Plans Coming Together
The Green Folk packed what they could quickly and began their trek through the forest, guided by lit torches and only the sound of pained moans and sobbing to accompany them. Many of the unharmed men carried the wounded, either on their backs or in their arms, with Awel leading the way. Unfortunately very few of them were able to bring much more than daggers and simple slings to protect themselves, as most of the more able-bodied men had more weight to carry.
With Eira and Bernard trailing the group, she couldn’t get over how few Folk remained of what had been a good-sized village. The forest was still, much to her discontent as she scanned their surroundings all over from beneath the shadow of her hood. Thorn and Swipe followed behind them, with the ceratosaur’s gaze narrowed down on the girl. The raptor asked him something, but was met with silence, to which he shrugged it off. Likewise, Bernard couldn’t quite muster up much in the way of conversation either, especially with his indirect hand in Tanner’s onslaught.
Thorn’s heart felt heavy, and yet burned with a rage he hadn’t known in years. Memories long locked away were flooding back, and the more vivid they became, and the emotions that came with them, the more he knew what had to be done. Adrenaline coursed through his veins when he lost control. He darted forward and clamped his jaws down on Bernard’s shoulder. The old man cried out, not in pain as much as surprise, when the ceratosaurus threw him from the path. He turned to Eira, meeting her eyes mere inches from his snout. He gave a dark smirk and ran after the knight, dragging him further into the darkness. Wide-eyed, both Eira and Swipe stared on, then at each other, trying to piece together what had just happened. The raptor cocked his head with a hint of regret glinting in his eyes.
“Sorry, love…” He said softly before taking off after them. So the Green Folk girl stood, shocked, when she looked to the others. They had stopped, now fearful of all dinosaurs from what had just transpired, when Eira swallowed.
“I-I’ll be right back.”
“Eira, don’t!” Adelae said when she ran to her. “We don’t want to lose you again. Come with us. He was just a knight. Like the ones who did this to us.”
“I know…yes, I know. But he’s different. He’s why I’m here, and he’d do the same for me. Keep going. We’ll find you.” Shrugging off her friend’s hands closed around her arm, Eira took off, guided by a path of broken vegetation and a clear track at her feet. She ran for some time, until the flicker of the torches behind her was but a dull hue. Her eyes adjusting to the night, Eira finally caught up to them, seeing Bernard slowly and awkwardly sit up at Thorn’s feet. For a moment she and the dinosaur shared an intensive glare, when he sighed slowly.
“Why are you doing this?” She growled with tight fists.
“It’s what is best, I’m afraid to say.” Thorn’s ferocious demeanor slightly lessened. “You’re the only one who can convince Rex to come back.”
“Why should I care about this Rex?” Eira snapped fiercely. “Giant said he would return for us. Things would have worked out. And now this!”
“That is exactly what I’m afraid of. You place such blind faith in someone you know nothing about. Word spreads in these woods, and for Giant, none of it is good.”
“Just…just…shut up!” Swipe winced at the sharp tongue, as he had taken to cowering behind Thorn. Eira’s anger swiftly shifted to one of desperation. Her lower lip quivered as her voice cracked, and a tear rolled down her cheek. “I knew so many people back there; people who are now gone. All you do is kill with your sharp teeth, and you eat, and then you repeat. You cannot comprehend something like what I have just seen. For me, this is my only hope. I just want to go home.”
“That’s where you’re wrong lass.” Thorn replied solemnly. He did nothing as Bernard slowly got to his feet and backed away, his hand on his sheathed sword. “I’m doing this to prevent any such thing ever again.”
“Thorn, mate…?” Swipe asked as he inched out from behind him. The ceratosaurus took several slow, controlled breaths, when he sighed in defeat. He looked to Swipe first, giving hints of a smile, when he returned stone-faced to Eira.
“I once had a mate of my own. A companion with whom I spent every waking moment. She completed my life and everything about it. I…smiled a lot more back then. But she was taken from me for no reason but twisted fun. Murdered. In cold blood.” The dinosaur’s head slowly began to hang as the memories began to pierce his heart just as painfully as they had before. “I forced myself to forget, to protect myself, and I did. Until tonight. Until I saw the horrors inflicted upon your kind.
