James stood brooding over one of the castle’s several balconies, watching the sunset as stars began to emerge overhead. He stood witness to the orange sphere as it slowly sank into the horizon, but its glow remained. Basking in the sun's waning moments, he looked over his shoulder.
From beyond the open doors was a dark yet undoubtedly luxurious room, where only a candle gave the silhouette of a grand bed. A single figure lay motionless in its silken covers, with a single hand rested on his chest. James’ father, the king. His Highness Carl IV had been bedridden for months now, often with a sweaty brow and little more to offer than an inaudible murmur from time to time.
Once a jolly man with a fat belly, Carl had since become thin and weak. Hardly a suitable image for a king, James thought. For as long as he had been sick, he had expected his father to pass, but the poor bastard had a tendency to remain strong even during the most overwhelming times.
He turned, leaning against the stone balcony as he rested his hands on it. With a deep sigh, he contemplated as to whether this could be the night, just days before his wedding, that his father’s suffering would end. He narrowed his pale blue eyes, barely able to look at the man for more than a fleeting moment. Why couldn’t Death just claim him already? Sometimes a dark thought entered his mind, one of ending Carl himself. It would be so easy, the thought would whisper, and no one would suspect anything but sickness to have claimed the king. Still, the young man could never bring himself to do such a heinous act. His hands began to shake when that very thought crept forward once more. After a long moment, and with a heavy gulp, James stood tall and turned, eyeing the pillow beside his father’s head when he felt a swift gust brush against the back of his neck.
James turned to spy a grand eagle fluttering its wings when it landed on the balcony. It was obviously Tanner’s prized companion. What’s more, the prince spied a piece of paper tied to its leg. It snapped its beak at him once when he reached for it, but another try helped to ease him in to retrieve the note. James took the small piece of paper delicately in his hands, and unfolded it as if treasure was hidden inside.
Folk located. Casualties met. Returning with loot. James smiled darkly at the note. So perhaps he would receive his wedding gift after all. He folded the note up and put it into his gold pouch, when he looked to the eagle. It cocked its head curiously, likely expecting a treat for such a swift but arduous flight. As such, James entered his father’s bedchambers, where there sat a cooked chicken for his dinner, untouched by the king. Feeling quite gracious for the bird’s delivery, he picked up the dish and brought it back out to the balcony, where he set it down before the eagle.
With a chirp Tanner’s bird ate graciously, consuming nearly half of the cooked meal in one go. It only looked up occasionally to meet eyes with the prince, who was quite fascinated by the bird, before it took back off into the night sky. James waved his farewell to the eagle, when he pulled the note out from his pouch once more. He read it over and over, that same wide grin plastered across his face each time.
With Rex’s power temporarily handed over to a cousin of his, the party had trekked up toward the mountainous forests until well past sundown. With a dim moon above, Rust felt it best to find a secluded place to rest rather than wander aimlessly into the night. Eira once again astounded them with her fire-building skills. Bernard, a proud showman in his younger days, lit up the end of a short branch and began to toss it about high into the air before catching it skillfully, even in a suit of armor. For creatures who had known fire to be a bringer of death, Eira was beginning to be fascinated by just how the likes of Finn, Giant, Rex, and others were quick to adjust to it as a means of food and entertainment.
Surprisingly Swipe was the first among them to curl up and fall asleep, followed by Rust, then Bernard, who removed his helmet and rested up against a tree trunk. It left Eira with Thorn and Rex, all of them staring into the fire with thoughts plaguing their minds. Their conversations were few and far between, when Thorn too lowered his head and let his dreams take hold.
As a result, the Green Folk, who found herself somewhat energized in the company of Rex, kicked a pile of dirt into the fire in a bid of killing it. Instead, it simply flashed at them, much to the tyrannosaur’s surprise. He blinked once with a surprised jolt. Eira offered her apologies, to which she was met with a toothy grin.
“No. Forget it.” He turned his attention back to the fire. “I couldn’t help but imagine figures like you dancing amongst these flames. You do bear a likeness to it.”
