Bernard began to curse his heavy, clumsy armor when having to keep up with the others all night. His feet were sore, and he lacked the strength of his youth to carry it all as he had before. Still, while he panted and wheezed, he trailed behind the group as they hurried along at a considerable pace. They had done so for some time, with the sound of crunching armor to remind them that the knight remained close.
Morning came, and much to Eira’s surprise, the fog was nowhere in sight. In fact, the forest was clearing up considerably, as trees began to give one another space to breathe, and the shadows lacked that hostility which she had grown so used to. Wetting her lips, she stopped short while Thorn and Swipe carried on, when she turned. Suddenly her heart sank at the sight of the old man as he staggered up toward her. She ran to him when he slapped a heavy glove on her shoulder. Soon enough Thorn and Swipe had turned around as well.
“My…such an…an adventure. Haven’t…had one of these…in years. Thank you.” Bernard chuckled between breaths. Despite their situation, Eira found herself able to smile at the comment, glad to see she could give the elder knight the excitement of one more great journey. With another cough he stood tall once more, his breath intake more secured and controlled, as plumes of hot air escaped from the grill on his helmet. His hand didn’t move from Eira’s shoulder, however, as instead he patted her again. “I’m feeling better. Thank ya, lass. Oh, and you too, lads.” Thorn smirked at his words when they had turned back for them, while Swipe outright grinned and tapped his foot on the ground.
“Well ya welcome, Bernie! Hope I can call ya that.” Eira brought a hand up and rested it on Bernard’s, when she looked to the ceratosaurus.
“Excuse me, Thorn, but do you think you could carry him the rest of the way?” From what she understood, he was larger in every way than a horse, so one might assume that it would be easier for him to carry the knight. She half-expected to be snapped at when Thorn blinked once and cocked his head, a curious look apparent along his snout.
“Wonder why I never thought of that. It’s not much farther now. Come on now.” And with that, the dinosaur lowered down to the ground, when Eira walked Bernard over and helped the aged man up. Thorn didn’t get up, however, as instead he looked expectantly at her. “Aren’t you getting up?” Eira blinked once before she gave a soft smile.
She was met with an almost uncharacteristic grin from the ceratosaurus as she did so. Bowing her thanks, she slid up onto the dinosaur’s back, near his lower back, when he stood tall. Bernard, who sat near the base of Thorn’s neck, laughed out as they rose up high. The dinosaur grunted, not quite prepared for the extra load on his form as he had anticipated. Still, with a deep breath, he felt much better.
“Now this, lass, is a steed!” Swipe cackled when the ceratosaur turned. With much sleeker builds, the two dinosaurs took off at a speed that Eira would have easily found hard to keep up with. She panicked for half-a-second as she feared of falling off and tumbling back into the brush. With a slight reposition, she not only felt more comfortable with the ride but even had to bring a hand up to keep her hood from falling back.
Thorn ran with long, heavy strides, which sounded off with heavy thumps each time a foot made contact. Since meeting Swipe, he found himself to be building toward a much better running form. Eira gently patted his leathery skin as another thanks for the ride, when she looked down beside them. Swipe’s legs were but a blur when he ran, and even then, it was hardly his top speed. His feathers had flattened down at such a pace, making him as sleek as possible when he noticed the attention he was getting. Eira was met with a wide, goofy grin just before the raptor took off just ahead of his companions.
She really enjoyed the ease with which they were all beginning to interact with one another. Of course Swipe had been so all along, but the Thorn she had argued with just hours ago was a far cry from the one carrying them now. Unbeknownst to her, it was purpose that had filled the gap with which the dinosaur had sought to fill for so long. For years he wandered aimlessly, and to know he was doing some good in the world made his heart race with such energy he hadn’t known for ages. If nothing else, Eira thought, this Rex, the one who had protected her before, might bring with them the extra push against James and Tanner to rid the Green Folk of any further conflict.
As the trees continued to lighten in density, it didn’t take long until they disappeared entirely. Thorn and Swipe soon stopped as the sun rising up into the sky blinded them. When their eyes adjusted they realized that they looked down on a vast grassland stretching out far into the horizon.
Both Eira and Bernard were awestruck by what they saw. Titanic brachiosaurs stood out the most in the land, wandering together as they occasionally fed upon the few towering trees present. Dinosaurs of shapes and sizes Eira had never known dotted the landscape, from ostrich-like gallimimus running along in vast packs to herds of duckbills, ceratopsians, stegosaurs, and countless others grazing in great numbers. They were but silhouettes from up there, when Thorn smiled over his shoulder to them. Surely, he thought, they had never seen such a sight, and he was right.
Their trek through the woods complete, and they were on the home stretch now. All they had to do now was find Rex, and with Thorn guided by his nose, that wouldn’t take long at all.
