Sunrise on the Grassland
Morning came swiftly for those on the prairie. The sun hadn’t even reached the horizon when dinosaurs quickly went about their business, hoping to avoid the scorching afternoon heat. Herbivores were the most active it seemed, chewing on dew-ridden grass before most of the predators would awaken, and scavengers were beginning to retreat and sleep for the day. It was all rather quiet and lazy, as many of the beasts were still groggy.
One could watch the land glow in a golden hue once the sun began to crawl up over the horizon. Its warming kiss sent tingles down the spines of those up and around, when they all turned toward the budding sun. Interesting, one might think, that such a simple event brought both carnivores and herbivores together as they watched the orange sphere inch toward greatness. This happened every single morning, and it was certainly a spectacle to behold. From the long-necked brachiosaurs and sluggish stegosaurs to the early morning predators big and small, the world stopped for but a few moments each day for this.
Among those who stood watching the sunrise was Rust. Pale with age, and bags sagging beneath his eyes, the elderly acrocanthosaurus took in a chilled gulp of air before sighing softly. Something caught the corner of his eye, cautiously coming closer into view until he turned his head. It was a dryosaur, shaken from her encounter with Thorn the evening before, and yet still off on her own. She broke her gaze away from the sun and looked to Rust, her hands shaking as they held one another, when she nervously gulped. Breakfast was served, the great carnivore thought to himself. But he didn’t budge.
Honoring the age-old tradition, Rust set aside his instincts and hunger when he bowed his head to the small herbivore. The dryosaur, smiling politely back at him, bowed right back, when they both looked to the sun again. That which gave so much to them. It was a sight that Rust had never grown tired of.
Like a precise clock, the sun had made it halfway past the horizon, and then nature returned to its place. The balance of life ruled once more. The dryosaur let out a frightened chirp before scurrying off to her herd as Rust snapped his jaws at her. Brushing off his failure, he turned, walking down a path worn through the grass until he stumbled upon another large carnivore. Tall grass shuffled softly as the tyrannosaurus shifted himself in his slumber, followed by a gentle snore.
Rust cocked his head slowly as he watched Rex, waiting for him to get up on his own. But dreams had too great a hold on the tyrant dinosaur. The feathery down he had as a youngster had all but vanished, replaced with thick black stripes along his snout all the way to the tip of his tail. Even in slumber, one couldn’t help but notice the muscle packed onto his form, a far cry from the gangly little fellow from years ago. With a nudge from his snout, Rust beckoned for Rex to awaken.
“Wake up lad. The herds are all on the move. Wake up!” The young tyrannosaur only responded with a number of inaudible grumbles and a relaxed sigh, however. Narrowing his eyes, Rust smirked and gave a defeated grunt. So much for breakfast.
While he stood and waited for Rex to wake up, Rust heard a high-pitched wail pierce the morning air when something darted past his head. He turned, unsure if an insect could make such a painful sound when he heard a soft thump just beside him. Joints cracked and popped when he took a few steps back and looked down on the creature. To him, it looked like a tiny dead pterosaur, from the way it landed on its back. That wasn’t typical pterosaur behavior, Rust thought, even if they continued to surprise him with every encounter. He looked up to the sky, but there wasn’t even a flock of the flying reptiles in sight. When he looked back to the creature, however, he felt himself slouch as he groaned.
“Enough with the performance Messenger. Get up.” The large dinosaur lowered his form and nudged the rhamphorhynchus with the tip of his narrow snout. With that, the tiny pterosaur began to pant loudly as his chest rose up and down rapidly. Then in a flash of movement, he was back onto all fours, meeting eyes with Rust when he swallowed the lump in his throat.
“Allo Rust! L-l-lookin’ good as always.” Messenger stood back on his tiny hind legs while the fingers on his wings nervously fiddled with one another. Rust couldn’t help but pity the pathetic creature as his toothy beak chattered loudly.
“What did you find?”
“N-n-nothing like ya expected Sa.”
“W-well Sa, ya see…I talked to Crunch ‘n his gang. Th-th-they didn’t do anythin’ suspicious Sa.”
“You talked to them?” Rust growled.
“Of course Sa. I’m polite j-just as me Ma taught me.”
“You little idiot! Of course they’ll be on their best behavior with you around asking questions.”
“B-b-but they don’t know I work for ya Rust!” Messenger gave a crooked grin, which grew when he cackled. “B-besides. If it’ll help any Sa, they dun’t seem to me like trouble.”
“How’s that? They tell you they’re not?” Rust spat.
“Well, other than da leader Crunch, they all look pretty weak. I-I-I even think they’ll crumble in on themselves before too long Sa!” The acrocanthosaurus ignored the loud shuffling in the grass some ways away. He didn’t care if Rex woke up on this conversation, considering Messenger would be his ally once he himself was gone. “L-looks to me like a c-c-coupl’a backstabbas!”
