Hell on Earth
Bernard’s blood had begun to stain Thorn’s sides as they continued to follow Eira in the forest. The Green Folk had taken the liberty of leading them, storming forward in a fit of what Thorn couldn’t be sure was purely rage or sadness. Even still, a tree limb pushed forward then swung back and slapped the girl, forcing her to actively strike and smack the branch out of anger until she was left panting.
She collected herself, not bothering to look back at the smirking ceratosaur and knight, then continued on. Thorn wanted to remark on something, anything in the forest to take everyone's attention off Finn's passing, though part of him wondered if that would be disrespectful or not. Suddenly he caught a whiff of something refreshing. Stopping, Thorn perked his head up.
“There’s more water nearby. It isn’t that river with the strong current either. We should grab a drink. It might do us some good, eh lass?” He looked down to Eira, who paused for a brief moment before nodding. She didn’t say much during their entire trek, as it was Thorn this time who led the troupe toward a rather shallow brook. With a gentle babbling sound, water rippled as it rolled over glistening rocks. The rocks then shimmered in the sunlight capable of piercing the trees above, giving the gentle scene an almost ethereal one. More thirsty than she had realized, Eira dashed forward and dropped down, cupping her hands and drinking generously from the water.
Thorn lowered himself to the ground, allowing Bernard to stand for himself as he too stumbled toward the brook. His blood had dried but the wounds were still fresh. After he drank for some time, he slapped his visor down and sat on the pebbled embankment. Slowly and cautiously, he winced at the glacial temperatures as he submerged his leg in the crystal clear water. What little blood still seeped from his wounds spilled into the current, but otherwise, there was little else he could do with them but dab later with a rag. How he hoped nothing would become infected.
Eira could have drank desperately in her manner for hours, she thought, but she clasped her stomach. She knew better than to continue as she did, should she vomit it back up later. Wiping at her chin, her stomach growled angrily, as if awakened. Standing tall, the girl hummed and looked around. She wouldn’t have time to set up a snare trap, but could not see anything in sight that might have supported something she could eat. She felt tempted to ask Thorn to track something down, but couldn’t muster the courage to do so as he too seemed consumed with quenching his thirst. She couldn’t bring herself to ask that of him; not after his injury, and not after the way in which she had been behaving. To have her trap something would have to taken too long as well. It was better to be on the move and eat later.
Images of Finn kept flashing into her mind, as much as she wished they hadn’t. From the first time they met to his demise, she couldn’t shake his voice from her ears, even if she plugged them. Brief though their time was together, she felt she had known him her entire life. Where was Rex? Where was Swipe? She couldn’t help but ask herself these things if just to drown out Finn’s voice. Soon enough, her shaky hands began to fiddle with one another in an attempt to warm one another. She murmured things to herself aloud, trying in desperation to rid herself of Finn’s voice.
Thorn had been watching her with his good eye, fearing that he was bearing witness to a mental breakdown. She paced back and forth with her hands wringing, and he could just barely make out soft whispers under her breath. The ceratosaurus turned toward her and was about to break her of her thoughts when he heard something. Something eerie.
“I want…” The voice was but a whisper, but sounded like a sinister snake in its manner.
“Who’s there?” Thorn demanded. It was enough to have the girl snap to when she looked to him.
“What, Thorn?” She asked, her voice more confined than the dinosaur would have expected of her at the moment.
“I need…” The three looked all around, trying to identity the raspy voice.
“Where the hell is that coming from?” Bernard demanded as he pulled a dagger from his belt. It was but all he could do in his injured state, but from behind that helmet, he seemed just as fierce as before. The voice continued to emanate throughout the forest.
“Heart of a lion…” All of a sudden it hit Eira. Her eyes widened and her heart stopped. Unable to speak for a moment, she ran toward the knight, crying for him.
“Bernard! Get out of the water!”
“Huh?” The knight grunted as he tried to look back at her. Before he could respond, however, he was doused in a storm of water. A gaunt arm shot forward and long, spindly fingers wrapped around Bernard’s leg as Rosy dragged him beneath the water and down the river.
“No! Rosy, bring him back! Please!” Eira cried in desperation as she and Thorn began to chase the shadow beneath the shallow water. Though no deeper than four feet in any one area, the Green Folk felt her heart race when she feared they lost them. The shadow had vanished, and so had the Rusalka with Sir Bernard. “No...no please no…” She pined.
“What was that?” Thorn spat as he continued to trot along the stream after Rosy, only to also find himself without any trace of them. He returned to the girl, who felt more alone than ever before. Why was everyone around her going away? Could she do anything about it? She felt her fists tighten as she stamped once on the ground.