“Eira if I could exact my revenge on her killer I would, but my mind still keeps his identity from me. I suppose it will haunt me for the rest of my days. I know if I could help anything else from happening to you or your people again I might one day rest in peace. Please, please, let me escort you to Rex. I know he will protect you, far more so than either of us ever could.”
Eira was taken aback by Thorn’s shift in mood. In fact, Swipe was too. They had both known him as a cold, stoic dinosaur before, and for the raptor, he had no idea he had such baggage to carry alone for so long. Here he was, weak at last, begging the girl to come with them, with his violent act only carried out by desperation. It was certainly humbling, but hardly enough to convince Eira, who only wished to see if her parents were okay. She couldn’t bear to see them harmed, and yet, she sensed Thorn’s genuine concern. Looking back, the girl could see the dim torches slowly fade into obscurity, when she turned back.
“How far is this Rex?”
“He shouldn’t be... that far. If we hurry, we might catch the borderline by morning.” The last word made Eira cringe. How she would never come to trust the morning again. Too many predators, too many perils, and now, too many chances to jump worlds. Eira was beginning to question her luck in gambling in fate, and yet, she realized now that it might just be the only way to reach him. With a moment to think things over, she swallowed her pride, as well as her confidence in Giant, and nodded. If for the safety of her people, then so be it.
“Lead the way, Thorn.”
Adelae had returned to her husband’s side, clutching his hand in hers when her eyes wandered off into the dark abyss around them. She had grown so anxious under their circumstances. To think, just this morning she was cooking supper, without a care in the world, and now, they faced capture and what she imagined to be slavery to follow. She looked up and smiled at Awel, who was far too focused on their whereabouts to return the affection.
He led the Green Folk down a familiar path, one he knew well to get to Eira’s village. Though not as discreet as most paths taken by them, he found it to be the fastest, and he knew they would reach it long before sunrise. As they walked along, he suddenly felt a swift tug at his cloak and looked down. It was a young boy, who was so small he tried his hardest just to keep up with them. He hadn’t even earned his green hood yet, something reserved for boys above the age of eight.
“Excuse me. But do you know where my Mommy and Pappy are?” He asked softly. Both Awel and Adelae felt their heartstrings pulled to their limit when they looked down at him, knowing the answer to his question far too well. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Awel gave the best smile he could to the boy.
“Have you checked the clan behind us?”
“I wouldn’t worry. They’re bound to turn up sometime.”
“Oh…okay. Thank you.” The boy replied and fell back to the others. The couple shared a grave glance to one another before trekking on. Adelae gave a gentle, saddened grin. She nodded to him, when Awel looked back over his shoulder.
“Hey. Little boy?” Anxiously the young child shuffled back up to their side, when Awel placed a gloved hand at the back of his head as they walked. “How would you like to stay with us for the time being? Until we find your folks?” The boy seemed hesitant, made evident by his tear-sodden eyes and cheeks. It was obvious that he was scared for his parents. He swallowed when Awel’s hand gently patted his shoulder.
“My name is Awel Paisley. And this is my wife, Adelae.” He said with a warm smile. The young woman leaned toward the child and offered her soft hand to him. Hesitantly he took it.
“What is your name?” She cooed.
“Brenin. It’s very nice to meet you.” Adelae said in her soft, soothing voice. She made young boy slightly less tense, when he offered a weak smile for her.
“Thank you, Missus Paisley. It’s nice to meet you too.”
“So polite for a child your age.” She said as she stood tall beside Awel once more. Stopping for a moment, Awel scooped young Brenin up in one arm and carried him when he looked to Adelae. She gave him an expectant smirk, to which her husband seemingly got the hint. He simply smiled back while Brenin kept close to him. A family, she thought as her smirk grew into a deep grin.
That’s when they thought they saw something glisten in the path before them. Awel narrowed his eyes in an attempt to better make it out, but the closer they got, the more he felt his heart race. Finally he stopped, until numerous other Folk butted into his back, cussing him out and asking why he had stopped so abruptly. Together they followed his gaze, and one by one, their jaws dropped.
