The armored cars really were a brilliant design. Their huge treaded tires gripped even the sheer rocky slopes that the faint road traced its way back and forth on. The reinforced chromium and steel plating was ribbed with steel struts against the structural framework of the vehicle itself, making it much more impervious to being crushed or torn into—supposedly.
Until mountains, ignirugiens, and losing control of the vehicle turned the bad-shocks discomfort of losing your seat at every bump into a nightmare of being crushed inside that same impervious vehicle.
Quincy could still feel the heat and terror of the Tyrannosaurus on the back of his neck. Or maybe that was just the Sinornithosaurus bites. Whatever it was, his shakes were starting to come back. With one hand he braced Bryan’s neck, so that all the jolting didn’t further traumatize the man’s head. The other he held clenched in a fist, setting it against the side of the car.
A particular hefty jolt, as the car careened over a ridge, slammed them all out of their seats for a moment. “Ow,” Bryan moaned.
Oscar, from the front, turned to shoot a glare at Quincy. “Will you be careful?”
Quincy glared back. “I’m not driving.”
“Peace, kids,” Clifton, who was driving, called. “We’re almost there. Everyone still okay back there?”
“Yes,” Laura said, her breath a tight, pain-filled gasp. The others gave their affirmatives.
One more ridge, dip, and painful bounce, and the car caught the edge of the low-slung Pious Valley. The ride smoothed out, and Quincy heard Laura exhale in relief. He figured that Bryan would have, too, had he been entirely conscious. Quincy shifted his one-handed careful grip on the man’s neck.
The kentrosaurs were up here. They seemed agitated, bellowing and swarming into tight circles when they saw the car, rattling the long spikes that ran down their backs and powerful tails. Many of them had scorch marks along their plates and scales, seemingly superficial.
Clifton pushed his goggles up on his head, his red-rimmed eyes watching the animals carefully as he wove the vehicle around them. But they were behaving like they did at sight of a predator—it wasn’t the madness they went into when they felt electrical energy—and they stayed circled protectively, only watching the car as it passed.
Crossing the plain, the monastery loomed up before them. Quincy risked leaning his head close to the window to look at it. The empty bell tower looked stark, the silent struts and buttresses of the cloisters, chapel, and other buildings gangling wild and defiant against the desolate emptiness of the valley. The road wound quietly up to it, and then away again, curving down the other side of the mountain. As they drew closer, Quincy could see two or three figures perched on the long entrance stoop of the monastery. One was a man with a beard, dressed in long wool robes, one was a woman dressed in reinforced Undermine work clothes, and one was his niece.
He could see their faces as the car drove up and stopped just beyond the balistrade. Smiles of relief and expectancy to see the rescue party’s return. Clifton swung the driver’s door open and jumped out. Quincy twisted to look at Lyric. She stood straight up, her hair a mess pulled over her shoulder in a ponytail, her eyes nearly popping out of her head with suspense as she wrung her gloved hands.
The woman who had been waiting with them didn’t waste a moment; she vaulted over the balustrade and ran to meet Clifton. They embraced and kissed with obvious gratitude at being in one another’s presence. They must be husband and wife.
“We found them,” Clifton said. “Some injuries, but nothing life threatening. And they saved at least one more life.” The woman beamed with joy, and she and Clifton hurried to open up the car.
Quincy glanced at the still body of the Authority man, packed into the back of the car. They meant him—Quincy. He was the only one who had gotten out alive.
Clifton threw open the side door of the car, and Oscar and Fr. Antonie leapt out, turning to help maneuver Laura.
“Easy, now,” Clifton said. “Judith is a nurse, she’ll help you out until we can get you back to the Undermine.”
The back hatch opened. The woman touched the shroud that was over the corpse’s head. “Oh,” she murmured, looking puzzled. One body—wondering, no doubt, why just one?
“Judith,” Clifton said, as he lifted Laura out of the car, “do you think you can take a look at her?”