“Then what about Giant?”
“Nappin’ when I saw ‘em.”
“He…wasn’t meeting with Crunch?”
“I dunno Sa. I-I didn’t even know they knew each other!” The pterosaur’s words were something of a relief to Rust. He always had his suspicions of Giant however, but perhaps his age was simply getting to him. With a sigh he nodded.
“Thank you Messenger. That’ll be all.”
“B-b-bless ya Sa!” The rhamphorhynchus brought a wing up and saluted the elderly dinosaur as he stood tall and walked over toward Rex. Once he was some ways away, however, Messenger’s demeanor, from the way he carried himself to his voice, changed drastically. His bulbous eyes narrowed and he scowled. “Battered old prick…” And with that, he darted off toward a nearby bush on all fours, hopeful that it would be high enough to get him back into the air.
Rust watched Rex as he yawned and stood tall. As he did so, his maw widened to expose the spike-like teeth inside, which were as deadly as a beast’s could be. The young dinosaur’s nostrils then flared as smells overwhelmed his senses. He turned.
“I suppose I missed another sunrise?” He spoke groggily.
“By mere moments lad.” Rust replied as he walked on past the T. Rex. “The herds are all on the move. I’d suggest we move quickly if you want to keep this weight up. You’re underweight as it is.”
“Aye Rust, aye.” Rex turned and trotted up to his mentor’s side as they walked briskly through the grassland. “So who was your friend? The one with the stutter.”
“Who? Oh! Well, ahem…he’s a contact of mine.”
“Yes. Well, I’ll tell you soon enough.”
“I believe I’ve heard that excuse since I was a child.” Rex gave a toothy grin.
“Yes well…oh, dammit. I’ve been thinking of your age a lot as of late. So fine, I’ll tell you.” Rust turned his head toward the tyrannosaur, while he himself continued to walk forward. “He is Messenger, an old associate of mine. You see, flyers of all kinds have been gossiping about something brewing in the forests. A gang of sorts.”
“Yes, well, you see, there aren’t many I can imagine in those woods. There’s Finn, who I’ve known of since he was your age. Trust me, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. There’s a couple of rough herbivores through there, but they wouldn’t start trouble, and then there’s this fellow I’ve had my eye on for years.”
“His name is Giant. I’m not sure, but I’ve never trusted anyone with a smile quite as wide as his. As Messenger has informed me, he hasn’t been up to much lately. Now, I suppose all we have to worry about is a gang of misfits.” Rex looked forward and cocked his head, his eyes narrow when he cleared his throat.
“Pardon me, but why is this our matter?” The two giant carnivores stopped and looked at one another, when Rust smirked. l
“Now that, lad, is something I’ll save for another time. Come along, let’s fatten you up.”
The first thing Eira felt was the piercing cold as it nipped at her fingertips. With a surprised gasp her hands retreated into their sleeves when she held them up against her chest. A cloud of icy air brushed past her lips as she realized where she was. Huddled up in a tight ball, the girl had slept up against the tree trunk for several hours at least. She looked around with wide eyes, blinking once or twice as she took another deep chilling breath.
The morning was young, as there was yet to be any sunlight breaking past the canopy, when Eira stood up. The first thing she took note of was the dissipating fog. It looked like winding clouds retreating back to reveal the forest. This was something the Green Folk was thankful for. Now it wouldn’t be able to conceal any Coffin Spawn lurking about, not that they needed the fog to stay hidden. The mist as of late had been so thick, she thought. Her elders kept commenting on how it was unlike anything they had ever seen in years.
Brushing chips of bark and crusty leaves from her cloak, she pulled at her hood a bit, if just to make sure it was still over her head. She cleared her throat as she continued to press out the wrinkles on her clothes before starting back toward the village. As she walked, she couldn’t help but wonder where Giant had gone. A single beam of light broke past the trees above and cast Eira’s cheek in a vibrant gold as she stopped. She turned one way, then another. Perhaps he had left for his business. That was too bad. She smiled softly to herself as she started off again, reminiscing about her evening with him. He was so charming and suave, like a learned knight of legend, she thought. She couldn’t wait for the others to meet him someday.
But with her eyes cast to the forest floor, Eira’s thoughts were too lost to notice the birds as they stopped singing one-by-one. Soon the only sound was of her footsteps, carelessly kicking at leaves with a grassy shuffle. It wasn’t until she felt eyes on her did she stop. Her demeanor changed dramatically. Her girlish smile faded and her posture straightened when she looked around. Only then did she feel the dead silence around her. Not again, she thought.