With a snort a horse stamped at the ground as its rider smiled beneath his gold-plated visor. Tanner flicked his wrist once when the brush all around them ruffled, and soon the Green Folk had been surrounded by soldiers. With but a handful of mounted knights left, Tanner’s platoon now consisted mostly of archers, but together they all looked down angrily at the Green Folk. With no more than daggers and slings to protect them, they were both helplessly outnumbered and overwhelmed by their weapons. Soon it became apparent that they were slowly bringing up nets and ropes together when they inched forward, as the knights stood back and watched. With a gulp, Awel lowered his torch as he brought Brenin in close, while Adelae inched in toward her husband for comfort, and together they looked back to Tanner, who cocked his head with a chuckle.
“Awfully late for a stroll isn’t it?”
Morning came quickly for Giant and the others. Just as the fog began to settle around them, their destination was already within sight. Still, that hardly made the likes of Taurus and Hopper easy. If what their leader said was true, then who knew what this mist concealed? Together they had wandered down a valley for much of the night, following a babbling creek as well as numerous familiar scents. One raptor groaned when she tripped and got her feathers caked in mud, followed by Rogue’s dark laughter. Aside from that, there wasn’t much conversation to be had.
Taurus for one wondered if what had happened to Eira’s village really inspired Giant to do something, or that it was but a convenient ploy for self-righteousness. He blinked, cursing at himself as to why he would question his leader.
Likewise, Hopper found himself wondering the same thing, but instead thought of it as a brilliant strategy. Still, he couldn’t find himself praising the giganotosaurus for the circumstances either. Instead it was jealousy with a hint of envy. After all, those were among the few emotions he knew.
The creek began to roll over numerous small rocky waterfalls as the ground sloped down, and soon the dinosaur pack was met with a much larger number of beasts. Most of the dinosaurs remained asleep, save for the akylosaur Boulder, who stared deeply into the small pond alongside Blade. Carnage was also at their side, and together they turned to face their leader. Crunch’s fallen body laid against a tree in the distance, a sight the giganotosaurus wished he had not seen. He forced himself back to his usual demeanor as he continued forward.
“Well? What do we have my friends?” Giant purred.
“A good-sized fish. Can’t go back upstream now, and I know it’s the one I saw before. It has that sparkle and…it winks.” Blade replied.
“Excellent. Let’s have a look.” The giganotosaurus stepped forward and between the three dinosaurs when he dipped his head into the murky water. He scanned from one side then another, and back again. Finally, he felt as if he made contact with two beady eyes, when the shape twisted and contorted. In a rush of water, a heavy tail fin slapped the dinosaur on the tip of the snout and swam off. Giant brought his dripping head back up, not sure if he should be amused or not.
“Well…?” Taurus asked.
“I believe it’s a bit…flustered at the moment.”
“We could try talking to it.” Blade suggested. He was met with curious stares by all, when he felt his heart sink. Uh oh, he thought. “Well, you see sir, I might have forgotten the part where I heard a voice before given these.” He meekly brought up his metal claws. Quickly he could tell Giant was irritated, but not enough to warrant another attack.
“So nice to know of this now. Well, then if that’s the case…” Giant was interrupted by the sound of a crunching twig not too far away. The dinosaurs flared their nostrils and quickly identified something that shouldn’t have been there, when they turned in its direction as one. More vegetation was ruffled as it tried to get away, when Giant nodded to Rogue.
In a burst of speed the dilophosaurus disappeared into a thick patch of brush. They could hear a sharp cry, then silence. The dinosaurs awaited the next sound when a human crashed through the wall of foliage and landed on the ground, followed by a smug Rogue as he walked in after him. A brown-clad archer from Tanner’s platoon, Giant knew who he was when he stood over him. The archer quickly recognized the monster and cried out, turning onto his back and staring up at his doom.
“What should we do sir?” Rogue asked when his licked the backs of his teeth.
“Nothing. For now.” The giganotosaur brought himself down face-to-face with the young man, who had stubble on his chin and a shaved head. His face was dirty and a bead of sweat ran down his brow. It was apparent that he had lost his bow the night prior. “Where are the rest of you and your wretched leader?”
“I-I-I dunno. I got lost last night. Separated from the others.”
“N-now listen, beast. If you’re gonna kill me, do it.” Giant laughed heartily as he stood back up to his full size.
“My, aren’t you one to make demands? Even if it’s one I’d gladly carry out.” The raptors behind Hopper began to eagerly advance with excited grins along their snouts. “But rather, I do believe we’ve found a grand opportunity here.” It was no surprise that the archer was shocked with his words, but their thoughts were interrupted by Blade when he cried out in surprise.