“I can,” Judith said, lifting her head. She moved around the corpse, digging for the medical box underneath it. “Did they only find one of the bodies? There were three Authority men missing, weren’t there?”
“We found them all,” Fr. Antonie said. “This one was alive when we found them. He was fortunate… he died well, considering the circumstances, and he had the assistance of the Last Rites.”
Judith nodded, and then she turned her attention to Laura’s injured legs. “She was crushed?” she asked, in horror.
“Yes,” Clifton said. “Shall I put her…”
“On the steps here,” Judith said. “She doesn’t look good. The release of pressure on compartmentalized tissue is dangerous—you can spread the metabolic acidosis that way—and her tissues might die, or worse… yes, right here.” Clifton maneuvered her down carefully, and Judith followed with the medical kit.
Lyric was still staring anxiously at the car. “Did they find Quincy?” she asked.
“Yes, we found him,” Oscar said. He and Edward climbed into the car, helping to move Bryan, still half unconscious. Oscar shot a glare at Quincy.
Quincy stared back at him. “You might be safe in the valley,” he said, “but you won’t be safe anywhere else aboveground.”
Oscar paused. “Are you threatening me?” he said.
“Is he okay?” Lyric was calling. “Quincy!”
Quincy didn’t take his eyes off of Oscar. “I’ll be there in a minute, Lyric.”
“You are quite aware,” Oscar said, “that you’re under arrest. Your accomplice isn’t… at this time. But don’t threaten me.”
Quincy’s hand twitched, but he stayed quiet. Anger burned in his vision as he kept his eyes locked on Oscar’s.
“Quincy!” Lyric started to cry.
Oscar met his gaze, fury in his eyes, but he moved out of the car with Bryan. Quincy had had enough of torturing his poor niece, and he followed them out as soon as the route was clear, his boots hitting the dirt road as he landed, trying to stay steady on his feet. “Lyric!” he shouted. He winced, slightly. The anger was still in his voice.
“Quincy!” She didn’t seem to hear it, though, and nearly tripped on her skirt running over to him, flinging her arms around him. “You’re okay!” she sobbed.
“Yes, kiddo, I’m fine,” he said, patting her on the back. “I’m under arrest, though, okay? Don’t get your hopes too high.”
“They didn’t eat you,” she said, and he couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying. He pushed her back, taking hold of her head and looking her over. She looked perfectly fine; the bruise on her jaw was healing well. He gritted one side of his teeth ruefully. His own blunt object injury still stung.
Lyric was looking at him now, horrified. “What happened to you?” she asked. “What bit you?”
“A little bird,” he said.
“A poisonous one," he said. "Real nasty. It had beady little black eyes—“ he bugged his out, “—and a long tail.”
She almost looked like she wanted to laugh, but she pressed her lips together and struggled not to.
Quincy grinned and ruffled her hair. “Come on. It’s not that bad. I’m still alive. Everything’s just fine.”
“What happened… what happened to your…?” She didn’t seem to want to say it.
“My raptors,” he said. “One of them’s dead. I don’t know where the other two got off to.” Even as he spoke his eyes wandered past her, across the mountain peaks and the kentrosaur herd. Looking back at her, he lowered his voice. “Just be careful. They’re at large, somewhere. Don’t you walk out of this valley, okay?”
Oscar and Edward carried Bryan up the steps, and Brother Augustine, gesturing to them to follow him, opened the monastery doors. “Judith,” he said, and the nurse looked up from where she was draining fluid from Laura’s legs with a large syringe. “Once you’ve got her stable, we have a hospital room we can move her to. I’m going to lead these men there now.”
Judith nodded. “This will only take a few minutes,” she said, “thank you. I don’t want to try and transport them back to the Undermine just yet. Tomorrow, perhaps.”
Brother Augustine nodded, and he and the two Authority men carrying Bryan disappeared into the monastery, the doors swinging shut behind them.
