New to the Neighborhood
The forest was still. Ever so still. The typical vitality of the vegetation was now dull in color, all of it moist with dew and waiting for the sun’s embracing kiss. But that wouldn’t be for some time now. The sun, the one these plants worshiped and loved so dearly, was slow to appease to them, as the darkness of night carefully gave way to the hazy morning. Mist enveloped these woods, slithering around tree trunks and hovering just over the tall grasses, as if afraid to be pricked by their sharp tips.
Just like the forest around her, Eira Aune desperately wished that the sun would arrive. But as early morning came, the fog thickened, and it only heightened the girl’s fears. High above the soggy ground, Eira held onto a thick branch stretching up out into the air as her eyes darted all about the ground below. The cries had long since ceased, making her believe either her companions were still in hiding or worse: they had been caught.
Her green cloak helped her to blend into the environment, and it was certainly something she was thankful for. With her hood up over her golden-brown hair, her wide eyes never blinked as her heart raced along. If she ever did, she thought, she might miss something detrimental to her survival. Following a nervous sigh she closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing down to a more appropriate rate, one that might not make her so noticeable. With a gulp she tried to evaluate what had happened. It all happened so quickly, she thought. No room for thought, no time to think in the chance that everything might have ended right then and there.
Things were so typical and routine, it seemed, when Eira and the others set off this morning. As they always had before, they went out in the early morning to collect plants, herbs, and anything useful to take back to the village. From young girls to the older women, the Green Folk girls always trekked together, with a skilled bowman or two with them. But this morning was different. It was one every Folk feared. They were being hunted.
Not by wolves, however. No, Eira would have preferred wolves to this beast, perhaps a big cat instead, or even a pack of giant Wildeboar. Said to be a man back from the dead and gone mad from wandering so long in the woods, the Coffin Spawn was believed to be so stealthy and fearsome that by the time one knew it was around it was already too late. Anyone who ventured off into the forest had to respect its very name.
For most Green Folk, there was no respect. Only fear. Fear in knowing that each morning they left home to find food there was always another predator out to get them. It made Eira hold onto the branch even tighter, as if begging the tree to protect her. Her lower lip quivered as she continued to scan the ground below. But there was something new. A certain stillness lingering in the air made her heart race even faster.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, the young woman slowly turned around. Hopefully, she thought, she had simply encroached upon a bird’s nest, or even a big cat’s napping place. But these were out of the question, however, when she felt a stiff, cold hand dig deep into her shoulder. Wickedly pointed claws tore her cloak when Eira was pulled back and away from the tree.
Clutching her satchel as she screamed, Eira crashed to the ground with a heavy thump. A cloud of air escaped from between her lips with the landing and disappeared into the morning mist. What’s more, the knife typically strapped to her belt had fallen free and landed some ways away from her. The fall was hard. Now winded and defenseless, the timid Green Folk could think of little else to do than curl up into a little ball and await her doom. She wanted to cry as she could only imagine running. The air in her chest, however, was unable to give her enough energy to do so, as she coughed and gagged for a fresh breath. It left her with one option. To plead for her life. She quickly buried her face into her bag and whispered her farewells to those who mattered most to her.
She heard something land on the ground, knowing too well what it was. Save for the soft steps it took, the Coffin Spawn could have easily concealed its final strike until the last moment. With its beady black eyes and skull-like grin, the creature licked the backs of its sharp teeth as it approached the girl. Its arms were quite elongated, almost half as long as it was tall, and it walked on its pointed knuckles. This only made the Coffin Spawn look sickly when coupled with its gaunt form and milky-white skin.
It closed in slowly, teeth coated in thick spit as it seemingly savored its next kill. Its nostrils, flat and skeletal in appearance, flared as it smelled the girl. How it would enjoy this meal. On all fours, it trotted over toward her eagerly. Drool began to roll down its pointed chin when a bony hand reached out to roll the girl over, just to see her face and expose her soft neck.
