Men & Monsters

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"Afternoon, fellas."

The servant lady, whose name Eira learned from various maids scurrying about the halls, was Madam Martin. She carried herself with a sense of grace and honor, which the Green Folk couldn’t help but admire. Still, she snapped at maids who meandered in their work, and asked the servants behind her where they were to be. With a timid curtsy from each, the two girls begged for forgiveness and darted off, leaving Eira alone with her as she continued to lead her.

“What kind of royal servant wears that?” She hissed as she pinched Eira’s sleeve and examined it. In a bout of disgust she tossed it back to the girl’s side. “My, I’m not sure what they taught you back home, but this place is different. We actually care about what we look like. Perhaps it’s just, oh I don’t know, class. And your posture. Ack! To think Her Highness brought the likes of you. I wasn’t aware that she was, we have plenty of girls here to assist her, but I could tell from that necklace you wear that you were hers. Hmph. I suppose your generation simply lacks the morals of the old. The youth of this day and age…” As Madam Martin talked at Eira, the girl was allowed a rather nice tour through the castle. From beautiful stained-glass windows with elaborate pictures within each one to well-bred individuals dotting the castle corridors, she soaked in every sight possible. Still, compared to Martin and everyone else, her cheeks were still a little rosy with humiliation about her gown and hoodless head.

A small platoon of guards came walking up one hallway, to which Eira swiftly hid behind the elder woman. They were less grand than Tanner or his knights, as they simply wore chainmail and tunics, but they still held themselves in a manner high above Eira. She watched the armored men stroll along in their tight formation until they had past them. The girl let out a relieved sigh, prompting Madam Martin to smirk as she looked over her shoulder at her.

“What’s the matter? Don’t like the guards here?” From there, her tone changed drastically, from one of spite to one more considerate. “Barbarians. The whole lot of them. Yes, I don’t care for them much either. And I wouldn’t care for you to find yourself alone with one or more of them. What with your pretty face.” She looked forward and pulled her nose back up. “You don’t speak much for a personal servant. This I like. You’d be surprised by how much just a small step above the rest can inflate an ego, especially in those who share a similar position as yourself. Come child, tell me your name.” Eira looked back to her, trying her best to mimic the woman’s graceful movements, and cleared her throat.

“T-tis Eira. Eira Aune.”

“Hmm…strange name. Not particular noteworthy nor bad by any means. I might add that I don’t care for stuttering Miss Aune. It doesn’t evoke confidence. Lowly though we may be in power, I must command self-respect to an extent, while also incurring a sense of humility. Also, you must address me as Madam Martin whenever speaking to me. Is that understood?”

“Y-y…I mean, yes Madam Martin.” The elder woman smiled.

“Very good. Perhaps there is hope for you yet. Here we are.” From there, the two came upon a spiraling staircase, like the one Eira had been hoisted up on. But this one was different. It wasn’t as well-lit, if that was possible. In fact, it seemed to be hidden away from the rest of the castle, as if to be kept a secret or was something unworthy in the presence of nobility. Madam Martin rushed down the winding stairs with as much swiftness and grace as she did simply walking, while Eira inched nervously down into the abyss.

It grew dark for some time, as the Green Folk was led only by the soft pitter pat of Martin’s footsteps. She fell far behind, most due to her fear of tripping over herself down such steep steps, until a gentle glow began to relieve her sights. The further she descended down the staircase, the brighter it grew, until she found herself in a chamber lit by crackling torches on the walls.

Small windows with bars over them stood to one side of the corridor, hugging the ceiling closely as the chamber was almost entirely underground, while more torches dotted the other. Maids and butlers rushed about like madmen from one chamber to another, as Eira had stepped foot into its main room. At the base of the staircase she found a couple of older maids spreading gossip, their wooden pipes billowing with smoke while they played cards, when they looked up at her suspiciously.

With Madam Martin nowhere in sight, the girl was only left to explore, if just for a moment. The various smaller rooms around the main corridor intrigued her the most, as one was a cafeteria, albeit crude and tiny, where she spied a young man loosening his collar before slurping down a bowl of greenish soup. It was followed by a room filled with maids scrubbing and washing clothes over large barrels filled with soap and murky water. Almost immediately Eira saw one of the women washing her green cloak, just as the maid asked another for the name of whoever had gotten such strange clothes coated in mud. The other maid simply shrugged before their pruny hands went back to work. Eira’s heart raced as she nearly ran in to retrieve it when Madam Martin stepped in front of her.

