Smoldering embers rolled over her hand, prompting Eira into a quick, surprised awakening. The piercing sting stuck with her for several moments when she saw a few raptors prodding at the remnants of the fire with their clawed feet. How they didn’t cry out in pain was beyond her, when she sat up. The two dinosaurs perked up and asked if she could bring the fire back, when she noticed it was early morning. The Wildeboar carcasses surrounded them, and save for a few wandering velociraptors, they were alone.
“Where are the others?” She asked.
“Ach, zey vent back to zee ozers, I tink Giant is over zere. Ja.” The girl stood up, and just over a daeodon body she could see Giant with his back turned, talking to someone. The other being, however, was concealed in the morning fog. Running a hand through her hair, she walked toward them when she realized it was Finn, and he hardly seemed pleased. She came closer when her hands came together apprehensively. Hopefully he wasn’t angry with her.
“Good morning, Finn.” She said softly. The two dinosaurs turned, though they didn’t offer their signature grins. Instead, Giant looked at her for but a moment and turned back.
“There you have it. Unharmed just as I said. She wound up lost last night.”
“Call yourself lucky.” Finn replied when he approached Eira and lowered himself down. “You gave me quite a fright this morning.”
“I apologize, Finn. I lost my meal and went looking for another. Giant protected me from several dangerous beasts however. I didn’t mean to get lost.” The spinosaurus looked stern for a moment, but it soon became apparent that he couldn’t remain so for long, as he smiled.
“I’m glad you’re safe, and that you’re awake at such a fine hour. Shall we get going?”
“Now, my old friend, I was sort of hoping on escorting her myself.”
“You? Escorting me?”
“Why yes, back home of course.”
“With all thanks given, Giant I only feel that your personal army will do little but scare half the forest away, and give little hope of finding Eira her home. Come quickly Eira, before the fog disappears.” The giganotosaur laughed.
“Nonsense. We offer protection. The finest in fact. Am I right, my dear?”
“Of course. But…I feel Finn is right. The lighter the load, you know? Not to mention he asked me first. I do hope to see you once I do get home.”
“I can handle myself in a fight too, you know.” Finn added.
“Of course you can, old friend. I understand completely. I hope to see you soon, my dear. Safe travels. And Finn, my men are on the move out of your lands as we speak.” Giant offered his warmest grin and watched as she waved her farewells and walked off with Finn into the thick mist. As they disappeared, Hopper appeared at his leader's side.
“Should I send Rogue to follow them?” His demeanor remained cold and distant as the two giant predators stared into nothingness.
“Yes.” The allosaurus turned and made for the others, while Giant took a deep, contemplative breath. He stood there for several minutes, when he nearly turned when something caught his attention. Sunlight began to pierce through the fog, and as the thin rays slowly grew, he swiftly looked to the path down which the others had walked on. A few moments passed, but when the fog dissipated, he could see that Finn and Eira were gone without a trace. They even failed to leave any piece of evidence of their travels through the thick forest. His eyes narrowed as his interests were only piqued.
The smell of fresh meat was simply too good for Thorn to pass up. Knowing his luck, however, it belonged to another, much larger carnivore. Swipe followed along behind him, making mindless chitchat for their endless travels. They still had yet to find any suitable leads, but this forest was massive, and their quest could take them anywhere. It was a daunting thought for the ceratosaurus, especially without the protection of Rex hovering over them. But they were both respectable carnivores in their own right, and that alone helped him to keep pushing on.
For the time they traveled endlessly, in no particular direction nor scent to guide them, Swipe remained ever lively. Always seen with his goofy grin and even goofier gait, he often hummed a mindless tune to himself, which Thorn eventually began bobbing his head to without his knowing. He shook it free from his mind and came to a halt. What was he thinking? Such tastelessness. The deinonychus stopped at his side.