Instead, however, it felt its teeth crack when Eira brought her foot up and shot it forward before making her escape. Blood gushed from its nostrils as it gave a frightening scream. Its hands came up to comfort its face as Eira started to get away. Lowering its long, spindly fingers until they tapped rapidly on its slimy chin, its black eyes narrowed before it gave a bone-chilling cry. This one was not going to get away.
In a flurry of motion and a swiftness of but a few seconds, the creature darted after Eira on all fours and brought her down, with its hands and feet forcing her to the ground. It gave a satisfied hiss as it looked deep into the girl’s eyes. It would only relish in its meal more now. Eira still fought and struggled, but under the Coffin Spawn’s surprising strength, she had the underlying feeling that it was all over. She took a single fearful breath before clenching her teeth and waiting for the worst, despite her instinctual pleas to keep fighting. Thoughts came rushing into her head, from family to her earliest memories. She could hear words echo in her head as a fond memory returned to her, one belonging to a young man she once cared deeply for. Despite her honest intentions, her heart sank once more as she was only to be rejected in favor of another. What a memory to die with, she thought when her eyes slowly opened once more. She did not meet with the beast’s eyes, but rather, that single heart-breaking thought had her reliving the events before her eyes. Her chest felt heavy as drops of spittle splashed her chin. She was ready.
As the Coffin Spawn opened its toothy jaws and prepared to taste the girl’s sweet flesh, something in the forest stirred. It looked up, dark eyes wide as endless smells filled its nose. The gentle, pine-like scents signified herbivores, but there were other smells too. Wicked ones. With another sniff and a smell here, the beast came to believe this meant only one other thing. Carnivores, and a lot of them at that.
Too frail for a skirmish with a big cat or a pack of wicked Wildeboar, the Coffin Spawn took off, savoring the smell of its prey one time as it glanced back. With a disgruntled hiss it disappeared into the mist, leaving Eira all alone in the woods.
Eyes shut and fists holding her bag tightly, there came the expectation of teeth biting down on her. But for moments it never came, when Eira relaxed. She looked up and around. The Coffin Spawn was gone, at least in her field of vision. The blasted fog made it difficult to see, however. After a few moments of peace, when she could finally hear a bird’s song echo off in the distance, she got to her feet and dusted herself off. A gentle smile crossed her face, knowing that her life had been spared. Perhaps the Coffin Spawn had retained some of its supposed humanity, she thought, and with that, it might have spared her out of pity. Still, she wouldn’t have cared to see it again to thank it, when she wiped a single tear from her cheek.
With an energetic, almost childish snicker she started off. Her eyes were cast to the ground, as was a tendency of hers, even on bright and clear days. She grasped the strap of her satchel tightly, quite like a loved one, and continued on with a smile. All she had to do now was find the others.
But a trumpeting cry stopped her in her tracks. Eira paused for a moment, trying to place the noise under something she was aware of. Escaped horses never ventured this deep into the forest, and even this was too low-pitched to be one of them. Deer could hardly an semblance of such a noise, let alone other herbivores. And carnivores roared in deep, booming voices. That much was for sure. What could this be? The Green Folk was left to wonder, but not for too long.
The ground beneath her rumbled when Eira slowly turned to face whatever was coming out of the fog. At first she saw nothing, but as she stood there for several moments, figures began to take shape. Large ones. Much larger than any beast she had ever seen, Eira began to run, and yet her eyes were fixed on the beasts charging toward her. Her feet soon became entangled with her cloak and she fell. What she was left to do was look up at the figures charging toward her.
Massive beasts with boasting cries charged, dwarfing Eira in size as they passed on by. Some ran on two legs, keeping their arms close to their bodies as their long, duckbilled snouts howled while others ran on four legs. These beasts, with tall, bony frills and sharp beaks, galloped in a panic. Some bird-like beasts, with long, upright necks and tails extending far behind them, soon ran past at a speed she didn’t think possible of such animals. Dirt was kicked up into the air until the girl could hardly see or breathe, making her fear she would be trampled and crushed.
