Men & Monsters

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A Thorn in His Side

Hopper’s scent came to be overwhelming for Thorn and Swipe. He was gaining on them, and fast. Thorn felt his heart race as he instinctively darted ahead, his breath already heavy from the chase and his body soon to give out. Eira no longer factored into his mind as survival kicked in. Coupled with the rekindled heartache of many years’ past, he was confused and worried beyond comprehension, and so, without much thought, he was gone. The heart-wrenching pain he had so successfully sealed away for years had come back like a tidal wave, so much so that he could no longer register his surroundings.

Eira watched helplessly as her largest companion for the race separated himself from her unwittingly. Unable to smell like he could, it only worked to have her mind wonder, something she knew couldn’t be done at such a time. She feared he had abandoned her for his own sake, forcing her to doubt her worth in the eyes of these beasts she had readily called friends. Sure enough, worrisome thoughts raced in her mind as her sides cramped up. Panting and hopeless, she felt hot tears run down her cheeks when flashing images of jagged teeth catching up to her felt more real with each passing second. The tightening binds burned until she felt fit to collapse. Panic set in, and the world around her was growing surreal.

In a fit of fear, Eira ran to the backside of a tree and pressed up against it. The fight to catch her breath was all she could focus on. Images of Giant and Finn rushed past, as did thoughts of her home and family: Mama and Papa, Awel and Adelae, then those from her adventure; Rex, Bernard, and now, this chase. She tried to control her breathing, though it seemed futile, as instead she seemed to cling to the tree like a protective lover. Nestling her head against the bark, she wet her dry lips and listened to both her beating heart and the forest around her.

When she finally found the courage to open her eyes, Eira looked up and only saw Swipe some ways away. In a most curious manner, the raptor had taken up a roosting position. With his head cocked to one side, his eyes reflected what Eira could only imagine was pity. After a few brief moments together, Swipe stood up, his long tail standing stiff and horizontal, when he dashed off in the same direction they were going. Finally a hand came over Eira’s mouth, when she fought the tears rushing up to the surface. They left her. Despite Thorn’s promise, they both left her to die, and now she was alone.

Her body felt weak. She had eaten very little in days, with the last meal she enjoyed having been coughed back up by her fall down the steep hill from before. Unlike the already formidable Wildeboar, Eira was certain that she couldn’t fend off something as large as an allosaurus, let alone one with as many minions as Hopper. She was going to die here, that eerie, self-defeating voice in her head whispered in her ear. The girl had grown so sick of that voice, and yet so convinced time and again. As she watched the feathered deinonychus run off, that voice only grew in strength.

With self-pity defeating her spirits, Eira’s eyes widened once she heard the forest rustle with movement from behind her cover. Exhausted, she still clasped her hands over her mouth as she sank down to the ground and waited for her hiding place to be discovered.

Sure enough, Hopper stood at the forefront of his platoon of raptors. While many of them snickered amongst themselves, the allosaurus remained stoic. With Louis at his side, the velociraptor was dwarfed by his commander but no less serious, when Carnage and Taurus appeared behind them.

“What’s happened?” Taurus demanded as Hopper scanned the woods around them.

“They’ve separated. Clever.”

“Zen vhat do you suggest, monsieur?” Louis asked when the feathers on the back of his head flared. Hopper’s eyes narrowed, knowing that their targets were close. His hovering presence was enough to send Eira into a mild state of panic, as she struggled to contain the fear bubbling up inside her.

“Taurus, run a long flank to my left. Carnage, to my right. Divide my men amongst yourselves, and bring these fools back to me. I will go alone.” The allosaurus said. With the thrill of the hunt rushing through his veins, Carnage did as he was told without hesitation, while a small league of raptors chasing after him took off together. It was Taurus, however, who narrowed his eyes and stood until Hopper shot a harsh glare back at him. The two carnivores squared off for a moment in a tense standoff, until with a reluctant sigh, the smaller carnivore did as he was told and ran into the opposite direction of his brother. With that, Hopper stood with a proud grin.

“Ha ho! Showed him, eh Boss?” Louis snickered with anything but subtlety. The allosaur, however, seemed less than pleased with the velociraptor, when he kicked at the beast’s rear-end with his large foot. It was enough to send Louis reeling some ways, skidding along on his chin until he leapt back to his feet. “Boss?”