“No! I won’t let them take him too!” Before she could start off, Thorn stepped in front of her. “Let me through!” Her words were filled with poison when her heart raced. She looked up at the ceratosaur, but instead of a snarl, she was met with a stern, almost parental stare. Then, unable to keep up the visage, he sighed in defeated and looked back up at her.
“Come on. Get on my back, lass.”
With Thorn carrying Eira they could run alongside the stream much faster than had the girl let her cloak get caught on every branch and thistle she ran into. She gave him her thanks in the form of a soft pat on the back of his neck. Though glad to offer his services, Thorn certainly wished Rex would be around. Sure he could carry Eira with ease, but after hauling Bernard around for what seemed to be hours, his back wouldn’t have minded having a break. His heart raced as the water began to speed up, and tumbling down a rocky hill to what seemed to be a body of collected water.
Eira swiftly jumped down from her perch once they reached the base of the hill, running to the edge of the surprisingly deep pool and looking around frantically. She began to wade through the water, her cloak quickly growing heavy as it became soaked.
Not caring if the corpse-like Rosy attacked her next while she cried out for Bernard, she also didn't appear to mind the waters chilling her to the very bone. Thorn watched on, but something didn’t feel right about this. He looked up and to his side, when his good eye widened.
“Hey, uh...lass?” He beckoned softly. Slightly annoyed, Eira sloshed back around in the water, but before she could even follow Thorn’s line of sight she saw them. All of them. They seemed to pour out of the forest, surrounding them, with one familiar face at the lead of it all.
“Ah! I see our prey has come right to us! Saves us the waste of hunting you down. How wonderful!” Blade cackled, with the latter part a mocking impersonation of Giant’s mannerisms. “By leader’s right, I claim the girl’s life!”
“Leader’s right?” Eira asked boldly as she waded back onto land to Thorn’s side. “Where’s Giant?” Silence fell over the forest, at least, for a moment. Blade, Boulder, and a handful of others laughed to themselves. The baryonyx in particular seemed the most tickled with the question. Then, in his dramatic manner, he brought a steel claw up and pointed to the pool of water.
“That is where your old pal lies. I’m the leader now!” He laughed again before advancing on Thorn and Eira a few steps. His minions behind him followed suit, as they all closed in together. “And this is exactly how I would have dreamed you would die, girl. By my hand!” His cackling was annoying, Eira thought, especially now that he had a pedestal to preach upon. Is that why Giant liked to hear his voice so much? She and Thorn slowly but surely inched backward, hoping to take the futile attempt to run back up the hill from which they descended. That was, until they all heard a metallic clank from the water.
Turning, they spied a being emerge from the waters, scores of water pouring over him as he stepped onto land with a certain confidence that unnerved those who saw him. As the water turned to droplets, Eira immediately recognized him.
“Bernard? You’re okay!” As she ran to him, she noticed that his armor had been restored in its entirety, from its weathered look to the holes Hopper had punctured into it. The knight looked at his palms in amazement, before looking back up to Eira.
“I don’t believe it, my girl. I live!” The two embraced one another in a surprising show, when Blade stamped on the ground.
“Not for long! I’ll deal with you.” He snarled loudly before marching toward the two humans. Before Thorn could intervene, another figure emerged from the water, this one from the center of the pool. She let out an ear-splitting cry so as to gain the attention of all those present. It most certainly worked, Eira thought as she covered her ears.
It was Rosy, hovering over the water so that it submerged her only down past her knees. Her arms were held outward, in a twisted angelic pose, when her grin widened at the sight her audience.
“For his sacrifice, his blood, his heart, I have breathed life in my greatest gift.” As she spoke, her rotten teeth were revealed in her twisted smile. It was enough to send shivers down Eira’s spine, just one more aspect of the rusalka to add to a list. “I am no longer the harbinger of death you all claim I am. I am the catalyst. I ascend to the heavens as I rightfully should have years ago. I sacrifice myself now, and I give you something that will be spoken of for years to come. Behold!” With her words, Rosy brought up her hands high, and her head looked upward with a sick crack. Then, just as she appeared, she was swiftly yanked back down into the abyss below, where the water bubbled and churned for a moment, then went silent.
“Odd…” Blade thought aloud, before turning back to Eira. “Now with you…” Then, with a soft splash of water, something flew high into the air from the water. Landing between the baryonyx and the humans, Eira cocked her head to inspect what had come between them. Blood spilled from one half of what seemed to be a fish, as its fat, lumpy tail flapped around one last time before going limp. Blade blinked once. He knew that tail.