“What’s up, Thorn?” They both sniffed the air and looked up a slopping hill. Though there hardly seemed to be anything up there, the two dinosaurs broke away from the trail they had grown accustomed to in search of food. For some odd reason, however, as the mist had dissipated, so too had the strong scent from earlier. Much to his grumbling stomach’s dismay, Thorn felt the search to be fruitless, and if nothing else, discouraging.
Moments after they had broken away from the path they heard a distinctive clopping noise in the distance. Completely alien to both of them, they darted off into a thicket filled with prickly flowers when strange creatures appeared before them. Swipe winced and moaned loudly as thorns caught his feathers and yanked some of them out completely, to which the ceratosaurus hissed at him to shut up.
From their only opening in the brush they saw more humans like Eira, only they wore intimidating plates of armor. They also rode proudly upon peculiar steeds exactly like the dead horse they had happened across before.
Tanner and the other knights under his command had returned to the forest with gusto, riding their impressive horses with their heads held high. Some of the armored soldiers carried with them tall flags with the red and violet Piermont Family Crest on it, which billowed about extravagantly against the green and brown forest.
Sitting on his horse’s rear end was Tanner’s prized eagle. So docile with its master and trained that even during these trips it did not require a blindfold to keep it calm. With its wide, firm eyes scanning the forest around them, it kept track of every inch. Beside the Eagle General rode Bernard, who even in his own impressive armor, didn’t seem to share in his positive energy. They rode so close to one another that Tanner was able to slap the back of his gauntlet on Bernard shoulder.
“Cheer up, old man. This might be what returns you to your former glory.”
“My glory was better than this, Tanner.”
“That’s like comparing gold to smut. Now for your sake, we’d better find that Green Folk, or something just as grand.” And with that, the platoon of armored knights and archers running behind them vanished down the path, just behind a slopping hill. Thorn was the only one to take note of their impressive metal weaponry and beautifully-carved bows. Certainly such fragile, defenseless creatures as the Eira needed weapons to fight in the wild, he reasoned. Swipe leapt from the bush covered in thick bristles and tried in vain to pull every last one of them off before looking down the path toward the sound of clopping hooves.
“The bloody hell was that, do ya think?” Thorn tore himself free of the thicket and shook his head free as well when they paused to assess what had happened. From a ways away, Tanner’s eagle felt its heart stop. Without so much as a blink it unfolded its massive wings and took flight, scaring half the soldiers behind him out of surprise. Tanner turned his horse around, prompting the others to stop as he watched his companion fly back the way they came. Something was wrong, he realized. The bird never took flight without his permission or command.
For the two dinosaurs, the forest grew still, and the clopping noise stopped. Worse yet, they heard Tanner call to investigate the voice when his eagle appeared above them. With what seemed like victory, it cried out to its master, alerting them to Thorn and Swipe’s presence. They shared a collective “Uh oh” before taking off as fast as they could. Though Swipe could have easily outrun Thorn, he felt compelled to run just ahead of him, looking back occasionally to make sure his friend was okay. It made Thorn’s chest warm for some reason as he too glanced back here and there for their safety. It was nice to have someone watching out for him again.
Meanwhile, Tanner led his troupe again as his horse galloped ahead, when he spotted the two monstrous creatures. Stopping steadfast to study them, he narrowed his eyes as a wave a relief came over him. Perhaps they wouldn’t need to have to find the Folk girl after all, if they brought these prizes to him. The eagle swooped back down to its owner’s shoulder, to which Tanner gave it his thanks. He gave the order for all armed men to pursue and corner the monsters, but save them so that he might deliver the killing blow. These were orders they enthusiastically hoped to fulfill. Heroes, they imagined themselves, slaying great beasts in these dark forests. This left Tanner and his bird with Bernard, watching the fiasco unfold before them.
“Did you happen to catch a glimpse of those things?” The Eagle General asked.
“Hardly. The forest has them now.”
“That it does. This reminds me of the tales of old, yes?” Beneath his helmet he gave a dark smirk when his eagle returned to its previous perch on the horse’s plated rump. Following the troupe of knights and archers, they rode.