Lyric pushed her hair back into place, combing through it messily with the gloves. She sighed. “What do we do now?” she asked.
“We wait,” Quincy said. His eyebrows lifted a little as he eyed the monastery doors, and the nurse busy at work. So there was a possibility he would have another day… more or less free. A lot could be done in a day. He smiled at his niece. “Have you liked it here?”
“It’s okay,” she said. “I was worried that you were dead. But it’s nice. There’s a huge library. Brother Paphnutius and I found all the records about your catalysts and formulas that you used on the raptors.”
Quincy put a hand into his pocket, quickly. “Oh? Where did you find out what those were?”
“Oscar had your box, from the back shed,” she said.
“My box,” Quincy said. The box into which he had packed his synthesizers and the formulas he still had mixed. He had taken that box with him. And left it behind after he had crashed his bike. “They were tracking me, then.”
“So the monks here have my box now, eh?” Quincy smiled.
“Yes, in the library,” Lyric said. “You don’t think they would let you have it back, do you?”
“Well, I’m under arrest at the moment,” Quincy said. “I think I wouldn’t mind letting the monks hold onto it for a little while.” His experiment had been only a partial success, anyway. He wondered if he would ever get the chance to perfect it.
Brother Augustine, Oscar, and Edward came back. Judith, wrapping Laura’s legs, gave the okay, and she and Clifton lifted the injured woman.
“If we aren’t clearing out of here until tomorrow, I want him locked up,” Oscar was saying to Brother Augustine. “He’s dangerous. He’s killed people. I don’t want him disappearing into the woods. And don’t tell me he won’t because it’s a death sentence out there—he has dinosaur allies.”
Quincy straightened, and walked up the road past the monastery. The car still hung open, forgotten in the rush to take care of the injured. He walked past it, and stood, arms folded, watching the kentrosaur herd that milled in agitation in the distance.
Brother Augustine’s voice wafted tinnily over the breeze. “If you want to watch him, that’s your prerogative, but we have no facilities for locking anyone up here.”
“Quincy,” Oscar called.
“What?” Quincy didn’t turn around.
“You need to come with us and get those bites treated,” he said.
“They’ve been treated.”
“Not by a nurse.”
Quincy sighed and spun around. “Lyric,” he said. Lyric, still up the road, turned to look at him. “See what you can get for me from the library, would you?” He gave her a crooked smile as he turned and walked back to the monastery doors.
Oscar and Edward tramped into the monastery. The doors yawned open, waiting for him to follow. Quincy caught the gaze of the doorkeeper for a moment. The monk merely nodded his head. Monks. Such strange creatures. Yet they were utilizing the same principle he was—dinosaurs were animals that could be used to help human beings. Quincy shook his head and stepped through the doors. Edward slammed them shut behind him.
“So, I’ve got a question for you,” Quincy said, as he trailed the two Authority men down the spacious, arching hallway. “Why is it that I’m in trouble for harboring dinosaurs, when these monks are doing the same thing?”
“They’re not doing the same thing,” Edward said. “They don’t keep that herd. They just live next to it.”
“They also don’t provoke them to attack people,” Oscar said.
“They use them for defense,” Quincy said. “They ran my dinosaurs off.”
“Herbivores will run off predators,” Oscar said. “Not people.”
“Theoretically,” Quincy said. “If they thought a human being posed a threat they’d run ‘em down just as quick.”
“That’s why no one comes up here,” Oscar said, “or anywhere else aboveground where there’s dinosaurs. Not if they’re smart. Look, Transgenic Containment isn’t happy about this place either. We’re in a dire situation here, and there’s not much we can do about you, or about them, until we’re secured back in the Undermine.”
He stopped and opened a door, and the three of them stepped inside. It was a small room, but long, with barred glass windows covered in curtains. Quincy hadn’t seen curtains anywhere else so far. Several beds, nailed together by hand and furnished with hay-stuffed mattresses, were against the walls, and there was a table at one end of the room, and a wood stove at the other.
