The black dog kept pace with them, growling.

Manastabal, his guide, held up her hands. “We haven’t left the road. We haven’t harmed any of yours. We haven’t eaten anything. You have no quarrel with us.”

The dog bared its teeth, but came no closer. Alex raised his rifle, then hesitated. The black dog considered him, considered Manastabal, then disappeared black into the fog, the night, the choking ivy.

“Why didn’t you shoot?” asked his guide, not scolding, just curious.

“Wasn’t sure I’d kill it. I’m a lousy shot. And–” He trailed off, uncertain.

“Good enough.” She turned and led him deeper into the woods. He was fairly certain she was as lost as he was, but she set a brutal pace and he lacked the breath to ask. “Don’t try if you aren’t sure. And even then, better to err on the side of caution and hold fire.”

“Then why give me a gun? Why even carry one?”

She looked back at him, her face an unreadable abstract in the half-light. “Tradition. Nothing more.”