“Here you are my dear.” She said with a much kinder voice. “Some nice clothes for your duties. Drab they may be, I wouldn’t let them hinder your spirits much. Oh, and your face. It’s filthy. I would suggest that you would clean it, but I suppose it will make it seem that you’ve done that much more work.” The clothes landed gently into Eira’s arms, then Martin was swarmed by servants with a slew of questions. It was here that Eira saw that the elder woman served as the leader of these maids and butlers. She answered them swiftly, but she was patient in taking one question after another. Suddenly a booming voice came from the staircase behind them.

“Martin! I need that robe and cloak cleaned now!” It was one of Tanner’s knights, still in full armor as he marched toward her. Servants separated and Eira darted behind countless others in an attempt to hide. The lead maid, however, remained composed as her hands came together. One hand’s long narrow fingers curled around the other, and vice versa, like spider legs wrapping around a fly.

“I assure you, they’re being washed at this very moment. It is in top priority as you commanded. But, might I ask why you are so urgent with it?”

“That is none of your concern.” The knight spat. He narrowed his eyes from behind his helmet when he turned and marched off, with none of his thanks given to the servants. With a clank of metallic plates, he eyed the maids smoking their pipes, when he turned back to Madam Martin. “I wasn’t aware all of you had so much free time.”

“They are my servants Sir Knight.” Martin retorted. “And they may do as they wish when relieved of their duties, if for but a moment.” The knight grunted once before marching back up the staircase. It was here that everyone in the chamber was reminded of Martin’s distinct respect within the Royal Family, and the underlying fact that without her, everything would fall out of place. Thankful for his exit, Eira looked down at the clothes she was given, when Madam Martin appeared at her side. “Now then, you know where to go yes?” Eira swallowed nervously, and shook her head gently.

“I’m afraid not Madam Martin.” Martin rolled her eyes and placed a bony hand on the girl’s shoulder.

“I cannot believe it. What kind of…no, I will hold my tongue, if just once. In that case; Casa! Escort Miss Aune to the chamber to Her Majesty as soon as she has changed clothes. Oh, and grab a bonnet for her for goodness sake.” A young maid, quite younger than Eira, stood tall from the crowd and nodded twice.

“Of course Madam Martin!”

“Very good.” The elder servant didn’t say another word to Eira as she returned to her own duties. The maid, Casa, would lead Eira to a restroom where she could change her clothes. A drab and small chamber stinking of human exrement, it was lit only by what seemed to be a matchstick, leaving her just enough light to see what she was doing as she adorned her new uniform. Tight though they were, the girl was thankful that the clothes, from its slate gray gown to the poorly-washed apron, weren’t revealing at all. She always was one for modesty. With her hands fiddling with one another, she returned to Casa, who waited on her with a swiftly tapping foot, when the young maid led her back upstairs. As they ascended up each step in the spiraling staircase, Eira’s heart raced faster.

What had she gotten into?

What had he gotten into?

First came Swipe, and now, in a simple attempt to get rid of the pest, Thorn had found himself in some sort of conspiracy much larger than himself. As he and the raptor made their way through the woods, Swipe dashed far ahead of the ceratosaurus, stopping only once in a while to wait for his companion to catch up. What made the larger dinosaur’s veins course with rage, however, wasn’t the raptor’s politeness, but that annoying grin of his once he caught up.

“Well ain’t ya outta shape huh mate?” He would quip. “Come on now! I know a long-neck who can run faster than ya!” Those words wouldn’t help to ease Thorn’s tensions, as he could only imagine biting the annoying vermin’s neck and putting an end to his blood-boiling rants. Yet, for some reason, he never found himself fulfilling his fantasies, as he instead stopped and waited for Swipe to make the first move before running on after him.

Although he hadn’t met such an interactive being in so long, Thorn felt his eyes narrow as he imagined ways in which he would separate himself from Swipe. Obviously killing him would be the easiest way, he thought, but even for him, it was a plan riddled with disgrace and repulsion. No matter how enticing it might have seemed, it simply wasn’t right, he thought with a scowl. That’s when Swipe smiled widely.

“So where are we gonna find this Rust fella?”

“The…grassland…I told you.” Thorn panted.

“Just checkin!” As Swipe pranced about the forest, hopping up over logs and chasing small animals around, it made the larger dinosaur realize how unfit he had become. He hadn’t the spark he used to. If only he were a few years younger. Soon enough, rogue thoughts began to seep into his mind. First came reflections of how he could have likely kept up with Swipe if he was still a young adult. Hell, he thought, his brash behavior then probably would have had him see the deinonychus taken care of permanently. What a stupid kid, he thought to himself with a smirk. Slowly, however, the images, feelings, and thoughts of his youth were replaced with new ones. Ones which made his heart ache with a sadness he hadn’t known in years. They were murky, as if just out of the dinosaur’s grasp, yet the weight they held made his heart skip a beat. He had to be free of them, he realized in a panic. As if to ward them off, Thorn snarled and cursed under his breath. It simply wasn’t working as he found his heart racing even faster.

