It wTaurus grew anxious as he and the others stood across from Crunch and his team. It wasn’t like Giant to be this late. He gulped when his looked to Hopper. Of course there wasn’t much help there, as the allosaurus blinked lazily into thin air while his mind wandered. He then looked back to the larger beast, who took in a deep breath before giving a very annoyed sigh.
Crunch’s team didn’t look much better either, Taurus thought. One of them tapped their foot impatiently while another muttered under his breath. Still, the triceratops in the group seemed just as lost in his own mind as Hopper was. This meeting was beginning to tear string by string, Taurus feared, with but a few strands left before Crunch would depart.
Crunch was a carcharodontosaurus, and in his own right did not differ much from Giant in terms of form and figure, save perhaps for being slightly shorter and leaner overall. His hide was slate grey, contrasting with the pale white flesh of his underside. Still, even if he had difficulty holding it, he had retained a certain amount of patience the others did not. Even Taurus’s brother Carnage was beginning to nibble at nothing, purely out of boredom. Smiling, Taurus stepped toward Crunch.
“This morning certainly feels nice eh? The mist and all.”
“Certainly.” Crunch replied coldly.
“Bah!” Snarled the crocodile-faced baryonyx at Crunch’s side. “This time last year was much nicer! Warmer! I’m practically a slab of ice in these nights!” Taurus forced a grin.
“Uh, well yes. Of course. But I can’t complain.”
“Quit your bellyaching Blade.” Crunch growled to his underling before looking back at Taurus. “Yes. This is quite fine.” The leader seemed to be trying his best to compensate for his band’s lack of confidence. He himself wanted little more than to speak to Giant, actually, but he wasn’t one to leave his manners at home. Taurus grinned and nodded once before everyone caught the whiff of a familiar scent. With the clearing so small, it didn’t take long for Giant to appear before them, much to their relief.
“Ah, Crunch! My dear old friend. How are you? I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.”
“Hardly...” Blade grumbled.
“Giant. It truly is an honor to see you again.” Crunch smiled warmly as the giganotosaurus joined his troupe. Taurus naturally stood tall at his leader’s side, while Hopper and Carnage remained where they were, their focus much more in tune now. “We have been quite fine thank you. Business couldn’t be better.”
“Well excellent! I hope I’m not intruding on any possible jobs now am I?”
“You always know we’ll make time for you my old friend.” Crunch’s enthusiasm could hardly be matched by his three underlings, who all eyed the giganotosaurus with suspicion and disdain. “Now then, what is it that you wish for us to do?”
“And the payment!” The dark-skinned baryonyx snapped.
“Oh, don’t worry my dear Blade.” Giant purred. “Payment is always a guarantee when you work for me. But as for business itself, I’m afraid to report there must be a change.”
“A change?” Hopper and Taurus said in unison.
“Not a problem.” Crunch replied. “What is the job?”
“I wish to ask you for extended services. You see, something has piqued my interest as of late. And if you and your little band are more than willing, I’d like to ask you to perform reconnaissance.”
“Reconnaissance?!” Most of the beasts bellowed. Crunch and Giant were the only ones still posed.
“But sir! We have Rogue for that!” Taurus cried. “We could simply dispatch him to…”
“Yes well, Rogue, as skilled as he is, isn’t one I’d trust for this type of assignment.” Giant replied, with a hint of hostility in his voice. He focused back on Crunch, smiling warmly once more. “That’s where I would care for you in this field my old friend. I’m aware that four individuals are more noticeable than one, but you are one of this sort of trade, and this....is your trade isn’t it?”
“Of course.” Crunch smirked, even while his underlings turned to him in confusion.
“Excellent. Well, I had an interesting encounter just this last morning, one I’d care to look into further myself if it weren’t for our meeting.”
“While on a hunt yesterday, I happened across a most interesting creature, one that called herself Eira Aune. She’s quite small, stands as stiff as a twig, straight up in fact, and I do believe is quite unlike anything any of you have ever seen.”
“Yes, well, I’d care for you to find more creatures like her, with pale skin and covered in green attire. They should be in these very woods. I couldn’t tell you where exactly, however. Forgive me, but what with this fog as of late, I’ve found myself lost from time to time. Lastly, I must order you not to harm them, unless provoked of course.”
“Understood. And what might you want us to do if we find your creatures?”
“Simply establish a connection of sorts. I would care to make a peaceful pact with them if possible. One can never have too many allies after all. If they grow nervous or irritable, perhaps uttering my name might help.”
“Excellent. I bid you the very best of luck old friend.”
“And the same to you.” Crunch and Giant smiled warmly and nodded to one another before Crunch led his team off, the four beasts disappearing into the forest quite quickly for their size. While both party leaders remained composed and cool in their own manner, their followers each had their doubts about everything they said. Hopper and Carnage stood firm, with the former simply rolling his eyes at his leader’s change of plans.