Hours had passed and Rogue had returned with no clear direction to give his leader. It was like they had vanished into thin air, he said. Among his underlings, Giant was likely the most stoic with the news. Gossip ran rampant with the raptors as to what could have happened, but none of it seemed realistic, or comprehensible really, what with the smorgasbord of accents and dialects. Perhaps most surprisingly, it was Carnage amongst them all that offered what seemed to be the idea he had touched upon earlier.
“What if the Eira jumped to another world? Just like you said boss. Jumped Finn with her too.”
“It’s quite possible. Unfortunately Finn had me too preoccupied to look into the fog this morning, but…”
“But what sir?” Taurus asked as he stepped forward. Giant didn’t respond as the gears in his head clicked and turned at an alarming rate. He blinked once to snap himself free of his thoughts when he turned to the forest in the direction of the river. He called for Blade to step forward, to which the baryonyx responded sluggishly. Despite his own feelings toward the leader, Blade was hesitant about his intent, what with what had happened during their last confrontation. Giant offered his suave grin, but even he too had difficulty holding it without conveying his own putrid feelings toward the baryonyx.
“I do wonder how I will sleep at night with this decision, but Blade, I have a very important assignment for you.” The subordinate blinked once in surprise. He cocked his head as the hints of a smirk appeared along his snout.
“I’m listening, sir.”
“Do you remember that fish that has antagonized you these past few days? The one that blinks you recall? I want you to go back to the river and find it. I ask for you not to kill it but simply capture it, say in a pool you dig yourself or something. I want it alive, and I think that it might be able to answer many of our questions. Take with you whoever you will; all I ask is for Carnage and Taurus to accompany you. They will serve as messengers should you achieve your mission, with full reports back to me.” Blade was astonished by the news. Given one more chance, he’d prove himself. Not for Giant, but really, to spite him. To show him how competent he could be. He happily accepted the job. With Carnage and Taurus stepping forward, the latter gravely disliked the idea when Blade rallied up numerous others to join him.
Among Blade’s brigade included Rampage and Crash, both of whom, for one reason or another, would have been insulted if not asked by their old comrade, even if they both despised him. Crash pondered why, but could only conclude that it was simply the result of a dysfunctional bond they shared. Boulder eagerly volunteered his men to the cause, knowing that heading off with a handful of carnivores would be better than remaining with Giant and the other mouths full of teeth. As the two parties separated, Hopper appeared at his leader’s side with a smirk.
“There goes half our army.”
“I wouldn’t fret old, friend. If Blade knows what’s good for him, he’ll do as I say, not to mention we have Carnage and Taurus to keep him in check.”
“Now what does that leave us to do?” The two carnivores turned to what remained of their troupe, which mostly consisted of velociraptors and deinonychus picking Wildeboar carcasses clean with Rogue standing diligently before his leaders. Hopper, his face ever stern and stoic looked back to his leader’s widening grin. From there, he watched his eyes turned heavenward, just as the sound of thunder rumbled in the distance. Almost too perfectly for him to plan otherwise, the temperature in the forest dropped considerably in a matter of seconds when a cool breeze blew against them. The first drop of rain hit Hopper on the tip of his snout, to which he jumped in surprise.
“We simply have to wait for the mist to come back.”
Finn had become pleasantly surprised to discover that Eira was beginning to recognize their surroundings. With an eager skip, she ran to one tree in particular, which seemed to be just as any other tree in the forest when she pressed her palm up against it. She turned with a wide grin and beckoned for him to come closer, to which he saw that something had been cut into its bark.
“The first thing we do when we get lost is look for these.” It appeared to be an outline of someone’s hand, which seemed very large in comparison to Eira’s. “It lets us know someone’s been here before, and the more of them that appear the closer we are to one of the villages.” With a childish energy she looked from one way to another, to which Finn cocked his head with a coy grin.
