Men & Monsters

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To the Very End

“Would you look at this place?” Rust thought aloud as he and the others found their eyes fixed all around them. They had happened across an area unlike any of them had ever seen, let alone could explain.

Stone structures, having seen better days, stood apart from the forest with their weathered grey surface. Some stood more intact than others, some of which had been nearly reclaimed by the forest entirely by moss, leaves, and vines. The single best structure stood with a sole beam of sunlight breaking through the canopy, illuminating it. Its stone had been so old so as to darken to an aged black. What had once been a wood roof appeared to have collapsed years or even decades prior. It had a tall arch as its doorway, which alone towered over many of the other structures.

“Old homes, I be thinkin’.” Swipe observed as he weaved in and out of the remnants. Most did not have four walls anymore, and as they ventured further, deer and even smaller mammals occasionally darted away into the woods. “Like the people Eira lives with?” Rex hummed in thought to the raptor’s idea as he and Rust wandered through the small village, taking in as much of it as they could. Meanwhile Crash and Rampage seem less interested, standing back a ways to absorb the place in its entirety.

“Her people live in places like these?” Rex asked as he poked his head into what had once been the doorway of an old stone home.

“Nah. Not really. Her folks live in wood and dirt places. Nothin’ like this place.” Everything about this abandoned area intrigued the tyrannosaurus, who was anxious to approach the large church. Despite its appearance, it still stood strong through the years and elements. The very idea baffled him.

“Why waste time like this? There’s nothing here!” Crash whined. She was largely ignored by her companions as they continued to explore. Rex walked dexterously through the ruins, not wanting to disturb a brick of it, when he came to the church. Swipe soon joined him at his side, when the two met eyes.

“After you.” He nodded to the deinonychus, who bowed his respects before entering. Rex had to lower himself to an awkward squat just to get under the arched doorway, but once inside, he was in awe.

“Tell me what you see lad, I’ll be out here.” Rust said, knowing that the structure could not comfortably fit two dinosaurs of their size at once. The young tyrannosaur looked all around with a jaw gaping wide open. He was even more fascinated by the magnificence and yet, more curious as to what it might have looked like once upon a time.

The collapsed roof now lay on the ground, its dark wood reeking and teething with insects. Small stone pillars stood near the center of the walkway toward the front, and more toward the walls. Having once supported long pews for worshipers to sit on, there was little left but their stone skeletons left. These weren’t what caught the tyrannosaur and raptor’s attention, as they were inexplicably drawn toward what stood as the centerpiece at the front of the building.

Approaching it, Rex cocked his head at a large, moss-laden statue. Small steps led to it, which Swipe hopped up in one bound, but he too looked up in awe at what appeared to be a winged serpent. Standing triumphantly on its stone base, the wicked beast had a fearsome pose that couldn’t help but unnerve the tyrant dinosaur. He stood there studying it for what seemed like hours, when Swipe turned toward the wall, his wide eyes narrow for once. Shuffling toward it, he pecked at the vine-stricken wall and exposed a small imprint on the wall, like a picture. With a child-like curiosity piqued, he scraped his body against the wall. Moss and vines spilled into his feathery coat until he stood back and gained a better picture. It looked like a stegosaurus had been carved into the stone wall. He turned to Rex.

“Oy, Rex! Come look at this!” Able to break Rex’s gaze from the dragon statue, the young dinosaur approached the wall and eyed it with as much curiosity as Swipe had.

“I know what that is.”

“Roight? What do you think the rest of the wall has?” Swipe glanced at the wall before looking back to a grinning tyrannosaurus. He met him with a glance before Rex took up as Swipe had, rubbing his large side against the stone wall so as to dislodge the vegetation that had worked to claim it. Together the tyrannosaurus and deinonychus scraped that wall of nearly all of the foliage it once harbored, and once they had finished, the two took a step back to inspect it in its entirety. “Well that’s interestin’.”