“Ain’t much for character like you promised.” He said sardonically. Giant simply smirked at the remark, unwilling to give the allosaur the pleasure of witty banter. He’d had quite enough of his attitude as of late. Taurus inched toward Giant as soon as he was sure Crunch’s gang was long gone, clearing his throat with a stern blink.
“Sir, why deviate like this? Your original plan I mean.”
“Simple. The little critter I’ve met has caught my attention and I’d like to look into it further.”
“Then why don’t you just look into it?” Hopper asked, again in a dry tone.
“Because we have our own business to attend to. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that little flying rat for days, and now here we are, ahead of schedule. Their real assignment can wait.”
“So we’re fine?” Taurus cocked his head.
“Yes. Quite in fact. Now then, Carnage, Taurus, assemble the others. Hopper, you take your men and find all the hungry and desperate souls you can through these woods. I have a few contacts I must meet with myself.”
“Busy, busy.” Hopper snickered as he was the first to head off. With a throaty grunt, the allosaurus called upon his numerous raptor minions to pour out from the forest and follow him. They had all been listening intently to the meeting as quietly as possible, evident by their sudden switch from silence to jubilee and chatter. Taurus and Carnage darted off next, side by side as they disappeared swiftly into the woods, which left Giant by himself once more.
With a deep breath of fresh air, the giganotosaurus turned and started in his own direction when something began to fall through the forest canopy. The high-pitched cries were enough to catch his attention as Messenger landed helplessly onto the ground. Out of breath and exhausted from such a swift flight, the small pterosaur panted and heaved as he got to all fours.
“Sa! Sa!” He cackled.
“Ah, Messenger. You just missed the meeting. Oh, and stop that ridiculous accent, you remind me of one with no class.”
“Alroight…alright…” It was evident that it would take some time for Messenger to catch his breath, but Giant was patient as his hands played with one another. “I…I delivered your message sir.”
“Excellent. And how did our old friend take it?”
“Hesitant…at first sir…but he took it.”
“And now…about that pay…” The pterosaur gave a battered and weak grin and cackled once. “For…for the acting…and the delivery.”
“Ah yes, your payment. I’m terribly sorry to do this to you my dear lad, but Hopper left just moments ago. Your payment is with him.”
“But…he’s…his men.” Messenger felt his heart race as he thought of meeting the allosaurus with his legion of raptors.
“Yes, I’m aware they’ve been eyeing you as a snack, but if Hopper has any sense in him he’ll know how much of an asset you are to me. You should be unscathed.”
“I don’t like that word…should.” The pterosaur hissed.
“Well I’m afraid I have little else to tell you then.”
“But…but…” Messenger had a look of desperation in his eyes. “Can’t you simply catch something for me? Real quick? Please? I’m starvin’!”
“Oh, I would if I could but I have a strict schedule myself. One that can’t afford to hunt, much less spend any more time in this conversation I’m afraid to say.” Messenger gave him a weak, yet defeated stare as his shoulders slumped. But food was food, and he really wanted something better than bugs for breakfast.
“Hopper, you say?” His said with a sigh.
“Yes. I do believe they went that way.”
“Alright. Thank you sir.”
“My pleasure lad. Remember, you are truly an asset to me.” Giant purred as the rhamphorhynchus started off for a tree to fly from. He watched the tiny creature climb up and leap off, fluttering his leathery wings and following his leader’s directions. And with that, Messenger was gone. For a pit full of teeth no less. This asset, Giant thought with a dark smirk, was amazingly easy to replace and possessed far too much information for comfort.
Before she could even open her eyes, Eira felt an intense throbbing pain in the back of her head. She winced and sighed at the sting, and now with a splitting headache with it, she was trying to remember what had happened. As her eyes opened, she found herself bound tightly at the wrists and ankles, so much so that her hands were blue from the restriction of blood to them. She found herself resting on the rump of a horse, and glanced over to see its own rider’s hind end. With a knight with rather crude plated armor before her, she seemed lost in thought as he and the numerous other knights and soldiers rode down a worn trail.
It was afternoon now, Eira realized with a swift glance around. General Tanner must have had one hell of a good arm,, she thought. Clearing her throat as quietly as she could, in hopes the knight wouldn’t find her awake for fear that she’d receive another wallop, she took the moment to seize her surroundings. This road ran down two plots of farmland, as Eira could see a large family working in one acre. With nearly a dozen in all, everyone from the smallest child, who must have stood just taller just above Eira’s knee, to the husband and wife were out there tending to their crops, only looking over at the small army to wipe their sweaty brows and bow their respects.
Eira didn’t know where these knights were taking her. She didn’t want to know, but she had to escape. Looking down the path from which they came down, she could barely make out the forest in the distance. Between them were rolling green hills and tiny plots of farmland with puny cottages beside them. Never before had she seen so much open land. It left her in awe.
The hooded archers walked along in long lines behind the knights, in two rows with their bows strapped over their shoulders. A few at the very end also wore bags on their back that nearly towered over them. No doubt supplies for the others, the girl thought. When Eira looked forward, she saw the entirety of the knights, including the golden one at the lead. So many men, and why? For her? What had she done? Confused though she was, the most important thing on her mind was escaping. The question lingered as to how.