“Go get them.” Hopper growled. It didn’t matter what his rank was among the raptors, Louis was still small and a subordinate to Hopper, and that deeply-instilled fear only fueled the small creature’s rapid nod.

“O-Oui, monsiuer!” The raptor chirped before taking off into the brush. While the smaller dinosaur scurried off, Eira could still sense the allosaur’s overwhelming presence over her. His eyes narrowed while he scanned the forest from one end to the other; his stoic form never budging when the breeze began to break through the thick forest canopy. It sent the brush around him into a frantic fit of convulsions, yet only worked to jumble up the smells entering his flared nostrils. With his upper lip twitching, the dinosaur stepped forward. His massive chest expanded greatly as he took a single deep breath before exhaling in a fit of defeat.

“Where are you...?” He thought aloud while searching about. His heart racing with the hunt, the allosaurus felt himself filled of energy he hadn’t known in some time. At least since his employment by Giant. As such, a crooked grin lined his long maw as he peered behind every tree he found within a short distance, a certain thrill of excitement growing with each glance he stole.

From the snapping twigs and overwhelming smell closing in around her, Eira knew it was only a matter of time before Hopper was to find her. With her hands still held tightly against her mouth and nose, the young woman felt her eyes widen with the coming presence of something greater than herself. After a certain stillness filled the air, something caught her attention from the corner of her eye.

To her left, some ways away, there stood Bernard. He motioned for her to remain quiet, but something was off about the man. Eira blinked once as he stumbled forward, his chain-mail scraping loudly as he fought to regain balance. That’s when an empty bottle fell from his belt, along with Eira’s heart. Bernard stood tall, still wobbling about when the drunk’s clumsiness had caught the attention of another.

Snickering, the curious allosaur turned and peered behind another tree before moving toward them. The bottle’s clink was just loud enough to catch his attention. Eira listened on, sure that the beast was moving toward the aimless drunk. As the breeze died down, Hopper began to regain his favorite sense, justified by his overactive nostrils. Acting like a homing beacon, the dinosaur moved toward the heaviest scent he could, one of mammalian flesh, when he turned and was met with the greed-clad girl.

The corners of Hopper’s mouth curled upward in a wicked, toothy grin when he began to cackle. Glory to himself for once, he thought. He would surely win over the favor of his comrades for this. It wasn’t like any of them cared to waste so much time on this...thing. He’d be a hero for dispatching her. The massive predator stood tall as he readied himself for a clean strike, with his time of glory at hand.

Unable to contain herself, Eira felt herself fit to cry out before jumping out of the way of the dinosaur’s snapping jaws. Just then Bernard jumped to his feet. Narrowly missing the skirts of her gown, Hopper scowled as he watched her fall into a pile of old leaves some ways away. Before he could deliver a devastating blow, however, something metallic caught the corner of his eye, much like it had Eira’s mere moments before.

Sir Bernard wailed as he unsheathed his sword and swung wildly at Hopper. The dinosaur took a swift step backward, narrowly dodging the blade, but there remained another in its path. With a surprised whelp Eira rolled to her side, just in time to miss a mighty blow to her chest as the blade sunk deep into the earth where her imprint remained.

“Get behind me Eira!” He cried with an obvious slur.

“Get away from me!” She barked once she got to her feet. With a heavy sigh, Bernard pulled his sword from the ground and turned, slicing it through the air in a bid to fend off the encroaching allosaurus. At first Hopper backed away with wide eyes at the flailing man, but once he realized that he lacked coordination, the threat swiftly diminished. Eira gulped loudly as she watched the beast’s gaze narrow and then a sneer returned to his face.

With a heavy pant, Bernard staggered off to one side, his weight almost entirely reliant on his sword. The knight would have fallen to the ground had the blade not crashed into the ground again, dulling its edge further. A deep echo reverberated from within his helmet as he gave a tired sigh. His blurry sights further limited by the grill of his helmet, Bernard couldn’t see Hopper’s smile widen as he hovered over him.

“No! Leave him alone!” Eira cried out as she ran forward. With her dagger in hand, she swiped its sharp edge at Hopper’s eye. She missed, however, when the allosaur jerked upward and snarled at her. With no armor to contend with, he effortlessly swung his large head around, sending the girl up off her feet and to the ground.