“Other Folk do think that,” Eira replied. “Some of our elders think we somehow descended from it. I feel hard pressed to believe them.” Rex hardly responded, as instead he continued to gaze into the fire licking up into the sky. Eira couldn’t help but marvel at the sight of such a massive creature cowering in fear in the face of a relatively small bonfire. She smiled. “May I ask you something?” It took a moment, but the tyrannosaurus snapped to and promptly looked to the Green Folk.
“Yes, of course.”
“You seem uneasy in these woods. Why?” Eira swallowed just as Rex did. The dinosaur rolled his head around his shoulders until he felt a decisive pop in his neck when he looked back at her.
“I...don’t have the best history in these woods.”
“Yes.” Rex looked to the flames once more, his thoughts set free and running rampant in his mind, much like the fire before him potentially could. “When I was but a child, I came here with my parents. I met nightmarish beasts that nearly killed me had it not been for Rust here.”
“So that’s why you two stick together?”
“It is. Well, that, and he was the only one to care for me after my parents passed.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“It’s quite fine. Nature does what it will. But those beasts have haunted my dreams ever since. Large, hairy beasts with sticky snouts and tusks. I…I can’t shake them from my mind. Never have been able to.”
“Large pigs. With wet, flat snouts? And big, sharp tusks? Just as you said. They hunt in packs. We fear them every bit as much as you do.”
“Really?” Rex seemed to feel some comfort in another knowing what he spoke of, and now he had a name to put to them.
“Yes. I was attacked by some just a few nights ago, until Giant saved me. He has a tendency to do that it seems.” Eira, sitting up against a tree, curled up into a tight ball as she too stared into the fire. Rex’s alert position lessened, as his head hung down slightly.
“Wildeboar…at last I know what to call them.” The girl looked to him. “And Giant. Thorn speaks of him with poison in his tone, and yet you…you trust him?”
“Of course. He was the first of your world I ever met. He’s helped me countless times now.” Together the two met eyes, but Rex quickly returned his stare into the pyre. “What do you make of him?”
“I couldn’t tell you. I’ve never met him. I know Rust trusts him as much as Thorn does. He tells me that despite his visage, he isn’t one to be trusted.”
“That seems to be a common idea.”
“Eira…when I was little, I met those…Wildeboar…here in the forest. They’ve plagued my mind ever since. A couple of days ago when I fought those beasts, and first saw you, I panicked. I don’t want to be here.”
“Yes. These woods can be frightening. Cripplingly so. I know that. Gosh...do I know that.” Eira sighed weakly. “But Giant, bless his soul, helped me to be strong, whether or not his intentions are good. And Finn…”
“Finn?” Rex perked up.
“You know him?”
“I met him once. He was many years my senior when I was a child, but my parents knew his mother very well. Wise beyond her years. I…I remember he was very polite to me when I met him, not once bullying me or being rude. He was pleasant.”
“He still is, I assure you.” Eira snickered as her form lessened slightly. “He helped me to get back home. I really hope he’s okay.”
“Was he hurt?”
“No. The fog separated us.”
“Oh yes. The fog.”
“I wish I knew enough about it to tell you more, but I’m as new to this as you are.” The tyrannosaurus thought for a moment, when he turned from the fire to her, his eyes firm.
“Tell me Eira, what is it that you hope to accomplish by employing my help?”
“I couldn’t tell you. Thorn seems to be behind this. I just want the best for my people.”
“The Green Folk. We’ve lived here for generations, but only recently have I seen such creatures like you.”
“The fog again?”
“Mmm-hmm. Sure it’s been especially thick before, but not as consistently as it has recently.”
“I see. I simply wonder what my fate is to be here, in these forsaken woods.”
“I wonder the same thing for myself, Rex. Every single day.”
“Thank you Eira. I hope we can speak more like this. For now, though, I’d care for some rest.”
“Of course. Good night.” The two smiled to one another before beckoning the other a good night’s rest. After she was sure the tyrannosaurus was asleep, Eira gathered some more dirt and tossed it upon the fire. With a plume, the fire gave formidable resistance to her attempt of extinguishing it, but sure enough, it slowly died as the night drifted by. Long enough for Eira to fall asleep anyway.
