic stuff, so she could probably help out, right?””

 

“'Ave ya seen the lid around? See 'im at any point when ya were greetin' Kap'tan 'n' 'is plates?”

 

“No? I didn't spot him among the crowd greeting them, so that means it could work, right?”

 

“T'at's...” Rockbell shook his head, “...Alright, go 'n' tell 'em. I gotta stay 'ere and put the magic in this thing.”

 

“You got it!” Ben scampered off, “Don't worry, Rockbell, I'll make sure it's still a surprise!”

 

The bulldog drew a breath of composure before placing his paw atop the joints of Bernie's legs and began murmuring the incantation of the spell. He shut his eyes as he could feel his aura manifesting outside of himself and seeping into the pair of metal, feeling a small piece of his soul infusing into his craft. About a few minutes later, he uttered the last portion of the chat and felt the abrupt “snap” back to reality, cuing that the spell was complete. All that was left now was to get Bernie over to the den and maybe have someone like Lyra watch over in case Bernie couldn't handle the sensations of having limbs again.

 

And right on time, Rockbell heard a familiar voice call out from the entryway of his den, “No way! Rockbell was a total dork and made something for Bernie?!”

 

“Um, Lyra,” Ben sheepishly tried to correct her, “It's supposed to be a surprise, so--”

 

Rockbell huffed before facing the company of Ben, Lyra, and Kap'tan, “So shut ya yap, retriever! Someone could've 'eard ya!”

 

“Anddd there you go back to being prickly and rude again,” she let out an indignant humph of disapproval, “I was just going to ask if you could make me something for my birthday next year!”

 

“A 'shame' that I'll never 'ave the chance.”

 

Lyra didn't seem to heed his dry sarcasm, “Yeah, it sure is, and I'm nooot going back on it, either!”

 

“I'm sure ya won't,” he segued the conversation back to the topic at hand, “Look, I've got a gift for lil' Bernie, but I dunno 'ow 'e'll take the conversion. Doesn't seem like 'e's felt what it was like to 'ave his 'indlegs for years and I need someone to 'elp me in case things go wrong.”

 

Lyra, like an overgrown puppy, had her head lifted high and haughty, giving Rockbell the cold shoulder.

 

“...” Rockbell shook his head, grumbling an especially sour-tongued swear before looking at her and adding, “I'm sorry for snappin' at ya, earlier, just don't want things bein' spoiled—worked really 'ard on this for the past seven days.”

 

“Hmm...” Lyra opened one of her eyes, letting out a slightly dramatic, thoughtful hum, “It's tempting...”

 

“I'll make ya anything ya want for ya birt'day.”

 

“Alright, done deal!” she then promptly took a seat beside him, “Sooo, who's gonna drag Bernie back here?”

 

“I can do it!” Ben piped up, “I've been dying to do it for the whole week you guys were gone!”

 

“Haa...ya already been doin' a lot,” Rockbell gestured for him to go, “Fine...go get the lil' lid.”

 

“On it!”

 

As they waited for Ben to return, Lyra didn't hesitate to start chatting up a storm with the blacksmith as always, “Alright, Rockbell, so I'm definitely going to make you a list for what I want on my staff—it also needs to be sturdy for the case I need to use it as a stick!”

 

“Ya mean if ya go 'n' get scared by bears again?”

 

“I wasn't scared, I was surprised—there's a difference!” the golden retriever put her paw on top of his head, pressing down on it out of annoyance.

 

“Oiii, quit rubbin' ya claws onnit ya daft duck-grabber—that 'urts!”

 

“Not stopping until you admit that I was surprised, not scared.”

 

“I ain't doin' ya nothin'!”

 

“Um...guys?” a gentle, confused voice spoke from the entrance, “What's going on?”

 

“Uh!” Rockbell shook himself free from Lyra's paw upon seeing Ben had brought Bernie over. Quickly, he padded his way over to him and began stammering, “Ah, well, uh...so, uh, Bernie, ya remember that talk we 'ad 'bout a week ago?”

 

The younger pup tilted his head at him, “Um...what did we talk about again?”

 

“Ah--” Rockbell growled a little upon hearing Lyra snicker quietly behind him, “We talked about ya wheelchair.”

 

“Oh, yeah!” Bernie nodded, “What about it?”

 

“I, uh...so...” the bulldog puffed out his chest, trying to seem composed, “Well, considerin' it was ya birt'day sometime back, 'n' ya fell on your face luggin' those wheels 'round...I made ya something.”

 

With that, he then stepped aside, letting the new, shining pair of metallic legs come into Bernie's view, “'Appy belated birt'day, Bernie, ah...I get those wheels are special to ya, so if ya don't want 'em, I get it, but...I wanted to make it for ya.”

 

Bernie's jaw trembled in shock, “Rockbell, is that...did you...”

 

Lyra finished his words for him, resting one of her paws around the bulldog's broad shoulders, “Yep! He was a big ol' sweetie and made you something because he thought you deserved it—ask Ben!”

 

“It was very hard to keep it a secret, Bernie!” Ben protested, gently nudging his friend closer to the pair, “But it was worth it, and gave me something to look forward to as your temporary camp leader. C'mon, do you wanna try them on? We brought Lyra here to help in case things go wrong? Rockbell said something about magic making things weird.”

 

“Ah, it's just...” Rockbell cleared his throat, “I figured it's been awhile since ya felt w'at it was like to 'ave 'indlegs again, so...”