“You wait your turn.” Hopper sneered before turning his attention back to Bernard.

“Have at you, beast!” The knight hollered. With a heavy groan he slowly brought his sword back up. It was obvious that years of alcoholism had taken their toll on the old man. When the blade barely made it up off the ground, it fell from his hands completely with the onset of a piercing cry.

Hopper’s jaws clamped down onto the knight’s arm. Steel crunched loudly as yellow, dagger-like teeth pierced the weak plates just above Bernard’s elbow. The massive dinosaur, whose strength easily overpowered the man, shook his head back and forth. Tearing flesh and tasting blood, he was overtly violent in his assault, as he could have easily ripped the limb off entirely. Instead, it was more sadistic than instinctive. Like a dog chewing on a toy, Hopper enjoyed every moment of Bernard’s echoing anguish. So much so, he himself couldn’t keep from giving muffled snickers between each violent thrust from his neck.

Then, having had his fun, the massive beast tossed Bernard to the ground with a buck of his head. Blood now coated his snout, not only with the knight’s but his own, as metal had sheared his gums into a bloody pulp. The sting meant little to the allosaurus, and as his eyes narrowed a smile widened. With fear setting in, it didn’t help that the alcohol running through the knight’s veins only worsened the bleeding. Bernard kicked himself away, panting heavily as the pain and adrenaline coursed through his body, and as a result his senses quickly sharpened.

That’s no fun, Hopper thought when his jaws came back down and clamped down hard onto his leg. Shaking more violently than before, the dinosaur didn’t stop until his gums bled further with shredded metal and Bernard’s leg at tattered mess. Only then did he toss the man off again, kicking dirt his way when he gave a disgusted and bloody spit. It didn’t take long for a pool of crimson blood to form around the elderly knight, when his cries of pain had faded significantly. Now they were but weakened groans.

When Hopper stood over Bernard, his twisted mind came up with endless scenarios in which to dispatch of the human. Surely it should be something to be enjoyed. Like a fine feast. His crooked grin only widened as his eyes narrowed with the gory images in his head. He brought his foot up in an almost elegant manner, before tenderly placing it atop Bernard’s chest plate. What better way to embarrass his quarry than to slowly crush them, to feel each rib crack and snap.

Hopper couldn’t help but snicker. The anticipation almost killed him, if his analogy could be so crude, but discipline reminded him that it would be all the more satisfying to savor every moment. The dinosaur swiftly brought the tip of his snout down and with it, flipped Bernard’s visor open. He smiled as the tired man’s withered face.

“You. Heh. Heh, heh. So clumsy. So weak without this shell around you. I’m doing your lot a favor really. Exposing you to this embarrassment.” Hopper’s grin turned dark and he smirked and bits of bloody drool dripped down onto Bernard. Quickly Bernard could feel the beast put weight on his chest plate. Though minimal, it was already enough to dent the armor to the point that it barely graced the knight’s chain-mail beneath. Hopper saw the fear boiling in Bernard’s worn face, contorting wickedly as he anticipated his end. Just before he applied more pressure on his right leg, a searing pain plagued the other.

With a horrific roar, Hopper turned and confronted Eira Aune, and with a heavy collision sent her off her feet when he swung his head down and around. Meeting with his narrowed eyes, Eira pushed herself away from the dinosaur. In her scramble, she took note of the bone dagger that had remained firmly implanted in Hopper’s left leg. She even saw a noticeable limp in his stride as he worked to stand over her, his obvious sign of superiority. He sneered at her.

“Forgive me. Was I not giving you the attention you desire?” He growled. “Forget Giant. You’re mine. All the time we had, wasted on you. Why? I’ll never know. All I know is that I hate you.” As she scrambled to retreat, she tried to speak. If not for the lump in her throat, her brutal gargles were meant to question Hopper in his intentions. Somehow, however, the allosaur knew what she meant to ask behind her paralyzing fear, when he gave a sinister grin. “Oh? Don’t you get it, you mischievous creature? Everything was great until you came around. I was up for promotion, right behind Giant, to one day control countless armies, until you truly appeared from smoke.” He narrowed his eyes as his claws curled into tight fists. “You’ve ruined everything I worked for.”