Thorn came to a stop, violently shaking his head to be rid of one foggy thought after another. They were the last things he needed now. And the chance to catch his breath didn’t hurt either. With as much willpower as he could muster, the ceratosaurus shook his head one more time before focusing his attention back to the matter at hand. The grasslands couldn’t have been much farther now, and soon enough they’d be in the wide open plains. Meanwhile, having lost interest in a scurrying mouse, Swipe darted back to Thorn’s side, without so much as a pant with his return.

“Oy, what is it?”

“It’s nothing. Simply…catching my breath.”

“Ha! Regrettin’ that big meal now eh?” Thorn rolled his eyes, not wanting to respond when he suddenly caught the scent of something. Swipe must have gotten it as well, as the dinosaur’s pupils dilated and their nostrils flared. It was a unique scent, something like pine needles and musty meat. Intriguing though it was, Thorn couldn’t help but feel an alarming sense of hostility from it. They had to leave.

But before he could say anything to Swipe, a velociraptor appeared before them. Wide-eyed and lost, it looked up at them with a slight cock of its head. Thorn, in turn, repeated the gesture. This couldn’t have been the scent, he thought. No, this one’s was sour, like it had eaten one too many rotten carcasses. The small raptor turned.

“I have found anozer!” He hollered. The ceratosaur blinked once. That was in no way good, he thought, and once a swarm of more raptors appeared, he was right. Behind them came an even larger beast, one that towered over Thorn and Swipe. Impressive not just in size but in the manner in which he carried himself, he slowly gave them a smug grin.

“Afternoon fellas.” Hopper said coolly. “Can’t say I’ve seen a pair like you around here before.”

“We were just leaving in fact.” Thorn replied. “You see, I was simply trying to lose him.”

“Yep! We gotta go tell his ol’ pal Rust somethin’. Somethin’ important!” Thorn quickly snapped at the deinonychus, who jumped back a bit in surprise. Unfortunately for them, when he looked back to Hopper, he had narrowed his eyes at them.

“Rust huh?” The allosaur’s tone had dropped considerably. “Interesting.”

“Do ya know ‘em too?” Hopper smirked at the raptor.

“I know of him. And I don’t care for what I hear.”

“Well I’m sorry to hear that.” Thorn retorted. “But what is it to you?” Hopper’s smirk widened to a full, toothy grin as he looked down, as if trying to see his left hand as he cracked its joints by simply furling it.

“There’s a large operation going on and we’re looking for recruits. Great things lie ahead for those who join.” He looked to Thorn and Swipe, with a proud and smug grin once more. “You two look like just the fellas we’d like.”

“Alroight! A club?” Swipe jumped with joy.

“Yeah, yeah, a club. A club for claws and teeth like you and me.”

“Perfect!” Thorn laughed. “You take this one next to me, and I’ll be on my way.”

“I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. Either you both get in or neither of you do.” Great, he thought with a roll of his eyes, once again he was stuck with the raptor.

“Fine. Then in that case, come along lad.” Swipe graciously nodded to everyone before trailing behind Thorn when Hopper darted in front of his path. He laughed devilishly.

“I don’t think you get my gist. I can’t very well let you, as Rust’s underlings, go back to the grasslands with what I just told you.”

“I assure you, we’re not Rust’s little minions.” Thorn replied. Swipe poked his head out from behind ceratosaurus, his eyes wide. “Besides, we don’t even know who you are. Not that I care at this point.”

“If we can’t leave now, then why’d ya tell us then?” Hopper glared back at him.

“Little smartass. Louis, take care of ‘em. Now!”

“Qui, qui Capitan!” The lead raptor cried as the others organized behind him. Thorn’s heart raced while Swipe simply turned to face the oncoming slaughter. He cocked his head inquisitively as they began to surround them.

“Run lad!” Thorn barked before dashing off to the side. The velociraptors squealed and hissed as they took off after him, leaving Swipe by himself. Well, not entirely. Louis remained where he stood with eyes narrowed.

“You zink you are clever no? I am twice as vitty as you could ever zink to be!” Swipe simply blinked in response, serving only to infuriate Louis even further. With a wicked snarl he ran toward him, when something caught the larger raptor’s attention. He turned swiftly to face Hopper once again, and as he did so, he swung his long, stiff tail around. Acting like a club, the tail smashed into Louis with surprising force. Winded and defeated, the frail raptor landed with a limp thud some ways away. Swipe had been oblivious to the attack.