Her heart began to against her chest when sticks and branches snapped. She couldn’t hear from where, but she feared it to be coming from all around her. One large cloud of air after another blew from her mouth as she took deeper breaths when she turned. She eyed the tree that she had fallen asleep under as something moved behind it.
“Giant…?” She asked sheepishly. The noises around her stopped, but not the one behind that tree. Something was indeed behind it, coming toward her. It wasn’t the heavy footsteps of her friend, however. It was something she’d always been warned of. A clopping sound.
An impressive being in shimmering armor appeared from around that tree, sitting atop the back of a decorated warhorse. The steed snorted, causing plumes of air to rise into the air from its nostrils. Almost like a dragon expelling smoke, Eira thought. It grunted again and shook its armored head as it scratched its hooves at the soil. Its rider, bearing ornate gold armor and a menacing helmet, held onto the horse’s reigns with one hand as it reached for its belt with the other. He wore a red tunic over his armor, where a vibrant eagle on had been carefully stitched into its center.
Eira blinked once as her heart sped up, when she heard the strings of bows being pulled back. Out the corner of her eye, she saw hooded archers step out from behind other trees. They weren’t Green Folk, as they wore drab brown and grey colors, and their arrows were pointed at her. Other knights, bearing less extravagant silver armor and unarmored steeds, also appeared, with some holding spears and others swords. Suddenly the girl’s ears were filled the scraping sound of the lead knight’s sword as he unsheathed it. From behind his helmet, his eyes narrowed.
“Catch it. Kill it and I’ll do worse to the lot of you.” Eira felt the world around her slow down as adrenaline coursed her veins. She turned and darted off as swiftly as she could as the archers fired at her legs. Several of the knights sheathed their swords in favor of blunt objects as they began to ride after her. As horses squealed and arrows narrowly graced her form, all Eira could focus on was her breathing and surroundings.
Instinctively she dashed toward thicker brush, so as to distract the archers and discourage knights. She turned, eying an even denser section of woods, when an armored knight not on his horse appeared from behind one of the trees in her path. In both of his hands he held a sword riddled with wicked chips on its edges, when he charged at the girl with it.
It was time to make use of her title as Green Folk, Eira thought as she looked toward the forest canopy. With a loud grunt the knight brought his sword up, careless in his methods despite what his leader told them. With a soft pant Eira effortlessly leapt up onto a rather skinny tree to her left, just strong enough to support her as she jumped up toward the higher branch of another tree. As the knight swung his sword down it clipped the end of her cloak with her leap, causing her to panic if for a moment before composing herself as well as she could. With a gulp she realized that her timid manner wouldn’t help here, with what she assumed were slave traders.
The knights yelled and hollered as the girl disappeared into the forest canopy, leaping from one tree branch to another before regaining balance and repeating. The archers feared that they’d surely kill her if they fired from their position, and the knights, save for those with axe heads on the tips of their spears, could do little else but watch as she escaped. Then the gold-armored knight rode up on his proud horse. All they had to do was wait.
Sure enough, one branch proved too brittle for Eira’s weight, as it snapped and sent her crashing to the ground. She grunted loudly as a cloud of dust flew up with her hard landing. Winded, she struggled to her feet for a moment before heading off again, this time in a stagger. The others of her kind couldn’t have been too far, she thought. Not at this time of morning. Yes, they had to be out. Hopefully one of the Folk hunters would rally the others and save her.
As she stumbled along, it became nearly impossible to breath. Eira collapsed as she gasped and begged for air, calling forth a sense of pity from the numerous knights as they surrounded her. But behind their metal helmets, it was not given to her. The girl clutched her sides as tears rolled down her cheeks. That fall was a lot harder than she thought.
As she continued to gasp, she failed to hear the golden knight as he dismounted from his steed. The soldier, with his customized armor and helmet, sheathed his sword casually and walked toward Eira. Now one could see he wore a billowing red cape, as well as the beautifully carved golden eagle just above the visor of his helmet, near his brow. His metal boots crunched with each step he took, when he unraveled a simple club strap from his belt. The weapon, crude though it was, was heavy in his glove as he brought it up.
Eira’s lungs expanded one time before the blunt weapon slammed against the back of her head. Her gasping ceased and the girl fell limp to the ground. The soldiers all wished to celebrate over the strike, but they refused to until their leader gave them permission to. Much to their dismay, General Tanner did nothing toward them as he dropped to a knee beside Eira. He gently rolled her over to examine her pale face. A glove came up to toss some of her hair aside, when he chuckled to himself.
As Tanner and his knights prepared Eira for transportation, there was something lurking in the woods, evident by a winding hiss that echoed throughout the fog. They were taking its prey, and it simply could not allow for that.