After giving what she thought was the longest hug in her life, Eira followed Awel closely back home. If it hadn’t been for Adelae lingering in the back of her mind, she probably would have kissed him too and then held his hand all the way back. Together they talked back and forth, with the widest grins possible, as Awel felt to fill her in on every single detail of her absence, and how Zaines had called off the search just the day before. It somewhat surprised Eira to hear this, seeing as how the brute had always pined for her. Still, she found herself trying with all of her might not to explode with her story right then and there. At least until Awel stopped, with the village in view some ways away.
“Tell me what happened. I know you don’t like telling stories but…surely you’ve had quite an experience out there. You look so different. The way you carry yourself, I mean.” Eira snickered, again trying her hardest not to grab his hand and drag him back to the village. She took a deep breath.
“To put it modestly, yes. Yes it’s been…an adventure.” That’s when she looked back, thinking of Finn. Amongst the excitement she dearly hoped he would make it back to her. Awel coughed expectantly, snickering as she looked back to him. She gave him a coy smirk and started toward her home. “I’d rather not tell it just yet.”
“What? Why not?”
“I don’t really enjoy telling stories over and over.”
“I know that. Here, let me walk you back to our home. We should wait until the weather clears up before venturing to the next village and back to your folks. I don’t care for this thick mist rising up.”
“You and I both.” Eira muttered. With the rain passing, other Green Folk still weren’t getting out of their homes just yet, as they could smell smoke from a pipe emanating from one hut they passed, then delicious soup in another. Eira could hardly wait for a well-cooked meal again, as enticing as charred fish had proved to be. She was thankful that no one was out just yet, as it saved her from being attacked by a mob of old friends barraging her with questions. She could see the village goats some ways away, all huddled together in a corner of their enclosure to keep warm, while the chickens in another pen had the luxury of hiding inside their coops.
This village was quite different from the one Eira had grown up in. For starters, the homes here were built entirely above ground, and lacked the forest overgrowth that comes with age. Rather, many of these homes were newly-built, some of them less than a year old. While the Green Folk had never wanted to expand beyond a single village, with the way things were becoming, it turned out to be a necessity to their survival.
Years ago, when the first people settled in the woods and established a village, the very one Eira was raised in, they promised to live quiet and secluded lives, free of the Piermont Kingdom’s grip from which they had escaped from. So the first Green Folk established it to be a norm that unlike the large families of the kingdom, each couple would only have one child, two tops. This way, the population would remain low and fewer resources would be needed to survive.
Their original ideals would hardly be met, however. Of the numerous families that first established the Green Folk, there were many more today. This was thanks in part to people who had grown lost in the forest, either exiled or running from the kingdom themselves. Oftentimes unable to survive on their own, many were admitted into the Green Folk. As the population grew, so did the concern for the Folk way of life. The answer became simple, as the villages have split should their numbers grow too large. Together there were currently five communities, each a reasonable distance from the other, but far enough to remain as hidden and secluded as before to the untrained wanderer.
“Adelae, look who I found!” Awel announced when he opened the door to his home and pulled his hood down. Adelae, who had been the one responsible for the soup they could smell outside, was tending to it over their fireplace when she turned. With a gasp that sent her hands up to cover her mouth, she could hardly believe it as she set eyes on Eira. As the girl turned to close the door behind them she was attacked by a hug that put her husband’s to shame.
“I never thought I’d see you again, Eira! Oh my goodness, this is terrific!” She let Eira go and began to race about their relatively cramped home, if just to keep up with her beating heart. Awel laughed as he hung his bow back up on the wall, when he grabbed her hand, if just to have her stop embarrassing herself. She managed to be soothed by her husband's gentle touch, when she turned back to Eira. “Tell us everything! Oh I know you must have gone through a lot, Eira, I really do! You must have. Come on, sit, please! Here, sit. I’ll get supper ready. Go!” Adelae was so jumpy and giggly it made Eira blush. Awel pushed a seat out for her, as he always used to when they were younger, and pushed it back in as she sat, only to sit across from her.