The wall was incredibly and skillfully crafted with an endless array of carvings. Rex could spy hooded figures like Eira running away from caricatures of knights with swords in hand. A fat human wearing a crown and cape stood behind the knights, pointing to the hooded figures angrily. He also saw the hooded beings on another part of the wall circling what looked like fire. Another dragon picture appeared beside far from it, with both knights and the hooded figures running from it. Dinosaurs also appeared here in there, including a triceratops, some sort of long-necked sauropod, a wickedly sculpted raptor appearing to leap toward the stegosaurus, and then…

“That looks a lot like ya, doesn’t it?” Swipe chirped. He nodded to a rough caricature depicting a large, roaring carnivore. What’s more, those hooded figures from before stood small behind it, as if protected by it. Rex was beginning to make sense of the story unfolding before him. What it seemed to be fighting against was the winged serpent, as both seemed caught in combat. It made his blood race, seeing that character depicted in stone. What’s more, it suggested that Eira’s kind and his own had once met, and perhaps even worked together at some point.

“Well that’s interesting.” It was all Rex could think to say. His chest felt heavy. There were so many questions he had and no one to give him answers. “I wonder who made this place? How old do you think it is?”

“More than a few years, I reckon. Blimey, that’s a mighty fine take of me don’t ya think?” Swipe snickered as he brushed a clawed finger along the outline of the raptor. Rex smirked.

“The best. Now where do you suppose Eira and the others are now?”

“Wish I knew. I think I lost their scent.”

“I can just barely make it out, but the winds keep changing I fear.” The tyrannosaur looked around, until he felt something scrape at his leg. Looking down, it turned out that Swipe had begun to scale up his leg until he hopped up on his back and jumped atop his shoulders. It wasn’t until he had solidified his footing on his companion that Swipe decided to shake all of the moss and vegetation from his form, coating Rex in the process.

“We’ll find ‘em, mate. I know we will. Don’t ya worry about nothin’ like that!” Rex smiled. Once again his cheerfulness proved contagious. He turned back to head toward the entrance, and even though his scraping did nothing, it took but one strike of his cedar-like tail to hit the wall when the structure shook violently. The decorated wall crumbled in a thundering crash, shaking both dinosaurs in their knees while doing so.

Waiting for the dust and debris to settle, Rex stood with a blank expression, staring into the forest where the wall once stood. What had he done? Where he mourned over the lost artifact, Swipe cackled.

“Such service! Our own bloody exit, courtesy of ya!” Well it certainly made for a less cramped space, that much was for sure, Rex thought. With a deep sigh, he stepped over the crumbled wall. Rust and the others were quick to join them, fearing that they may have been crushed beneath the rubble. The elder dinosaur gave a relieved hack.

“I would have been a little more quiet and subtle, but whatever you want, lad.” Rex stepped toward his old friend, just as Swipe leapt down from his perch and smiled at Crash. She wasn’t having any part in his goofy demeanor as she looked away.

“I think we’ve come into contact with those like Eira before. There was a wall in there that showed us as being side-by-side.” Rex said with a certain amount of concern, but also a hint of curiosity in his voice.

“Well until he broke it,” Swipe shrugged. Rust looked down and pondered for a moment.

“I don’t ever recall hearing of those like her kind until any of this happened. Then again...I was born and raised in the grasslands, as was my father before me. I’m not sure if I’m the one who can give you a good answer, my boy.” A bit disappointed, Rex felt the questions in his head yearn for an any sort of revelation in the matter. It was enough to go mad with, he thought. “Perhaps in years’ past, but certainly not for quite some time I suppose. Did your parents ever speak of them?”

“Not a word. Though I suppose they didn’t speak about such things very often.”

“They always were straight forward. Something to be admired for,” Rust replied with a decisive nod. Before they could get too deep into the conversation, Rampage’s nostrils flared.

