"Soup's on! Come and get yer breakfast, Winona!"
Her ears perked up at the shouting and the ringing of bells. She recognized one of those noises. It was her name! That meant something wanted her attention.
She got up from her bed, suppressing a yawn and stretching as she let the world flow into her. Life was teeming around her; heat radiating from above, and the smells from the grass pinpointing the different types of stuff and every living thing around.
More than any of the other smells, even if that one by the tree was something worth checking out later, she could smell the smell of food.
Everything smelled like food to an extent, but the difference between food and not-food was a distinct, if a rather arbitrary, thing she didn't fully understand.
The bell continued ringing, and she took off, bounding through the fields, tongue lolling at her side. The wind whipped past her as her paws splashed through the mud. Everything smelled wet. Water must have fallen from the sky while she was sleeping, which usually made things wet and then smell like this afterwards.
She rounded the corner, barking excitedly when she saw Apple standing next to her food.
"There ya are, Winona,"Applesaid, reaching down to rub her hoof along her fur as she bounced about. "Got some nice fresh apples for ya, along with a little something extra."
She barked in response, wagging her tail. Out of the noises her master was making, she recognized the word apple. It was a funny word. They said it a lot, and she was never really sure exactly what it meant. It had something to do with food, which was good, but it also had something to do with her master, which was confusing. So she thought of her as Apple.
She dug into her meal greedily, lapping up all the sweet, juicy morsels. Her nose told her there was something more, and after a little bit of digging, she found it. Something salty and oh so tasty. She didn't know what it was, but gulped it down, barking her appreciation.
Apple made soft barking sounds in response. "I do spoil you, sometimes. Borrowed a little bit of fish from Fluttershy. Don't go telling Granny."
She finished scarfing down the rest of her food and barked again, wagging her tail. When they made noises at her, it only seemed appropriate to make noises back. It certainly appeared to make Apple happy.
After food usually came something else. Sometimes Apple would want her to go play with her and the big wooly things. It was a fun game, but exhausting at times. Other times she'd just want to play with the stick, or the ball, or roll around in the mud. That was her favorite.
In hopes of nudging Apple in the right direction, she ran over to a nearby tree and picked up a stick, brought it back to Apple, and dropped it on the ground. She barked again, in case Apple didn't understand what she was trying to tell her.
Apple shook her head, making those low barking sounds again. "Sorry Winona, don't have time to play today. I have to head to the market and make some sales. Keep an eye on Apple Bloom for me, would you?"
Those words stood out to her again, but she didn't have any context to make them relevant. Apple's tone was familiar, though. It resembled what it sounded like when she said no, which was bad, but it wasn't as forceful, so it wasn't directed at her.
She let out a small whine as Apple turned and began to walk away, but quickly perked back up. Playing with Apple would have been fun, but being on her own was fun too. There were always animals to chase or strange smells to explore.
Speaking of strange smells, she remembered that she had already found one today, and it deserved to be checked out.
It wasn't far to get back to the fields where she had first noticed it, but there were so many other interesting sights and smells that tugged at her attention. Down by the creek there was a trio of those sour smelling hoppy things that she loved to chase into the water. She had managed to catch one, once, but Apple had just raised her voice in disapproval at her... and it had tasted kind of bad, anyway.
That mysterious odor finally reached her nose again, and she quickly traced it back to its source: a small stick underneath a tree.
That was good! She liked sticks. It was kind of an odd shape and color though, not like other sticks. It also smelled kind of like smoke, and like something else strange that she just couldn't place, though there was a sense of nagging familiarity to it as if she should recognize it.
Oh well. It was her stick now. She picked it up, its taste only confirming the properties of the stick that her nose had indicated to her. With her tail wagging, she trotted through the fields with the stick held up high. It was a good find, and there was probably a better place she could put it.
"Winona! Come here, girl!"
Her ears perked up. The voice calling out to her was warm and full of affection. She immediately turned to run and answer the call. Maybe she could present her new stick while she was at it.