To her relief, such a heavy weight never crashed down on her. Holding an arm up to shield her eyes from the thick cloud, she cautiously peeked up from over it to face one single creature standing before her. The herd of strange beasts had charged onward until they disappeared into the fog, but this creature stared at Eira curiously as the dust and debris settled back to the ground.
With a heavy gulp Eira got to her feet, clutching the strap to her satchel tightly as she looked at the inquisitive beast. Likewise, the centrosaurus, with the single, impressive horn at the tip of its snout and a bony frill at the back of its skull, cocked it head. Its lower jaws moved from left to right as it mindlessly chewed at a withered root. A habit of the dinosaur really, especially when it was dumbfounded, this creature, Eira, was unlike anything it had ever seen before. She puzzled it unlike anything it had ever seen before, and it her. She even felt her mouth drop a bit as she studied its every feature.
They stood like that for quite some time, simply staring at one another. Eira wanted to reach out and touch the creature’s hide or even its pointed beak, hopeful in the idea that it wouldn’t charge or snap at her. Certainly, she thought, if she had never seen such a creature in her life, when was it that she would see it again? What was the most curious to her, however, was that it lacked any sort of madness or coldness most beasts held in their eyes. It seemed docile enough. In fact, it seemed to stare at her with about as much humanity as any one friend of hers back home might. Hesitant at first, Eira swallowed her fears and brought a hand up. Just as she reached forward, her long, slender fingers about the brush up against the beast, the centrosaurus sniffed the air.
Eyes widening, the horned dinosaur snorted once and galloped on past the girl, nearly sending her up off her feet. Eira felt a little disheartened once her racing heart subsided, having felt some sort of connection with the beast. She watched it disappear into the mist, and a moment of silence passed.
The stillness didn't last much longer, when several small, swift creatures dashed after the dinosaur. Feathered and almost bird-like, the animals were silent in their hunt, but of what noise they did make out to one another, it were surprisingly audible, at least to Eira’s ears. They were like two-legged wolves, she thought, as they ran together into the fog. As they chased after the larger beasts, she felt herself safe, at least until she turned.
As soon as she walked in the opposite direction, one of the hunters jumped up onto her. Eira gave a surprised yelp as she lost her balance. Falling hard onto her back, the girl smacked the back of her head onto the ground, blinding her vision for but a moment. Bringing her sights up, the white haze gave way to one of the feathered creatures. She locked eyes with it just as it cocked its head in a bird-like motion.
“Ha ho! Vhat have ve here?” Arms clutched tightly to its body, the velociraptor pressed its wickedly clawed toes upon Eira’s stomach, more as a means to judge her form than to attack. Other creatures began to surround them, looking at Eira in an equally curious fashion. She blinked. Did…did it just speak? “Vhat is dis before me? Boss!” The raptor turned to the foggy abyss before them. “Vhat is dis creature?”
The forest was silent for a few moments once again. That single bird’s song some ways away had disappeared as everyone waited anxiously for what was to come. It seemed to Eira that the creature was mad, speaking to nothingness, when the mist gave way to a true monster.
Towering over the raptors several times over, it also walked on two legs. This beast, however, lacked the feathers or swiftness they did. With a hide as green as the forest and with a long, narrow skull, the giganotosaurus narrowed its eyes upon the raptor. It walked in a calm, practical manner, taking its time as it eyed Eira, when she took note of a single black stripe running from the back of its head to its tail. In a curious manner the dinosaur played with its clawed fingers while studying her. The girl, meanwhile, slowly sat up as the raptor got off of her.