At the front of the small army, General Tanner kept a cool form about himself as he rode along. He was the only knight of the troupe to wave back to the numerous farmers and peasants bowing to them as they passed. Though he appeared reserved, and his armor made him look magnificent, his chest continued to race with excitement. He did it, he thought over and over. He had captured one of the Green Folk of lore. Stories would be written about him, and he would forever hold a place in history books in the future. What more could a man ask for? Surely it was what every human being might strive for. A secured legacy. Even though his helmet concealed it, he smiled widely with a deep sense of contentment.
As dark clouds began to roll in, he stopped. His horse, with its vibrant gold and red attire, snorted at the command, when the others behind him followed suit. Tanner turned to his second-in-command.
“A storm is coming. Have the archers establish a camp. We’ll wait it out.”
“But we’re so close sir.”
“I would care to return to His Highness in good condition. I don’t want this platoon to be riddled with colds and coated in mud.”
“Very well sir.” The knight bowed his head and turned his steed, giving Tanner’s orders out to the others as he rode past them. Meanwhile, the Eagle General stared up at the heavens, marveling at the clouds as they turned from grey to black and sparked with life. The last thing he needed was for one of his knights to be zapped by lightning. He had never seen it himself but he heard tales of it occurring when he was a younger man.
He dismounted just as everyone took to a small area of grass free of crops, when those with massive backpacks unraveled their contents. Cold rain began to pour down, sending chills up their spines with the swiftness of its arrival. Metallic pings sounded off as the downpour danced off plate armor, and plumes of air escaped past the grills of the knights wearing them. Tents went up and soldiers let loose for the moment, when Tanner stood beside his horse. Patting it gently on the cheek, he led the horse to one of his trusted knights, asking him to watch over it while he tended to the Green Folk.
Eira pretended to remain unconscious as a knight pulled her off from his steed and laid her out beneath the first tent to be pitched. While many wished to stop and stare at the girl, Tanner commanded them to return to their duties. They scrambled as he dropped to one knee beside her, just across from the other knight. He pulled his visor up, revealing his rugged face, dark hair, and finely trimmed beard, when he looked to his second-in-command.
“Any signs of movement?”
“Nay sir. You must have really knocked her out.” Tanner said nothing as he studied her. She was still breathing. Then he looked at the small strands of rope at her wrists. He curled a finger around the twine and brought it up, examining her unusually pale hands.
“This is a little tight wouldn’t you think?” He glared at the knight, who promptly sliced it. The girl’s hands fell limp over her chest.
“Yes sir. I-I simply didn’t want her to escape.”
“Understandable. And her ankles?”
“Just as strict sir. Here.” He cut the rope around her ankles and looked back to his leader eagerly.
“Very good. Now do it again.”
“The rope…I don’t know where it is.” Tanner sighed and shook his head. Pulling his visor back down, the golden knight led the other out of the tent and off toward one of the supply carriers. This left Eira with a perfect chance to escape, one she was not willing to pass up. Almost as soon as the knights dispersed, the Green Folk sat up, eyes wide as her heart raced with the opportunity. The rain hit the tent heavily, and she could hear everyone outside scramble to set the others up. It was a tiny slot of time given to her, but she had to take it.
Without much thought, she jumped to her feet and dashed out of the tent. Fortunately for her, those around her were too busy to notice. Tanner and his subordinate had struck up a conversation with a local farmer, and together they were too busy to see her escape. Unfortunately for the Green Folk, however, the farmer was the one to notice the girl escape. Once he called attention to her, the Eagle General turned. Rage coursed through his veins when he snatched the rope in his knight’s hand and ran for his horse.
Tears streaming down her face, Eira ran against the pelting rain in the hopes that no one had seen her. She prayed that luck was on her side on this day, and for some time it was, until she heard the clopping of horse hooves. Her heart was fit to burst as she sprinted as fast she could, holding one hand down to hold her gown up and keep her from tripping.
Tanner’s horse galloped at an astounding speed, feeling its rider’s desire to catch the Green Folk. Within moments he had caught up to Eira, and he swung his lasso around and around until he released it toward her.
The rope had landed right at the girl’s shoulders, and once Tanner’s yanked at it, it slipped and tightened around her neck instead. Eira swiftly felt her feet fly up into the air when she landed hard on her back. With a wet squish water and mud flew up in the air, coating much of her green attire in a layer of grime. She cried out in pain as she fought to find her voice and a fresh breath of air. It was a miracle her neck hadn’t snapped. But Tanner wasn’t so forgiving. He dismounted from his horse, and slowly walked toward her with the occasional tug at the robe, which only constricted around the girl’s throat. She gasped and kicked at thin air as her hands fought to lessen its grip, but as she did, Tanner was over her. He dropped down beside her and pulled his visor up. His cold stare frightened Eira to her core, and his scowl didn’t help either.
“You are going to regret trying that.”