Little Apple stood a ways down the field, with the other two next to her, smiling and waving at her, though she could smell an odd sense of worry from them over the wind.
"There you are," Little Apple said softly, reaching up and patting her on the head. "You're such a good girl, Winona."
It was always nice to be praised. She showed her appreciation by dropping the stick and reaching up to lick Little Apple across the face. She squealed in response and pulled her into a tight hug.
"Hey, what do you have there?" Little Apple asked, pointing towards the stick on the ground.
She barked. It must really have been a good find after all. She wagged her tail and pranced a bit, hoping that Little Apple would throw it.
"Wait a minute, isn't this…?" Little Apple leaned down, sniffing at the stick herself, then her face went somewhat pale.
She could smell a sharp and sudden scent of worry, so she leaned forward and gave Little Apple another lick.
"That's enough, Winona," she mumbled, pushing her away. "Girls, I think we have a problem.
"Where do you suppose she found it?" The pointy one made some noises, but she did her best to ignore her. Of the two that were often around Little Apple, she didn't really like either of them. One of them usually smelled like roses, but always tried to hug her way too tightly, and that pointy thing on the top of her head was always jabbing her when she did. The other smelled like dirt, made a lot of buzzing noises, and had once ran over her tail while riding on some sort of metal thing.
"Does it matter?" asked the buzzy one. "Either way, it means he's been down here in the fields. We have to do something, and quickly."
"Oh no!" the pointy one wailed loudly, wrapping herself around Little Apple. "What if he's hurt, or worse! What will we do?" She could smell the fear in her.
She barked, just to let them know she was still there.
"Quiet girls," Little Apple snapped. "I got an idea."
Little Apple leaned down to look her in the eyes. "Winona, can you do me a favor?"
She began to wag her tail. Maybe she was going to get to play fetch after all.
"I need to you to track down the source of this stick. Can you do that for me?"
Little Apple held the stick out to her, and she took another sniff of it. The smell was just as distinctive as it had been before. She barked, prancing around. The anticipation of the throw was one of her favorite parts. Aside from actually chasing it.
"I don't think she understands you, Apple Bloom" the pointy one muttered.
"Ugh, give that here," the buzzy one said, snatching the stick away from Little Apple. "Hey Winona, you wanna play fetch?"
She barked, orienting herself to the new stick thrower instead. She'd rather play with Little Apple, but a thrown stick was a thrown stick.
"Then go get it!" The buzzy one leaned back to throw, and she took off like a thunderbolt. She was really good at chasing sticks, and if she was fast enough she'd be able to catch it midair.
Craning her neck back, she didn't see the stick soaring through the air. Disappointed, she slowed down. Maybe the stick hadn't gone very far. Well, she wouldn't be catching it, but she could still hunt it down and bring it back. That was still pretty fun.
Her nose betrayed her; there wasn't a whiff of the stick to be found. She started rooting around. Where could it have gone? It was distinctive enough that she shouldn't have lost it.
"Go get it!" a voice called out again, though she wasn't quite sure who it belonged to. "I threw it really far. Keep looking."
She wasn't going to let a stick beat her. Especially not that stick. Poking her head past a tree, she finally caught the faintest whiff off in the distance. Maybe playing with the buzzy one wasn't so bad. She must be an exceptionally good stick thrower, even better than Big Apple.
She shot off, charging towards the edge of the field, the scent drawing her closer to her prey. The three were following after her, but she was definitely going to make it to the stick first.
She skidded to a stop just before the thick treeline. The trail very clearly led inside, but this was bad. This forest was full of all sorts of strange and unfamiliar smells, but also ones whose meaning was very clear. Sharp, acrid scents that marked the territorial boundaries of something she was sure she didn't want to cross.
"Is it in there, Winona?" Little Apple asked, panting slightly and smelling of sweat from the run.
She barked in response. Oh well. It was fun, but if the stick was in there, the game was over.
"Shoot. This isn't where we left him," the buzzy one muttered. "He really might be in danger."