Everything went just as it would any other day. For a growing young adult, plenty of meat was necessary for him to reach his full potential. Rex and Rust had both sought out and hunted down an elderly but fat duckbill in the prairie.
It was their first coordinated kill in days, and the first time Rust felt his heart race as he saw such ferocity in the young tyrannosaur when he made the final strike that ultimately brought the beast down. He had never pestered the young adult as to what he saw in the forest that made him so quiet as of late, or what had him act so ferociously during their hunt. Instead, the elderly dinosaur simply congratulated Rex on a great kill before they began on their breakfast.
Rust’s suspicions were true, however, as Rex’s mind had never quite come to a standstill ever since his return home. He replayed his fight with Crunch and the others over and over in his mind, until he had it memorized it from start to end. It was obvious that he still wasn’t used to his massive strength, something he himself feared wielding against anything but a worthy meal. Without Rust knowing, he had promised himself never to return to those forsaken woods. It brought nothing more than pure panic and struggle against the forces of nature and those wanting him dead. A single childhood memory of the Wildeboar flashed by, causing his heart to race. What other monsters that place harbored was beyond him, and he reminded himself that he would never find out.
Rust stood back as he watched the much younger beast ravage their fresh kill with his powerful jaws. Flesh tore apart like paper beneath his vice-like grip as Rex ate like a greedy child, his belly soon growing fit to burst. The acrocanthosaurus, however, only smiled as he too joined in as they together despoiled the duckbill’s body, together stripping the body of just about any and all valuable sources of meat.
Tearing a considerable piece of flesh away from the duckbill, Rust sliced and tore the rough skin in his mouth into smaller pieces before throwing his head back and catapulting the morsel down his throat. It was then when he felt as if he had something important to tell the young adult. As he watched him destroy the carcass, however, he felt it better to wait for but a few moments before speaking. Unlike the more elderly dinosaur’s more reserved eating style, Rex tore mouthfuls of meat from the carcass and swallowed them whole, accompanied by a sickly gulp.
“Easy, lad. There’s plenty here.” Rust said casually. Ravenous in his appetite, the tyrannosaur took another mouthful and engulfed it before he looked to his mentor.
“I’m hungry.” He growled. The acrocanthosaurus couldn’t help but laugh at the young adult’s rough exterior. It made Rex’s blood boil for a moment.
“So much so that you might choke or even explode, I see. Come on now, my boy, I know how others act. I have experience in this sorta thing. What’s going on with you?” The elder beast smiled warmly at what essentially was the only son he ever had, when the child brought his eyes down and gnawed anxiously on a bone before him. With jaws that could snap that bone in half, Rex instead chewed on it absentmindedly, deterring Rust’s question. “Well…?”
“It’s the forest.” His voice was muddled by the bone between his teeth.
“Obviously. You haven’t been the same since you’ve come back. I should have gone with you.”
“It’s quite alright,” Rex said. “I’ll get over it.” Rust could only shake his head as he watched on. He had never seen the young tyrannosaurus so agitated and anxious since he was a pup. Obviously he was confused by everything that must have happened in those woods. Had those two companions he left with been killed? It was a possibility, perhaps by a beast that frightened Rex. After all, he above all others knew of the boy’s fears, namely those hairy pigs from many years past.
“You know…of course you remember what I had always promised to tell you?” The tyrannosaur ceased to play with the bone when he looked up, intrigued. Blood lined much of his long, robust snout, with a few droplets falling from his chin when he blinked. Rust bowed his head when he began to part his maw. Something else, however, had caught Rex’s attention and in turn the elder’s, when they both looked off toward the grassland. Expecting smelly scavengers waiting for the scraps, both dinosaurs were surprised instead with familiar and not so familiar creatures.
First came Swipe running up, bidding Rex and Rust a good morning when he turned. Thorn had lowered himself down and allowed Bernard and Eira to slip back to the ground before standing tall once more. Together they joined Swipe when they faced the titans altogether.
“We meet again.” Rex began softly, trying his best from appearing anxious in any way.
“Good day, Rex.” Thorn replied with a nod. “Aye, we’ve returned.”
“And you’ve brought him, too.” Rust noted when he eyed Swipe with annoyance.
“And…it.” Rex looked at Eira when he walked around the duckbill carcass toward her. The girl felt fit to run from the massive tyrannosaur, as did Bernard, but they stood their ground together. Looming over them with those spike-like teeth hanging over his upper jaw, the young Rex certainly didn’t give off the same welcoming aura that Giant or Finn did. The fresh blood along his maw didn’t help either. “I remember you.”
“And I, you.” Eira replied sheepishly.