“Pl-please listen!” Eira stammered. “I mean nothing to you or your kind! I-I only want to go home.” She blinked rapidly as she forced herself to smile, though that hardly kept her knees from curling up to her body. Eira’s uneasy words and tone only worked to feed into Hopper’s laugh as he hovered over her further.

“It’s too late for that. You’ve changed everything. We can’t go back to the old ways now. Not with the lot of you running about. With you gone, Giant will lose interest. He’ll lose his faith in you and your kind. Don’t you see? All of this effort; all done for you. You ungrateful scum.” As drool continued to ooze between Hopper’s teeth, he cocked his head. He grinned when a deep gurgle echoed from his throat. Where should he strike? Her small neck? A limb first? Perhaps her crimes against his promotion warranted a slow bleeding death. These thoughts raced through his head in mere moments, but they came as hours to Eira, who looked at her killer’s evil gaze and bloody grin. Only seconds after speaking, the allosaurus opened his gaping maw and snapped down toward the girl, issuing a quick shriek from her. Eira backed away as her shuffling feet and beating heart supported her quaking knees. “You sure are fun however.”

As she inched away slowly, Eira kept a very swift eye on the dagger lodged in Hopper’s leg. If only she could get to it before his jaws could crash down, the Green Folk thought. She only needed one perfect moment to grab it and injure Hopper further. With any luck, a successful strike would render his leg useless. As one thought after another raced through her mind, there came a loud shuffle of brush behind her.

The loud pitter-pat of struggle arrived when a flurry of two-legged beasts burst through the forest behind the girl. First came the ever-so-quick Swipe, who took to a sharp left upon the realization that he stood between Hopper and Eira. In a fit of adrenaline, time slowed down as Eira took note of the complexity of the raptor, from his thick feathers to the leathery snout forming a sly smirk. He briefly made eye contact with the Green Folk. With a wink he took off, and time returned to its place. Soon, one raptor emerged and gave chase with a frustrated grunt. Then, after a moment or two, several more velociraptors appeared and took after him in a daring chase to catch the deinonychus, leaving Eira to wonder what became of her larger companion.

The girl’s worries had little time to settle when another carnivore crashed through the thick of the woods and tackled Hopper head-on. His bounding approach came with not a moment’s notice when the allosaurus gave out a hellish bellow. Hopper felt his arm pierced with what he thought could be an array of daggers as pain wracked his body.

Having had his focus on Eira the whole time, he had little time to respond to his rival until it was too late, with not even enough time to snap his jaws at the assailant. With one final, excruciating tear of tendon from his body, he watched helplessly as his attacker carried away a trophy in the form of his arm. The flurry of motion left him dumbstruck as he cocked his head. First he tried in vain to look down and examine the stump that was once his arm, the searing pain now numb from the mere shock from its swiftness. Next he looked to his foe as the beast took shape behind him.

Blood oozing from between his teeth, Thorn carelessly threw Hopper’s arm to the ground. A deep growl rumbled from within his throat. With a sense of satisfaction, he kicked mounds of dirt on the bloody limb before confronting the larger carnivore. As he and Hopper locked eyes, Taurus emerged from the forest but stopped short of crushing Eira beneath his heavy steps. Bewildered, he glanced between his superior and Thorn when another body crashed into his side. With a heavy grunt, Carnage recklessly tackled his brother without stopping. The two grunted and only shortly after collecting themselves, they felt their snouts grow warm in a fit of embarrassment.

With pain searing Hopper’s body for but a few fleeting moments, he soon felt a wave of relief when his body grew numb. With his attention focused on the tenacious carnivore, his mind had been set on more important manners. Just as he confronted his assailant, he worked to kick a plume of dirt onto Eira, who gave out swift cough before scurrying away further. Hopper gave a toothy grin as he lowered his head, so as to meet Thorn at his level. His snout curled backward so as to show his fearsome teeth, and yet, at the end of that row, remained the hint of a smirk.

“So...where does one get the gall to do that?” He hacked. Thorn didn’t answer, as anger coursed through his blood in such a way that one vein in particular bulged outward on his neck. Though he was smaller than the allosaurus, it didn’t discourage Thorn from glancing at every inch of the dinosaur. When his eyes fixed themselves upon Eira’s dagger lodged in his leg, an idea pinged in his head.

Perhaps he had a chance after all.

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