“Now why haven’t you said something like this before? I feel as if I could have helped you look for these.”
“Because the forest around the river where you live seemed so foreign to me. I’m also certain that none of us have been there. Besides, I truly get lost at night, so these don’t come in very good use then.”
“And what makes you so confident to know that your people have never stumbled into my domain?”
“Well, the animals and trees for one. No one has ever talked about them.” Eira replied quickly as she started off toward another palm carving.
“Do go on.” Finn said as he followed her with a childish curiosity of his own. Of course she was the first human he himself had ever seen, but it was nice to keep the conversation going.
“The trees there seem taller, taller than anything I’ve ever seen, and down there I saw bugs that were bigger too. And the flying creatures in the trees, the ones with feathers all over them, I have never dreamed of such things in my life, nor have I heard of them. They were bird-like, but not quite birds. Tis strange.” Eira was definitely correct on the vegetation aspect, as Finn’s tall sail was beginning to cut into tree foliage. It was quite constricting for an animal his size, who otherwise had been spoiled by his tall forest in the valley. That was the forest he knew, however, and though there were more dense sections of the woods, this place was consistently tight and compact, as evidenced from the trees fighting for sunlight with one another. Today, however, they would have to put their grievances aside as the sun had gone for some time, and gray clouds had taken its place.
“So much for a small world.” He observed.
“And the Rusalka…” Eira paused as she placed her hand on the next carving. “She said the fog was my way home.” She slowly grew lost in thought as Finn finally caught up to her, his back sore from the branches slamming into it. Just then she turned. “There was fog this morning wasn’t there?”
“You know, I can hardly remember. I imagine so, seeing as how it’s been present nearly every morning and rain shower for…some time. Perhaps I’ve simply grown used to it.” Just as he spoke, Eira heard a single raindrop fall on her hood as her heart raced.
“We have to hurry.” With that, she turned and sought out the next palm carving, this time to be found on two trees next to one another. Much to Finn’s dismay, the forest canopy grew thicker with each step he took, when the tip of his spine crashed into a solid branch too sturdy to give way. His sail, jam-packed with sensitive nerves, was dealt a debilitating blow that had him cry out with its intensive sting. He staggered back before dipping below it, to the point at which he had to crawl low to the ground on all fours just to be safe.
With the next mark in her sights, Eira was simply too eager to wait for her friend, hoping that he would catch up once the branches cleared out above. Once there, she did wait as Finn staggered from one thick section to the next, when he perked up. Meeting eyes with her, he laughed.
“Seems like this isn’t a place for me. Don’t worry Eira, I’ll catch up. You hurry along and find your way home.”
“You promise? You promise you will?” Eira called back. Finally Finn was offered a short reprieve in the forest with a small plot to stand tall in. He offered a sincere grin.
“I have your scent, remember? Go on now, I’ll see you here shortly. I couldn't stand myself for having you wait a moment longer.” She was very hesitant on leaving him now, after coming with her for so much of the journey. But seeing him struggle in the forest, as heartbreaking as it was for her to watch helplessly, would only work to slow her down. Finn had yet to move again, as his long snout turned from one direction then another, calculating which path would prove the easiest.
If Rosy was right at all in what she told her, it was that the fog connected their worlds, and being so close to home, the last thing she needed was for a mist to arise from the coming rainstorm. When the spinosaurus urged her to go ahead again, she finally did as she was told, running off from one carving to the next, when she soon became soaked with the rain. Her teeth began to chatter with the cold, praying that the mist would hold off for just one moment longer.
Speaking of the Rusalka, Eira thought when something caught her eye. Her heart raced swiftly when meeting eyes with the the undead maiden once more, who stood some ways away with her head cocked to one side and a pleasant, if disturbing, grin lining her lips. Immediately the Green Folk froze in her footing, her wide eyes meeting with hers.
“Eira? I thought you might be that boy again.”