“Well, whatever it is,” It purred in a low, soothing voice. “It has a nice hue about it.” Eira was surprised to see its three-toed feet carry such a massive creature so effortlessly. At least two or three times as tall as any Green Folk, the giganotosaurus towered over Eira with a grin. Fearing the very worst, the girl began to crawl backward, if just to put some space between them, but bumped into the velociraptor that pinned her down before.
“I shall do zee honors eh Boss?” He snickered with a toothy grin.
“I should think not.” With an inquiring stare the dinosaur lowered himself to Eira’s level, his hands gently scratching at the soft soil. “And just what might you be?” He asked in a contemplative manner, more to himself than to Eira. The girl felt her heart race faster upon spotting the being’s mouthful of dagger-like teeth. She looked over her shoulder to meet eyes with the accented velociraptor. With a heavy gulp and twitch of her lip, she bobbed her head forward.
“E-Eira. M-my name is Eira. Eira Aune of the Green Folk.” The raptors around them quickly chatted amongst themselves, trying to see if anyone of them had ever heard of an Eira before. The much larger creature, however, looked shocked for a moment before giving a warm smile.
“Eira? My, what a curious name. Well, it’s certainly a pleasure.” He snickered to himself. “And just where, my dear Eira Aune of the Green Folk, might you be from?” The carnivore’s welcoming warm voice served only to puzzle the girl. “What is it? I haven’t frightened you have I?” He gave a soft chuckle.
“No…y-you haven’t. I…I live here. In the forest. I’ve lived here my entire life.”
“Really?” The dinosaur cocked his head to the other side in confusion. “Odd. I’ve never seen a creature like you before, and I’ve lived every day of my life here as well.” He seemed lost in thought for several moments, when a smile returned to his snout. “Anyhow, I feel myself rude for taking this long to introduce myself. My name is Giant, simply Giant." Bowing his head, the the corner of the giganotosaur’s grin curled upward in a sharp smirk before meeting eyes with Eira again. “You seem nervous.”
“Oh…it’s…it’s nothing.” Eira forced herself to give a polite smile. “I…can only thank you for saving me.”
“I beg your pardon? Saving you? I believe I’ve only just met you.”
“Yes…but…” She gave a relieved sigh. “I’d rather not confuse you with details.” Giant’s smirk only widened when he slowly blinked.
“Ah, one for modesty eh?” He chuckled. “I like that. At any rate, however…” The giganotosaurus stood tall and ordered the velociraptors to return to the hunt with a commanding air. With their various accents and mannerisms, the raptors did as they were told, darting off into the fog with surprising swiftness. This only made Giant smile again, when he looked back down at Eira. With a pointed claw, he pointed to her. “Eira?” With a heavy gulp, she nodded.
“It’s been an honor meeting you. Until we see one another again. Hopefully sooner rather than later of course.” And with that, the suave dinosaur started off into the fog, consumed by it all too quickly. Eira turned.
“Giant?” She could still see the being’s silhouette in the fog. He stopped and looked back to her.
“I…um…might I ever see you again? Truly?” Giant smiled warmly, even if she couldn’t quite see it.
“Well I certainly hope so. But until we do, I bid you farewell Eira. Do take care, my dear.” And with that, the dinosaur disappeared into the morning fog. Still sitting, Eira stared at the mist for what seemed like an eternity. Despite what had happened, one question lingered in her mind for minutes on end. Did...did those beasts really speak to her? Had the forest made her mad? Yet, she couldn’t believe that she had. She smiled. With a decisive nod, she was certain she had just spoken to such monstrous beasts, but it left her with so many questions. Perhaps the best question lingering in her mind, however, was how was it that that creature, that Giant, make her feel better than any one man she met back home?
After a moment or two of silence, Eira got to her feet, brushing herself off once more as she looked around. The fog was beginning to dissolve as rays of morning light pierced through the haze. With her hands clasped before her, she anxiously looked from one way to another. Things were beginning to seem familiar, but those beasts were nowhere to be found or heard. It was time to get home, she thought, but one thing bothered her.Would the others believe her story?