“What in the heavens? What curious-looking creatures.” Rust hummed as he took a few steps forward. “Never in my many years have I seen anything like them.” As the elderly dinosaur went on the same tirade the Green Folk had since grown tired of, she and Rex met eyes. Despite her shaky tone, the tyrannosaur could quickly see that while this girl was the one he had met before, she was different. At first he would have guessed another member of its species, but when Bernard lifted his visor to reveal his starkly different features, he knew it couldn’t be anyone but her.
“I’m glad your wounds are getting better.” Eira said. “I don’t know if I ever had the chance to thank you.” Rex smirked in acknowledgement. Hearing her speak in such a sincere tone helped to alleviate his racing heart.
“How many of these things do you know, lass?” Bernard whispered. More than even she realized, apparently. Thorn stepped forward.
“We were hoping that by bringing them here we could call upon your help once more.”
“You insolent pup!” Rust barked. “Do you know what kinds of nightmares have haunted him even since he’s come back? And you come for another favor?”
“Why do you need my help?”
“Well, things have gotten a bit complicated since we last spoke. I still assert my uneasiness with Giant but now more creatures like Eira and Bernard here are in the woods, wrecking havoc. Swipe and I were there to see them ravage her home. What’s more, there is a lot more to the fog in the forest than we know.” Rust narrowed his eyes.
“What worry is it of ours?”
“If I may?” Bernard began as he stepped forward. “I have worked for many years with those Thorn speaks of, and I know them as a bloodthirsty lot. If they ever find you, they will undoubtedly hunt you down and strip your earth of its soil until there is nothing left but Piermont’s Kingdom.”
“Piermont? King-huh?” Rex asked.
“Prince James Piermont. He leads these men, first to find Eira here, but now that they are aware of you, he will undoubtedly come for you, too.” Humored, Rust snickered.
“Rex here can break bones in half. Do you really think creatures of your size can do anything to us?”
“They can, and they will. Aye, we’re small compared to you, but we’re many. Coupled with swords, spears, and arrows, they can kill you when you’re just out of reach.”
“I can vouch for that.” Thorn added. “I’ve seen them just last night do such things to Giant’s men.”
“You saw Giant?” Rex asked.
“Aye. He came to our aid, surprisingly.”
“And you still think ill of him?”
“Aye, sir. Quite.” Rex gave a hum from deep within his throat as he looked back at Eira, thinking. After a few moments, he looked back to the ceratosaurus.
“What was that you were saying about the fog?”
“According to Eira, it brings together our world and hers. This might be why we've never encountered her kind before, and vice versa.” The tyrannosaur swallowed when he felt his heart begin to race again. Rust apparently sensed his pulse’s quick jolt when he stepped forward.
“Enough. We’ve just had ourselves a large meal. A good nap is in order before we can…”
“Rust, my friend, please.” Rex turned to his elder friend with a look of urgency, to which the acrocanthosaurus slowly but surely stood down. It wasn’t that he was sharp in his tongue, Rust thought. No, the boy knew better than that. Rather, it was stressed. Rex stepped toward Thorn with his head cocked. “What about it?” He glanced to Eira, then back to the ceratosaur.
“Well, if you really want to know sir, ask her.” He nodded to the human, to which Rex did so quickly.
“What about the fog? Other worlds? Tell me. Please.” Puzzled by the giant’s shift in temperament, she could hardly think while his wide, concerned eyes locked onto her. Finally she cleared her throat and gripped at her sides.
“W-well, from what I’m to believe, the reason why we’ve never seen your kind and you haven’t seen us is because we were never meant to. But through the thick fog, we can. Not just any fog, but that thick mist that soaks up everything around it. From what I can tell, some mornings I might be in my world, and others, in yours. That is all I know.” Pondering the idea, Rex stood tall and looked off into the distance, where he remained solitary in his thoughts. Was it possible this creature could put an end to his nightmares? He looked back to her, where they locked eyes for some time, when he turned to Thorn.
“What will you have us do?”
“If you will only venture back to the woods and look into this madness further with us. Swipe and I aren’t much without you sir.” Rex nodded slowly, when he eyed Eira again in a curious, childlike manner. He cocked his head in such a way that he hadn’t since he was a pup.
“If I may, my boy,” Rust said. “I will not permit you to go alone on this. Not this time. I will come along as well.” Rex finally looked back to the elder beast, when a sly smirk lined his snout.
“I wished for you to. Why do you think I said us?” He was met with a warm, fatherly smile when the acrocanthosaurus turned to their newfound guests.
“Now then. Thorn, Eira, Bernard, and uh, Swipe, you’re all welcome here for as long as you’d like. Take what you’d like from our meal.” The crusty skin around his snout formed a tight grin. “I only ask of one thing from you.”
“Yeah? What’s that, mate?” Swipe asked. By this time Thorn hungrily eyed the carcass behind the two giants.
“A nice, long nap before we leave.”