 

Tears began welling up in Bernie's olive-green eyes, resolving himself to only nod in confirmation as he knew no words could come out of him even if he wanted. Rockbell had to look away, knowing that if he kept staring he'd end up getting watery-eyed himself; he wasn't sure what was going through the whelp's head, but he could imagine something that really wasn't too much hassle for the blacksmith in the end, must've meant the world to him.

 

Having steeled his resolve a little, he helped Ben take the wheelchair's harness off of Bernie and grabbed the pup by his scruff to position his thighs close to the pair of legs. Lyra gently nudged the side his face in comfort, before instructing him, “Alright, buddy, so what I need you to do is close your eyes, try to calm yourself down, and focus on the legs, okay? You're gonna feel super weird, and it kinda might hurt, too? Y'know that feeling you get when your paws fall asleep and then you try to move them to get them awake again and it' hurts?”

 

Bernie nodded his head.

 

“Yeah you might probably feel that? Maybe a little worse since, uh, you haven't had legs in...forever. Anyways, just know the greatest sorceress right here with you, so if anything goes wrong you can count on me! Got it?”

 

“Y-yeah...” the pup's voice was shaking, “I got it.”

 

He repeated the process similar to what Rockbell had done earlier to embed the magic into the legs. However, this time around, Bernie suddenly winced, his body trembling as the limbs began to move on their own and attach onto the stumps that were his thighs. A pained, high-pitched yipe escaped him, Bernie digging his claws into the dirt and convulsing slightly.

 

Ben couldn't bear seeing anymore of this, “Lyra, do something! He's in pain!”

 

“Wait, wait,” she shouted back at him, “Just wait a bit, it could be temporary...”

 

Rockbell barked out of frantic anger, “Temporary my arse! 'E's in--”

 

All three of them yelped as a minor foreshock in the den knocked them off their paws, accompanied by a loud twang and a flash of some sort of bright green light. Rockbell's ears were ringing, the sounds of Lyra and Ben's groans of pain were extremely muffled for him, but he did his best to get back up on his paws and regain his usual vision. It took him a few minutes, but he managed to stumble towards Bernie's silhouette, shrouded in the debris of smoke seeping out of the den and into the camp.

 

“Bernie...” Rockbell called out, unable to tell how loud his own voice was due to his ears still recovering, “Bernie, ya...are ya alright?”

 

There was an uneasy moment of silence, the blacksmith being unable to hear anything making him fear the worst before suddenly, just as the smoke began to clear, he could see Bernie's figure stagger up.

 

“Ow...oww...oww...” came his soft grunts as his hindlegs wobbled, like he were a newborn fawn learning how to walk. Despite this, the young pup kept trying to move forward, moving one paw forward and trying to remember which hind leg came afterwards, “Ah...this is...this is...”

 

“Mmnph, easy, Bernie, easy!” Ben staggered up and padded over to his friend, “Don't push yourself so much, you're still--”

 

Bernie suddenly stopped, moving all four of his paw pads and digging his back paw pads into the dirt, “I...I never realized...”

 

He suddenly began to break down and cry, prompting Ben to rub his head up against his face, “What's wrong, Bernie? Does it still hurt?”

 

“I never realized...how heavy the wheelchair was on my back...” slowly the Saint Bernard's voice turned from shaky joy into that of a high, newfound euphoria. Despite still being a bit clumsy, Bernie suddenly bounded over to Rockbell, butting his head against his side as he headed out of the den, “C'mon, Rockbell, Ben, run with me! I wanna play tag on the mossy stones in the training grounds!”

 

“GAH, WAIT A MINUTE!” Rockbell protested at the sudden, overt gesture; Ben and Bernie didn't seem to head him as Bernie had no issue grabbing Rockbell by one of the folds along his neck and dragging him out of the den—perhaps he made the legs too durable, “Wait! Stoppit! I ain't a lid, ya daft bloke! OI! Ya listenin' to me?!”

 

Eventually, Lyra went around informing Ken and the other camp members the context of the loud noise from earlier as the trio of dogs began to chase and wrestle each other around on the stone-covered dirt grounds. Bernie's smile had never been so wide, so full of joy, not since the kind doctor from long ago had crafted him the wheelchair to help him walk. Playing with his comrades, under the context of them sincerely appreciating his gifts, was something new and strange for the tough-as-nails Rockbell, but...it wasn't too bad.

 

Well, once he got used to Bernie head rubbing him like crazy and giving him a few licks of thanks, it wasn't too bad. Though, he couldn't help but grumble a little as, from the corner of his eyes, Lyra was grinning slightly—maybe it was best, for now, he didn't think too much about what following up on that birthday promise for her would entail.

 

From afar, Kap'tan flashed the playing group a smile before putting his nose to the ground and sniffing his way towards the forge. The discarded harness and pair of brass wheels of Bernie's wheelchair lay in the dirt, slightly worn and faded as if it were an end of an era.

 

«Ах,» Kap'tan sighed contently, before promptly deciding to bury the wheels in more dirt, «всегда была старая поговорка: кузнецы - это кузнецы металлических деревьев. Они выносливы и выносливы, но, в свою очередь, их сок питателен и нежен.»


Thankfully, Rockbell didn't trip over the buried lump when he returned to clean out his forge later that day. Funny how luck always seemed to be on Kap'tan's side, even when it really shouldn't.