He dared not to ask any questions from Eira before his wife got the chance to, as she hummed loudly and set dinner down before them. Sitting next to Awel, she gripped his hand as tightly as she could, at which Eira looked down at. Oddly enough, however, it hardly tugged at her heartstrings, as instead of seeing her old friend with her first love, she saw two of her friends in love with each other.
“So what all happened to you out there?” Came the first of many questions. Awel turned so that he was just beside his wife’s ear.
“Don’t you think we should eat first?”
“Oh! Yes, forgive me, Eira, I’m sure you’re famished.”
“Thank you so very much, Adelae. It smells wonderful. We can speak over supper, yes?”
First they lost breakfast, and now they were being chased by a mob of humans with sharp swords and arrows. What a day, Thorn sighed as he crashed into a thick patch of growth. The vegetation seemingly consumed him as the wet green brush slid back into place after his fall. Exhausted and hungry, the ceratosaurus wondered if they had a chance against these madmen. He could have passed out right then and there, when he felt a soft breath against his snout. Mustering all of the strength left in him, he opened his eyes, and was met with Swipe’s. Smiling, he wagged his long, stiff tail as he rested in a roosting position before him. Thorn swiftly snapped at him to stop making the racket, should it give away their hiding spot.
Swipe wasn’t going to rebuttal Thorn’s claim with anything, as he did as he was told. The larger dinosaur nodded his thanks as he positioned himself into a more comfortable place. For once he actually cursed his size, with its difficulty in hiding. He felt himself to be as exposed as the naked spot on Swipe’s snout, devoid of feathers. The raptor, in turn, sensed this in him, when he hopped up and began collecting brush from around them.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Thorn said groggily.
“Hidin’ ya, mate. If we can’t outrun these fellas we might as well fool ’em!” The ceratosaur smirked. Not a bad idea. All he had to do was lay there, half of his body already covered by thick brush, as the deinonychus darted all around. Picking up everything from leaves to sticks in his mouth, he even found a bird’s nest that had fallen from a tree. He was cutting it close when the sound of the knights approaching began to grow. Although his back looked a bit awkward jutting out from the brush, Swipe thought Thorn looked like a little slope that was simply oddly placed. With his size, however, he could easily hide in the tall vegetation.
So they laid there, not making a single sound as they heard horse hooves stamp past them. They weren’t stopping it seemed, Thorn thought with a smile, but with his back turned to them, he couldn’t be sure. Swipe, on the other hand, could make out brief snippets of their passing through the brush. The archers, without the aid of horses, didn’t seem interested in inspecting every inch of forest, as they had to keep up with the knights trotting far ahead. After so much running themselves, they appeared exhausted, with many of their faces drenched with sweat beneath their hoods.
They remained still for what seemed like hours. Despite his exhaustion, Thorn just wanted to move something, unsure if his legs or his arms were uncomfortable, and his neck was suddenly very sore. It soon became apparent that the brush over him now worked as an excruciating itch blanket. He fought the urge, however, and did not twitch a muscle. They began to hear birds again, singing to one another and fluttering about overhead, to which Swipe felt himself relax. Smiling, the deinonychus stood up in the tall brush, so that only his head was visible. He looked to Thorn to say something but something else caught his eye. His heart sank when the tip of a long sword poked at his throat. How on earth did he not smell any of this beforehand?
“I say, Bernard, have you ever seen such a creature?” Tanner asked as he lifted his visor and marveled at the dinosaur. “A feathered serpent. It must be a demon to be able to outsmart our men.”
“I’ve heard of wyrms, but…my, I’ve never seen one.” The elderly knight also lifted his visor in awe. His bushy mustache dropped considerably at the sides as his mouth gaped open. Swipe had his encounters with vicious carnivores before, but right now, he wasn’t sure what to expect. He was abnormally frightened as to what his fate might be at the hands of these two, as he glanced back and forth between them.