The next morning, Eira was still asleep, lost in her vague dreams comprising of familiar faces shrouded by a haze. She couldn’t quite be sure what was going on, but as dreams tend to do, it made sense then and there. She soon felt something prod at her stomach, ushering in a plethora of girlish giggles as she dreamt of her father tickling her just as he had when she was little.
Rolling around on the floor of their home, she could hear his booming laugh fill her ears, and for the first time for many days, she truly felt safe in his arms. Soon the dream around her took the form of their household, where her mother smiled warmly at the two of them before beckoning them for dinner. It was too real now. From the smell of supper to the soft flicker of candlelight, everything was so clear and vivid.
Little Eira, no older than five or six, declared that she’d beat Gunter to the table as she dashed forward, when the elder Folk hoisted her up in her arms and swung her around, both laughing heartily when he spun down onto his seat. There, the young girl sat on her father’s leg, again offering up loud giggles as he bounced his knee up and down. Myrtle set down a bowl of soup in front of them before taking her seat next to them. Eira could quickly recognize her parents’ younger features as she reached up with a tiny hand and grabbed Gunter’s beard. She tugged on it gently and continued to snicker, taking note of its dark red color, when she looked to her mother. Likewise, Myrtle hadn’t the distinguished wrinkles around her mouth just yet, but Eira could see where they would form no less by the way she smiled at them as a hand affectionately ran through her daughter’s hair.
Gunter dipped his spoon into the warm soup and blew on it gently before offering it to his little girl. Graciously she accepted, and with a hum she could taste the warm concoction of numerous herbs and plants in the soup. Eira could feel her stomach tickle again just as her family and home faded. Her vision was black for a few moments before her eyes slowly parted.
Foggy at first, she blinked several times when she looked down with clear vision. Her eyes slowly grew larger when she met eyes with an equally wide-eyed creature. With a toothy beak just short of her lips, the small pterosaur cocked its head in one way then another as it studied her every pore. Its teeth, which jutted outward from its beak like sharp little needles, startled her the most.
Taking a moment to question itself, the rhamphorhynchus brought its head forward on its spindly neck and pinched Eira’s cheek with its beak. Startled, she brought a hand up and smacked it from her form with a solid collision. The weak-framed beast landed with a pant and cough, where it staggered back onto all fours, its wings folded upward as it hopped on its hind legs and few fingers. Its final finger, it appeared, was by far the longest, and made the leathery flap complete with which flight was made possible for the pterosaur.
“Ow! Who do you think you are? Beating poor little me down?” Messenger snapped. Eira blinked at the pterosaur’s words. It wasn’t that it spoke that surprised her, but rather, the way in which he said it.
“I’m sorry.” She replied softly. “You startled me.”
“Nobody has any manners anymore.” The small pterosaur grumbled as he rolled his head around with a quick pop. “I was just trying to figure out what you were.”
“They call me the Messenger.” Not a moment passed before Swipe appeared from the brush, all while the others were still asleep. He had a dead rabbit in his jaws, but once he recognized the reptile’s scent, he dropped his breakfast and offered a wide grin.
“Well ’allo there, mate! Long time, no see.” His loud voice managed to wake the others, who all raised their heads with their glossy eyes looking to investigate who the raptor was talking to. Bernard jerked awake, when a glove came up to wipe a dribble of spit from the side of his mouth.
“You again? I figured you and…you.” Messenger looked to Thorn. “I figured you both were dead.”
“Nope! Still kickin’,” Swipe laughed. Thorn slowly stumbled to his feet, and after an exhausted yawn he cleared his sights and recognized the pterosaur from before. Even Rust stood as he too knew Messenger.
“I thought the same fate might have fallen upon you.” The ceratosaur replied.
“Nope! Not me. I’ve found out I’m pretty good at avoiding death,” the rhamphorhynchus cackled. “I was just trying to figure out what she was before she slapped me up something fierce.”
“Again, I’m really sorry,” Eira said. “You know one another?”