"Maybe we should go get an adult," the pointy one whined. "If we try to go in there after him, we'll just get lost."
Little Apple shook her head. "I know how you feel, Sweetie Belle, but there might not be time. 'Sides, with Winona looking for us, we can be in and out in an instant."
She cocked her head at the trio.
"Come on Winona," Little Apple said, her voice soft and encouraging. "Go get the stick."
She saw Little Apple was pointing directly into the treeline, and she whined. Couldn't they smell that they shouldn't go in there?
"Come on, Apple Bloom! Even Winona thinks it's a bad idea!"
"I'm going whether the dog goes or not," the buzzy one mumbled, pushing forward past the territory mark and into the brush.
"Winona," Little Apple commanded, her voice level and forceful. "Go get the stick. Please?"
She whined again, but she did what she was told, stepping forward into the brush cautiously. Even amidst the overwhelming cocktail of new scents, the trail was still very clear to her. She pushed forward, rooting through the bushes and hearing the three tramp through behind her. It wasn't really much of a game anymore.
After a few winding twists and turns, she came into a clearing, soft light filtering through the canopy above. The trail led straight into a small hole in the ground underneath a fallen log. The smell of smoke was far more prominent and acrid here, along with that alien scent she couldn't place.
She barked at the hole, letting the others know it was there as they came out from the brush behind her.
There was a low growling sound from within the hole, and two glowing lights appeared in the darkness.
She felt her hackles raise and crouched into a defensive stance, letting out a low growl of her own. Something was alive in that hole and it had her stick.
The creature crept out of the hole, still giving off a low growl of warning as it stood at an even height with her.
She barked a warning back, although she was also somewhat confused. The creature didn't have her stick. It was her stick.
"Winona, heel!" Little Apple snapped. She ignored the command, taking a step back. She had to protect Little Apple from this thing, whatever it was.
"Chauncy!" the pointy one called out. "Don't worry, it's okay! Winona isn't going to hurt you!"
To her considerable surprise the pointy one ran over to the creature and began stroking it, making soothing noises. It twitched slightly at her approach and seemed to relax, but didn't break eye contact.
"Winona, I said heel!" Little Apple shouted, her voice carrying as much power as her small frame could muster.
She leapt backwards, trotting over to Little Apple's side, but turned back to eye the stick-thing warily.
She watched with fascination as the creature backed away, still eying her as it relaxed, leaning over to drag a large, wet leaf across the face of the pointy one, who began to emit high pitched squeals.
"Here you go, Chauncy," the buzzy one said, pulling something out of a sack. "We figured you might be missing this."
The object that was held out to the creature turned out to be her stick. They must have picked up somewhere, though it still seemed a little off to her. With a strange glow and a fresh wave of that alien smell, the stick floated into the air and oriented itself at the backside of the creature, where it began shaking back and forth. With a flash of insight, she realized it was wagging its tail.
She gave her tail a few cautious wags herself, still eyeing the creature with uncertainty.
"Chauncy, this is Winona," the pointy one said, gesturing towards her. "And Winona, this is Chauncy," she continued, pointing at the creature.
She took a few step forwards, extending her nose in a tentative greeting. The creature mirrored her steps, and they met in the middle of the clearing, taking their measure of each other's scents.
Up close she noticed the mix of odd smells; the smoke, the thing she couldn't recognize, but there was also the strong scent of trees, and flowers, and all sorts of other good things. She gave a happy bark and began to wag her tail in earnest. Maybe she could make a new friend?
The creature barked back, wagging its tail as well, and the two of them began to prance around each other, already set to try and get behind the other and begin a game of chase.
"There, I knew they'd get along," the buzzy one said.
"I'm just glad Chauncy's okay," the pointy one said. "How do you suppose his tail ended up in your fields, anyway?"
Little Apple shook her head. "Maybe he was looking fer us? I don't really know. We probably shouldn't stick around much longer, though."