“Something’s coming toward us!” He said readily. Soon enough Crash prepared herself, instantly recognizing the scent as belonging to that of a carnivore. Swipe tried to catch the smell, but could not gain anything, even if he tried. Vegetation began shuffling wildly as something came barreling toward them. Crash and Rampage turned to face the threat, and with their interests piqued, so did Rex and Rust. The forest seemed to conceal the newcomer until the very last moment. Suddenly Thorn crashed through the timber, stumbling over a stone brick and crashing to the ground. There he laid, sucking in air and exhaling loudly, fighting life itself to catch his breath.

“Thorn! I can’t believe it!” Swipe exclaimed as he ran to his old friend’s side. He prodded and poked at the ceratosaurus with the tip of his snout, resulting in some forced but annoyed growls from the larger dinosaur.

“Let...me...catch my...breath...you dolt!”

“Yep, it’s Thorn alroight! Without an eye, I might add.” As he slowly got back to his feet, Thorn looked up at Rex, his chest still expanding and contracting wildly. He had to stop meeting this dinosaur without gasping for air. The two much larger dinosaurs looked concerned, while Crash still held some reservations about his return. Rampage stared blankly at him while he chewed mindlessly on a root he had found.

“Something...something has happened, Rex…”

“What’s that? Catch your breath.” Thorn shook his head. In his mind, the situation proved too dire to waste even a moment to wait on his breathing.

“Finn...is dead. Giant...he must have died as well, but he’s back...he’s back, but he’s different. He...he has wings now, and can breath fire… and then he...he took Eira and Bernard. He’s going east to fight someone…I think those armored...folk...” Rex blinked once at the ceratosaur’s words, a twinge of sorrow at the news about Finn. His parents knew his mother well, and spoke highly of her. He let off a small sigh, expressing his apologies aloud for not being there to help him.

After a moment of silence, Rex’s attention snapped to. That’s when he looked back to the small dragon statue still standing in the church. A deep chill ran down his spine to the tip of his tail as he tried to imagine the creature. Thorn must have followed his eyes when he nodded. “That’s him. Right there. That’s what he’s come back as. He torched the one with the smart mouth, with the metal claws.”

“Blade? He killed Blade?” Crash asked eagerly.

“Aye, nothing left of him but his bones. I...I knew I had to find you. I lack the strength or size, but we have to do something. He has our friends.”

“Perhaps it would be wise to sit this one out,” Rust hummed. “In my age there’s little I can do, and Rex is too young to…”

“We’ll do it. We must,” Rex interrupted when he looked back to Thorn. “East you said?”

“Aye. I don’t know if we can do much, but I feel we must do something. If just to bring Eira and her people back.”

“We shouldn’t waste much time then.”

“Rex, think of what you’re saying. Don’t throw your life away to something you don’t understand,” Rust counseled. “You looked at that statue like you know that’s what Giant has become.”

“We have to do something, Rust, just like Thorn said.” Rex and Rust stared at one another, a tense standoff between generations. After a few moments, the acrocanthosaurus dipped his head down. “We came here to stop Giant, and after what he did to Finn, he deserves whatever is coming to him.” Rust closed his eyes and sighed.

“If you feel it’s right. But might I suggest we at least try to understand what we’re getting into? From afar at first?”

“If time permits. We mustn’t waste too much time though.”

“Let me come with you,” Crash said. “Rampage too. You’ll need our help.” Rex smiled at the young dome-headed dinosaur, and nodded.

“We will appreciate every bit of help we can muster.”

“We’ll be up against an army,” Rust added.

“They’ll be busy I imagine,” Thorn said grimly. “We can’t let Giant do whatever he pleases. Not in this form he takes.”

“Then it is decided. Rust, Crash, Rampage, Thorn, and Swipe, will you go with me to this eastern place?”

“You can’t do it alone. I will follow you as I followed your parents. To the ends of the earth and back.” Rust said with a high sense of dignity.

“Aye mate! Where ya go I’m roight there!” Swipe added eagerly.

“Time to smash some skulls!” Crash cried. Rampage simply snorted and stomped on the ground to give his allegiance, leaving those there to look to Thorn, who looked up solemnly to Rex. He nodded slowly.

“Aye, lad. To the very end.”

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