“What are you doing here?” Eira swallowed the lump in her throat as she tried not to run, but instead gave the spirit a firm stare.
“The rain lets me walk on land, and the mist does as well. If my hair dries out I will die. I came searching for my true love.”
“He’s not here.” Eira snapped. “Now leave.” Rosy cocked her head to the other side, her lifeless eyes and shrinking smile not helping to comfort Eira at all. She could only fool herself for so long, what with this confident girl she was quite new to, as her old, timid self began to creep back on her.
“Won’t you help me find him?” She asked, this time in the most dry, raspy voice possible. The sight was unnerving enough, but soon the girl found herself utterly terrified with the thought of what Rosy might have planning behind those pin-needle sized pupils.
“I’m afraid I can’t. I-I’m sorry, Rosy.” Eira turned and started back on toward the next tree carving, when the Rusalka hung her head, so that her sopping hair hung over her face and concealed it. She began to whimper loudly, so much so that the Green Folk found it impossible to ignore.
“I get so lonely in this world. All I want is my love to swim with me forever and always. All I want…is a friend...” She looked back up, this time with a wide, maniacal grin on her pale face. Despite her chilling words slithering up her spine, Eira chose to ignore Rosy as she continued on her path. Without so much as a sound, a shadow loomed over her. She stopped to swallow, as fear began to grow in strength. Against her own instincts, she turned, only to meet the spirit’s eyes mere inches away from her own. Water oozed from her mouth. “My…friend…”
Eira nearly fainted right there in terror, if not for her body’s demanding cries to run. Nowhere in particular, but just from Rosy. A bony hand with elongated fingers came up to grab her when the girl tore herself away. Watching her go, the Rusalka slowly lowered her hand back down, cocking her head to one side as she slid behind one tree only to reappear behind another some ways away. This tree, as it turned out, was right in Eira’s way. When the spirit turned she brought her skinny arm out to seize her when the Green Folk dove down. She slid for a ways in the slippery brush, and when she got back up, much of her attire and face had been stricken with mud.
Looking over her shoulder, she watched Rosy slink back behind the trees again when she faced forward. Anticipating another attempt by the spirit, Eira stopped and picked up a stick on the ground. She didn’t run, as she waited for Rosy to make the next move, and as her back was turned, she did. Appearing from behind another tree, the Rusalka’s inability to make a sound was unsettling enough, and as her long nails reached out and brushed a tuft of hair poking out from beneath Eira’s hood, the girl instinctively turned on her heel and thrust the stick as forcefully as she could forward. Just as the Wildeboar before, she hit her mark, this time just above Rosy’s heart.
Dark blood began to ooze from the wound as Rosy staggered back, stunned at the small stick now embedded in her flesh. She winced when she poked it, and quickly became too scared to pull it out. Then she ran a finger through the blood that beginning to stain her hair and examined it.
Shocked by Eira’s actions, she looked up for a moment at her, that soft grin all but vanished from her face. They stared at one another for several tense moments, when tears began to run down Rosy’s cheeks. They began to stream like rivers as her lower lip quivered and she sniveled. Hanging her head low, she seemed to glide effortlessly across the ground, where she disappeared behind a tree. Eira offered her apologies, not knowing the spirit’s intent, but it was too late. Rosy was gone.
The rain was beginning to stop, and soon the Rusalka became the last of Eira’s worries. Her heart sank as the forest began to obscure it in a deep cloud. The chase had separated her from the path. Taking a deep breath, Eira knew she’d have to get her nerves back in order to continue on. There was still a chance that she might make it back. She stood tall once more and leaned up against a tree, contemplating her situation for a moment when she felt something touch her shoulder. Rosy quickly came back to mind, when she turned. Her eyes widened and her heart skipped a beat at the sight.
“Eira?” Awel asked in disbelief. As the two of them got a better look at one another, both of them began to feel their faces glow. Without her anticipating them at all, tears rushed to Eira’s eyes and she nodded. Home.
Home at last.