She completed a lap around the edge of the clearing, the creature playfully nipping at her heels as she ran. The trio were in front of her, and she bunched up and leapt straight over the pointy one before skidding to a halt, whipping around, and turning to give chase herself.
The pointy one made more of those shrill squealing sounds. "Aww, but they're so cute!"
A low growl echoed through the clearing and their play was cut short, a wire of tension snapping around all of them in an instant.
Two glowing eyes appeared at the edge of the clearing, and a heavy step fell. The alien smell she was beginning to associate with her new friend grew much stronger.
Her new friend whimpered slightly and backed away from her, giving off a scent of apology and shame.
Another creature, similar to her friend but far more massive, stepped into the clearing, a thunderous growl ripping through the air. Its teeth were bared; jaws bigger than her head aimed themselves towards her and the three behind her.
The scent of fear suddenly spiked, and it permeated her as well. Energy rushed through her, telling her to turn and run away as fast as she could. This was a predator, a hunter, and it might be able to catch her, but she was small and quick enough that she might be able to evade its chase if she was crafty. But…
"I told you this was a bad idea," the pointy one half-whispered, her voice quaking.
"Shut up!" the buzzy one snapped.
"I-it's okay!" Little Apple called out, her voice cracking as it shook. "We were just giving Chauncy a helping hoof, and we'll be leaving now, we promise!"
The beast lunged forward, jaws snapping.
She threw herself in front of them, raising her hackles and snapping her jaws right back, giving the most menacing bark she could muster.
The beast pulled short, looming over her. Sunlight glinted off the saliva dripping from its wooden fangs.
Her friend, this beast's offspring, she could only assume, made a soft whimpering sound from the side of the clearing, and the beast whipped its head around, snarling and causing her friend to slink away.
She didn't back away, even as the beast turned back to her with a predatory hunger in its eyes. She couldn't back away, not with the others still here.
"Winona…" Little Apple called out, choking back a sob.
This beast was protecting its young; it was an understandable instinct, but she had something to protect as well.
She continued to growl back at the beast, staring it in the eyes and not looking away for even a second. There was no possible way she could win.
Maybe she didn't care so strongly for the others, but Little Apple did, and she did care for Little Apple. For as long as she could remember, Apple was the boss who taught her the ways of the world and how to be a good dog, but Little Apple had been a pup right alongside her. They had played together a countless amount of times, running through the fields and the trees.
Little Apple was her pack. Her family. Her kin.
She wasn't going to back down.
She felt a rush of air as the jaws came just short of the tip of her nose, and the beast locked eyes with her once again, their faces level to one another. A glint in the beast's eyes said something to her this time, though she wasn't able to fully grasp what it was.
The beast pulled back, looking down at her one last time before turning away, tossing its head at her friend, who jumped to fall in step behind the beast as the pair strode into the woods together.
She didn't let herself relax until they were both out of sight.
There was a soft sobbing sound from behind her, coming from the pointy one.
"L-let's get out of here," the buzzy one said, her voice higher pitched than usual. "Now."
The three took off into the woods at a dead gallop.
"Winona, come" Little Apple shouted as she ran.
Fortunately the way out wasn't far, and before too long, they all burst from the treeline, the familiar fields of home close by.
The three stopped, panting heavily, eyes wide as she moved in next to them, still alert and wary.
"Oh, Winona," Little Apple said, her eyes cloudy with water.
She turned and barked up at Little Apple. It should be safe now.
Little Apple dived forward and threw herself around her, burying her face in her neck. "Winona,you are the best dog anypony could ever ask for, you hear me? I thought you were really going to... I love you so much."
She turned and licked Little Apple's face; the taste was somewhat salty.
She stayed like that for what felt like a long time, Little Apple making soft barking sounds. The others joined in with the hug, and while it was a bit cramped and uncomfortable, she didn't mind it, not really.
Finally Little Apple pulled back, wiping at her eyes. "Come on now, Winona. I am going to give you so many treats, okay? Just don't tell my sis what happened."
She barked, her tail wagging as she began to follow Little Apple back home.