“Why don’t you have the glory in this one, old man? James might be pleased with you even if we don’t find the girl.” Tanner’s eagle promptly hopped onto its owners shoulder as he climbed down from his horse and herded Swipe out into the open. The dinosaur could vaguely hear Thorn call out for him, asking him what was going on, but as he was covered in brush, he couldn’t be sure himself.
Bernard climbed down from his steed as well, but with a gut-wrenching feeling over him. Out in the open, he saw that Swipe was no feathered serpent or wyrm, but something else entirely. He’d sooner take it with them to study. After all, it hadn’t seized the moment to lash out at them with its wicked claws. Such young men as James and Tanner, however, were too fascinated by death to do that. Rather than learn from it, they’d enjoy it in the corner of a trophy room.
“What do you think it is?” He asked Tanner. As the two knights stood between him, and their massive horses hovered over him, the raptor felt cornered, so much so he didn’t utter a peep.
“Perhaps we’ve stumbled through dragon territory, eh Bernard? This thing must be just a baby. Now go on, make it quick before it runs.” Sighing, the knight unsheathed his sword and held it high into the air, looking down at the deinonychus, mentally praying to it for his forgiveness. Swipe, however, blinked once and narrowed his eyes. This wasn’t how he was going out. He turned.
“Oy! Thorn!” The two men froze in shock, unsure of what to make of his words, just when their horses and Tanner’s eagle panicked. Leaves and debris exploded into the air when the ceratosaurus jumped to his feet and roared, turning to face their assailants with a toothy snarl. His sights locked onto Bernard when he lunged forward, clamping his jaws shut over his shoulder. At first he did little to the armor, but as he shook his head and bit down again and again, he slowly weakened the armor down to its breaking point. Before he could puncture it, however, Tanner abandoned the scene. As Bernard’s horse had taken off, he climbed up onto his mount and took off, with his eagle just overhead.
Thorn, discouraged by the strength of the armor, tossed Bernard away and let him scramble onto his back as he awaited the horrors to come. Swipe leapt up onto his chest plate with a surprising amount of force. Bernard slammed the back of his head into his helmet when his visor slapped upward. There, he looked up with wide eyes at the dinosaur, who mere inches away studied every pore on the man, when he blinked and stood tall.
“I ain’t no worm, mista, me name’s Swipe.”
“What? Ya make me out to be stupid or somethin’?”
“No, no, not at all. I’m simply…at a loss of words...” Swipe slowly got off of Bernard and allowed him to sit up, but he kept his visor up. He looked up to Thorn as he was met with a growl.
“Why have you been chasing us? What have we done to you?” The knight was still speechless. He gulped once and softly shook his head.
“I don’t know,” his voice was quiet. “I couldn’t tell you…um…?”
“Thorn. My name is Thorn.”
“Sir Bernard Clayville. Forgive me for my actions. I could hardly call them my own.” The ceratosaurus hardly seemed interested in his name as he glanced to Swipe, who looked back at him with a wide grin.
“You don’t know why you chased us?”
“It’s a rather long story if you’ll let me tell it.” The elderly knight replied as he staggered back to his feet. “I’m certain the others won’t be coming back for me.” Thorn was about to snap back at him, when he realized that they had plenty of time, since neither he nor Swipe had any real direction in these woods.
“Tell it then.”
“It started a couple of days ago when Tanner, the other man with me who ran off, brought back a Green Being to our kingdom.”
“Ya already lost me mate.” Swipe chirped.
“Well, I eventually helped her escape. For letting her go, now I have to get her back. Eira was her name. Then we saw you and…” Thorn blinked once as his heart skipped a beat.
“What was that? What was her name again?”
“Eira...Aune, I believe? Nice girl, I really hope we don’t find her. Some of the others already think she’s gone forever.” The two dinosaurs looked at one another; Thorn’s expression was blank while Swipe narrowed his eyes, trying to make sense of the name.