“Oh! ‘Allo! Almost forgot you were there. That one there caught me attention.” Hopper’s upper lip twitched several times, impressed with the duo’s teamwork and coordination in distracting his men. But he wouldn’t be fooled so easily. “Now, you were tellin’ us about why ya was tellin’ us what ya did?”

“Oh, I will tell you, believe me. Just let me get closer…” He growled. With a rumbling gurgle in his throat, the allosaurus took off toward Swipe, who jumped to the side with a great leap, just shy of Hopper’s clamping jaws.

“Ey wait a minute mate. What was that ya just did there?” But the larger beast didn’t respond. Rather, he turned in his tracks and lunged at him again. With a chirp Swipe took off, finding it much more difficult to outrun Hopper than Thorn. For his size, Hopper was amazingly swift and agile, darting in between trees and bounding over logs just behind Swipe.

As they rushed through one thick patch of vegetation to another, the deinonychus found that his pursuer had a much harder time penetrating the brush. Finally, Hopper crashed into a thick branch concealed by moss. Blinded by pain for a moment as vegetation flew up in a wild cloud, he howled before retreating from Swipe’s sight. His heart beating a mile a minute, the raptor blinked as a content smile curled up around his snout. Finding the patch of thick brush to be a refuge, he could have stayed there for as long as he wanted, at least until he heard a rustling behind him. He envisioned Hopper having found a way in, and sure enough, he found himself looking up at a much larger carnivore, but it wasn’t the allosaurus.

“Come on lad, those pests are busy. We’ve gotta go.”

“Alroight pal! I’ll lead!” Thorn was the one to inch from their thick haven into the wider forest, and much to his relief, Hopper was gone. With a nod to Swipe, the two took off as fast as they could, knowing that the grasslands weren’t much farther, and that their message was that much more dire than before.

After losing Swipe’s trail, Hopper went back to pick Louis up, along with the others. After sniffing him out for some time, the two came upon the large pack. In an impressive formation, the mob took turns staring into a babbling stream as it rolled on past them. The allosaurus stood there for a moment, eyes narrowed, as his henchmen failed to acknowledge him. He cleared his throat loudly, catching the attention of the pack, who all turned to him as one.

“Gooday Sa!” They said in unison.

“Where are they?”

“Where’s what?” Hopper’s eye twitched in annoyance.

“The horned one and the sickle-foot.”

“Oh…” One of the raptors replied. “Vell…ve vere chasing him und ve saw dis fish in de vater! Undlike anyzing ve ever saw!” The allosaurus, with anger fit to burst, simply thought about what Giant would do. Surely he’d never lose his cool, and as his heir, neither should he. On the other hand, however, Hopper could see how forgiveness might give these raptors a dull edge. With nothing to fear, what was there to strive for? These conflicting trains of thought occupied his mind for quite some time. Finally, with a deep breath, he found solace, if for but a moment. He opened his eyes and looked back to the raptors again.

“A fish eh?” He felt his eyes droop in frustration. “Regroup with Louis. Now!” Sure enough, the raptors responded with a barrage of nods and inaudible murmurs of compliance. As they formed a tight pack behind Louis, the lead velociraptor took them back into the forest, leaving Hopper with a moment to himself. With a roll of his eyes and an irritated sigh, he walked toward the stream. Surely such a fruitless chase warranted a drink at least. Lowering himself to the water’s edge, he let the rolling waters splash the tip of his snout before scooping up a mouthful and cocking his head back. Pure and clear, it was certainly refreshing, almost therapeutic to the otherwise frustrated allosaurus as he felt the glacial waters roll down his throat and cool his insides along the way. Perhaps Giant didn’t need to know about this little incident.

With one final drink Hopper stood back to his feet, savoring the water as small droplets fell from his chin. He gave a satisfied grunt and was just about to turn when he saw something just beneath the tides. It was a dark blur in the shallow stream, fighting against the swift current as if just to study the dinosaur.

Intrigued, Hopper too turned toward it, bringing his head over the water’s edge to get a better glimpse of it. It was rather large for a fish in such waters. One would have figured one of this size would eventually get caught on a rocky bank, unable to go further in such shallow waters. But from underneath those tides he could make out a distinct sparkle, like a protective hue around its form. With its long, meaty whiskers flaring far out from each side of its otherwise flat head, it looked at Hopper with something he couldn’t quite put his claw on. It was like it had a soul behind those eyes when he met them, seeing that they were only a pair of ominous white eyes. In a flash of movement the catfish was gone, having escaped yet another hunter, and soon disappeared from sight. This left Hopper with a moment to ponder an otherwise unremarkable encounter. Disinterested, he gave a grunt and turned, ready to lead his raptor minions once more.

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