“The fish!” It was enough to wake up Boulder’s herbivore platoon as well as the raptors that had gone with him. Rampage and Crash groggily woke up as well. Altogether they looked at him, then followed his gaze.
To their amazement, the catfish had wallowed up onto land. There it awkward floundered about until its tail no longer floundered in the shallow pond. It gave a gurgled belch when its body began to shift and change wickedly. Its tailfin split into two long appendages, and its front fins grew out into long, pale arms. Long, sopping hair began to grow up from the back of its head when its wide mouth shrank in size. Soon enough, the fat catfish had become a slender woman when she slowly rose to her feet. The dinosaurs watched on in awe when Rosy, still coated in the fish’s slimy veil, tilted her head to the side with a sick crack. She had her dead eyes set on the archer when she began to walk toward him.
Terrified more than ever, the man began to crawl away when she beckoned him to rise. Even Giant found himself stepping aside for her as he watched on in fascination. The man shakily did as he was told when Rosy began to circle around him, studying his every feature and pore.
“I sense something familiar about you.” She spoke just above a whisper. “Yes. I know what it is. Eira. The one I call my friend.” The dinosaurs stood in shock at her words, when she stood before the man. She smiled against his frightened demeanor, begging him not to be afraid, when she leaned in. Her lips gently met his, and she brought a hand up to slowly caress his cheek as she kissed him. They parted, and the man felt conflicted as he met eyes with hers, as his lips and cheek retained a slimy coat from her touch. “Find my friend for me, won’t you?” And with that, she slowly backed away.
The man narrowed his eyes in wonder at the Rusalka, mesmerized by her ghastly beauty when his eyes began to fade. His lips tingled, causing him to lick them despite the slimy coating, when his cheeks swiftly grew numb. Suddenly a sharp pain wracked his chest when he cried out. It began with a palpitating heartbeat, so erratic and painful it forced his knees to buckle. Hands clutching his chest, it seemed that Rosy’s kiss would end him in cardiac arrest, when he could feel the pain spread throughout his body, beginning with his shoulders then to his arms and legs. Crying out once more, he crumpled down onto the ground, where he shivered in a violent fit remarkably similar to a seizure.
His tan, leathery skin became a ghostly white, and his features popped loudly as they began to shift from man to beast. His fingernails grew in length, as did his fingers and arms. When the last bit of humanity left his eyes, it seemed as if every bit of fat and muscle was necessary in the transformation. His handsome face slowly melted away until it seemed to be little more than thin skin stretched over bone. Once thick lips curled backward until they were nonexistent, and his eyelids stretched themselves across his brow and bony cheeks. Canines grew sharply, and two dark, soulless orbs glazed over his green eyes. Finally the man curled up into a tight ball on the ground, wincing and groaning at the pain that throbbed all over.
The dinosaurs stood in awe as silence hovered over them for some time. The man seemed to have died, his body sunken and drained of any nutrients whatsoever. Finally Giant leaned in close to inspect the carcass, nudging its cold flesh with the tip of his snout. A moment of silence passed by when it lurched back up, meeting him with a hellish howl. The transformation complete, the skeletal Coffin Spawn hissed and cried out when it took off on all fours into the forest at a speed few found possible. Rosy had returned to the pond, but left the dinosaurs in both shock or fear. Finally Giant cleared his throat.
“Well…that was interesting.”
“I think I might be sick.” Taurus muttered.
“Ha! I told you!” Blade cackled. Business as usual had returned, save for the onlookers, who still seemed shaken.
“I never doubted you on that, Blade. I merely doubted you.” Giant retorted as he walked on past.
“So are we going back to the village?” Hopper asked.
“Not just yet. No. If what the armored man with Eira said was correct, those men will return with greater forces. We are back on schedule.” He laughed. “We will have to recruit more to our cause if we want to stand a chance.”
“What’s your first plan of action?” Taurus asked.
“Grow our numbers, conquer new lands. Oh, and that reminds me…” The giganotosaurus seemed lost in thought for a moment when gears began clicking in his head.
“What’s that, sir?”
“We’ll need a good source of food. And I happen to have an old friend who rules over a domain with plenty of that…” The others watched on as that signature grin of his returned to Giant’s snout.