The forest stood still for a moment, as all eyes were laid on that catfish tail, what had been once Rosy’s avatar. With it some dinosaurs felt an impending danger come over them, while those like Eira, Bernard, and Thorn remained quite baffled. Then, in another splash of water, the silence was broken. A massive, bat-like wing waved high into the air, followed by another, when their sharp thump claws crashed down on the pebbly bank beside the pool. The powerful arms tightened and defined their muscles as they dragged something concealed by watery foam forward.
The foam washed off quickly as a massive beast raised its head high above those around it. Leathery green skin gave way to a ridge of dark spines running along its long neck, and black twisted horns framed the skull of what looked like a crocodile’s. Two horns in particular, each behind the monster’s eyes, dwarfed the rest. The upward horn at the tip of its toothy snout was jutting out high into the air, ending with a wickedly sharp point.
Finally it opened its eyes, revealing them to be of a deep golden hue. Steam poured from its nostrils as it came on land finally, and the serpent-like creature had its sights set solely on Blade. The baryonyx felt his heart stop once he met the beast’s eyes. Eyes he knew and both feared and hated. He froze.
“You’d be best to believe that I am not killed as easily as you might assume,” Giant said in his casual manner. “All you need are some friends in...peculiar places. I dare say you, Blade, have lost that friend. That sole friend of yours. Sweet girl I must sadly admit. This was her decision.” The dragon smiled while he inspected his wings and long, winding tail. He stood tall on his powerful hind legs and towered over every being present. “I am reborn. More powerful than ever!” He came came crashing back down to the ground on all fours, shaking the others with his wake. It was enough to rattle Blade down to his metallic core, forcing his teeth to chatter wildly. “Let me see, how on earth could I possibly thank you for introducing us to one another? Ah, but of course…” The dragon’s smile grew sinister when he arched his head back. Then, lurching forward, Giant opened his maw and unleashed a great ball of fire. Blade could never cry out before being consumed by the flames.
Moments later, the fire subsided, and everyone looked on in horror as Blade collapsed, his hide and flesh burned away. The only thing that remained was his skeleton, composed entirely of steel, as it still glistened and even glowed red hot in parts in the pile in which it sat. The forest stood still at the sight, when Giant stepped forward on all fours. He brushed the pile of bones away with the back of his wing. A cloud of ash and embers erupted as a result, and forced the dinosaurs to quake at the knees.
“And of you other doubters, will you not speak up?” Giant bellowed. Not a sound was made by the large pack of animals, much to his delight. He smiled widely. “How wonderful.” As his head swiveled on his serpentine neck, Giant took notice of Eira finally, to which he lowered himself down to her level. “Eira, so good to see you. What do you think? Magnificent, yes?” The Green Folk stood horrified by the monstrosity standing before her, and just as his men had, her knees shook just looking him in the eye. Bernard held out an arm to help her back, but the dragon paid little mind to him.
“Y-y-yes. Y-you are most c-certainly are magnificent, G-Giant.” She stammered. Giant smiled warmly.
“Ah, there’s that old stutter I recall so fondly. Wasn’t sure how I felt about you standing up for yourself,” he chuckled. “What you said to me after Finn passed, do you still mean that?” Of course she did, Eira thought, but if she stood by it…well, all one had to do was look at Blade and make up their mind.
“I take it back. I-I apologize,” Giant gave a booming laugh.
“Oh Eira, don’t let this change things between us. I’m delighted to hear this. And to reward you, I shall grant you a present.” Eira swallowed hard, half-expecting to be charred when the dragon turned to his minions in a grand display. “Today, we march on the men who harmed Eira’s people! We claim their land, and I shall lead you to victory!” At long last, the silence held among the dinosaur ended in roaring applause. With a dark smirk the dragon looked over his shoulder to the Green Folk. “Of course I can’t imagine it without you by my side.” And with but one flap of those massive wings, Giant kicked up enough air to lift himself up off the ground and into the air.
With his eagle-like talons, the dragon brought his legs forward and effortlessly snatched Eira and Bernard up, as they filled the air with screams and wails. “East we run! We have a world to conquer!” Those not pushed back by the powerful gust of his wings watched on in awe as their leader rose into the heavens, breaking through the forest canopy with ease as he began to fly toward the Piermont Kingdom.
In a flurry of motion, both carnivores and herbivores took after their leader. They stormed forward with renewed vigor toward the east, and there was nothing that could get in their way. After the madness had passed, there was no one left but Thorn, who turned. He ran as fast as his body could allow him, faster than it ever had before. He had to do something; find Rex, find Swipe, find anyone who could help him.
Hell on earth had arrived.