“Aye. I’m the one who used to work for Giant. I told these two fools what he was up to.”
“What? He was up to something?” Rust demanded. Messenger turned to the massive carnivore, when his little heart began to race. He cowered back into a small ball.
“Aye, sir. Forgive me.”
“And your accent?”
“A farce. It was all part of his plan for me to fool you.”
“Why you little…I ought to squash you like insect you are.” The elderly dinosaur spat as he advanced, when Thorn stepped in front of him.
“No! He’s the one who set us on this path.”
“Damn right,” Messenger grinned. “Wait, what?”
“It’s a long story, mate.” Swipe replied with a tap of his foot.
“What brings you back?” Thorn asked.
“I thought I recognized you guys when I flew over, then saw them.” The pterosaur nodded upward toward the two humans. “What brings you all back here anyway?”
“Giant, of course,” Thorn replied. “And a little more.”
“Sounds like fun. I’d love nothing more than to see the bastard go down. And you! You’re Rex, right? I heard from some other flyers about your fight the other day. Mighty impressive show from what I heard.” The tyrannosaur simply blinked in response, when Eira got to her feet.
“Why do you care?” Thorn asked. “You’re out of work.”
“That’s just it. I’d grown so dependent on Giant for scraps I can’t hardly catch myself a bug anymore. I’m starving! I hope you don’t mind if I tag along and nibble on whatever you have to offer?”
“I’d rather have you for breakfast!” Rust barked as he snapped his jaws at the morsel. “What if you’re stilling working for Giant?”
“If I was, I’d still be talking like an imbecile. To you, at least,” Messenger retorted. “Believe me, I hate him as much as you do.”
“What?” Eira asked. “What did he do to you?” The pterosaur turned to the girl, craning his head up just to meet eyes with her, as she stood the closest.
“He set me up is what he did! I thought I’d get a nice meal, ya know; get so fat I couldn’t fly. That would be the life. But rather, he tried to feed me to his little minions.”
“Do you have any idea what he’s up to now?” Thorn asked.
“Wish I could tell ya. Frankly, I’ve been trying to keep as much distance as I can from him.”
“How can we trust you?” Rust growled. Messenger seemed ready for a response when he caught himself. He hummed as he looked downward, unable to come up with an answer that could readily satisfy the acrocanthosaurus.
“I suppose you can’t, what with our past dealings. Just know that I hate him as much as you do.”
“Hate’s a rather strong word.” Rex spoke as he slowly got to his feet. “We’re simply investigating at this point.”
“No need,” The pterosaur said. “I know his true colors. He’s a liar, albeit a lively one. He’d con ya out of your own mother if he could.” That’s when Thorn looked to Eira.
“Does that do much to convince you?” He asked. Eira felt her chest grow heavy, when she cleared her throat.
“Not just yet.”
“Ah, a sympathizer,” Messenger scoffed. “Take my word. He’s no good.” With so many negative words tossed about her friend and frequent savior, the Green Folk still couldn’t be sure. That’s when she heard her stomach growl at her. It was so loud that the others could hear it clearly.
“I suppose breakfast is in order,” Rex said. “I know I wouldn’t mind something to eat.”
“Alright lad, but we should act quickly. No need to dawdle.” The two giant dinosaurs nodded.
“Right. Let’s find something to eat.” The tyrannosaur’s mouth watered at the thought of fresh meat. Even Bernard got to his feet, unable to resist a good meal.
“And I’ll take the scraps if you’ll let me.” Messenger added.
“I suppose you could prove useful,” Rust hummed. “So long as you stay close.”
“And I will sir. Believe me. Anything to get back at Giant.” He said, turning his attention away from Swipe’s rabbit. The small hairy creature had obviously not escaped the attention of the larger carnivores, who felt that they had fallen into Eira’s territory.
“Eira, what can you think of for a meal?” Rust asked.
“Well, I know deer are quite abundant.” She replied. “Elk are larger, but not quite as common. They might be our best bet. I haven’t a bow of my own to hunt them with though.” Rex looked to her with a toothy grin as Rust and Thorn perked up.
“Leave the hunting to us.”