“That sounds mighty familiar…”
“That was the creature we found on the day of the fight! The Eira those beasts were after.”
“Now you’ve lost me.” Bernard replied with a forced chuckle. He was hopeful that it might have been enough to ease the tension a little. Thorn looked back to the knight. What a strange coincidence to find others looking for this same, plain creature.
“You can come with us if you’d like...Burn…Burn Yard? Nevermind. There’s a lot to tell you and we need to start walking. Let’s just say others have built up quite a conspiracy over this Eira here in the forest.”
“Oy, and let’s get somethin’ to eat too!”
In the midst of their panic Tanner’s eagle flew off ahead of the soldiers as its master finally caught up to them. They themselves were just about to slow down for a small rest, much to the archers’ delight, when one of the general’s lieutenants took note of his horse barreling toward them from behind. He called for a halt as the soldiers parted ways for their leader. Out of breath himself, Tanner took a moment to compose himself as he met with his second-in-command.
“Where is Bernard, sir?” The general blinked once as he thought how to word himself properly.
“He fell behind. We won’t be returning for him.”
“What? Did something happen?”
“Nothing at all. Bernard has been relieved of his duties by my command. We will tell His Highness he died of chest pains.”
“Uh, aye, General.” The knight nodded as the others glanced at one another. Tanner began to lead the way once more, quickly distancing himself from the others as he did so. Despite wanting their break, the others did not object to their leader’s actions as they followed him. “What about those beasts? Do you have any idea where they went sir?”
“None at all.” Tanner replied swiftly and without emotion. The soldiers were quite suspicious now. What exactly had their leader seen back there?
That’s when Tanner’s eagle swooped back down from above the forest canopy. The general himself could notice something off about his bird, as instead of resting on his steed’s behind as it always tended to do while riding, it perched on his shoulder so as to be closer with its master. Beyond Tanner’s sights, however, one could see as it shifted its gaze from one end of the forest to the other, and it hadn’t yet folded its wings, a clear indicator of its apprehension. Without seeing its actions the general could feel its nervousness, which had him begin to keep an eye open around them as well. Unfortunately for both of them, the eagle couldn’t simply tell its master what it had seen while scanning the woods above, and for that reason, it feared for their livelihood.
The Eagle General’s trepidation quickly rubbed off on the rest of his troupe, many of whom began to feel eyes fall on them. Naturally one soldier had to remind the others of the Coffin Spawn killed at the castle a few nights prior, to which a comrade slapped him upside the head in response. The forest was suddenly a dark place to be, and not the green and gold paradise they entered it as. While they felt their pulses pound, however, Tanner turned his attention to a particular tree, when he noticed something. He stopped for a moment and studied the marking, and clearly made out a palm carved into the tree’s bark. As his men stood anxiously, he narrowed his eyes and spotted another one just some ways away.
Their suspicions of being watched would prove to be correct, as Rogue slithered effortlessly through the vegetation undetected. Scanning their every move, the dilophosaurus gave a wickedly toothy smile as he could feel their fears thicken the air around them. He watched them as they marched along a worn path, one he himself wasn’t very familiar with, but was certain they were heading west on it. With a burst of speed he took off, racing at an alarming rate for some time until he found himself surrounded by a familiar scent.
He looked upward to meet eyes with Giant, who, along with the others, had been expecting him. Met with a grin by his leader, Rogue bowed his head while the raptors gathered around.
“More beasts like the Eira have entered this domain. They cover themselves in protective shells and carry sharp weapons. They even ride larger creatures.”
“Interesting. No green attire?”
“None, sir. They appeared…antagonizing and are heading west.” Giant looked to Hopper at his side with a grand smirk. The allosaurus already knew what he was thinking, but what he wondered was what his intentions for doing so were. He nearly mouthed his leader’s words perfectly in his mind.
“It would appear that we’re heading west then.”