On the table Judith had spread out all the contents of her medical kit, and she, Clifton, and Fr. Antonie were by the bed that now held Bryan. “His signs are fairly normal,” she said, peering into his eyes. “But he needs to rest, and not move, for a few days.”
Fr. Antonie glanced up and smiled as the three men entered the room. “You’ll be in good hands,” he said. “Judith knows what she’s doing.”
Quincy looked over towards the other occupied bed in the room, where Laura lay, fast asleep. “She okay?” he asked.
Judith nodded. “I gave her some morphine. But the acidosis is under control now. I’m going to keep watching her, but she should be okay until we can get her back to the Undermine.” She straightened up and smiled. “You want me to check those bites out for you?”
“Please,” Quincy said, with a wary glance at Oscar and Edward. They said nothing, returning the stare.
Judith came over, and turned Quincy’s collar back a bit, pushing at his leather helmet. “Just your face and neck?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, “their teeth didn’t get through the armor. Not for lack of trying.”
“I’d like to check and make sure,” she said. “The gloves and helmet, and the vest, at least.”
“I’d rather not,” Quincy said.
“Do what she says,” Oscar said.
Quincy fixed him with a glare. “My armor stays with me.”
“It can stay with you,” Clifton said, “unless these fine gentlemen have a problem with that. But you should let Judith check you out.”
Judith looked at Oscar and Edward. “You two may leave,” she said. They didn’t move. “Go on, please,” she tried again.
“This man is under arrest,” Oscar said, nodding at Quincy. “We have to watch him.”
“We’ll watch him,” Judith said. “Stand outside the door, if you want.”
Oscar and Edward exchanged glances, then stepped outside, shutting the door perhaps a bit more roughly than was strictly necessary.
Judith sighed. “All right, then. Clifton?”
“Yes, dear?” Clifton looked up from where he stood next to Bryan’s bed.
“You’ll watch the door, won’t you? Make sure they don’t come in.”
He nodded, and walked over to the door.
“So,” Judith said, and she turned her attention back to Quincy, “do you feel comfortable taking the armor off? I don’t know you, or why you’re under arrest, but you were obviously out there helping our crew.”
“He was quite invaluable, actually,” Fr. Antonie said. “He saved my life.”
“So they tell me,” Quincy said. “I don’t remember it.”
“You were delirious at the time.”
“Delirious?” Judith was inspecting the bites. “From Sinornithosaurus venom, I take it? That’s what these bites are. They gave you the antidote?”
“Likely,” Quincy said. WIth a reluctant glance at the door, he pulled his leather helmet off, and then his gloves, unfastening his chain-sewn vest.
Judith checked him as quickly as she could. “Your hands are fine,” she said, “but you seem to have almost lost an ear here.”
“One of them got onto my head,” he said.
“Let me clean these up,” she said, and retrieved some cloths and a bottle of alcohol from the table. Quincy held still as she swabbed his torn ear, grimacing. “So tell me,” she said, “I haven’t heard much except that you were the fellow harboring raptors that they had been out looking for. Father here said they found you in the ruins. That’s quite a feat, training raptors so that they won’t attack you.”
“Yeah, it would be, if it worked better,” he said. “Not like I’ll have a chance to pitch my case now.”
“You never know,” she said. “There’s quite an underground in the Undermine—if you’ll pardon the pun—that isn’t satisfied with the way we run things. A few score of men have to go out and risk their lives aboveground, and it makes them hard, and bitter. A lot of people think there must be a better way. That’s one reason why the monks are up here.”
Clifton turned around, exchanging glances with Fr. Antonie. “That’s a different sort of case,” Clifton said. “I understand your sympathy, Judith, but…”
“I gotcha,” Quincy said. “I’m a criminal. I killed people.” He said it not with anger but with a sort of detached resignation.
“You did?” Judith paused, the cloth in her hand stained with dried blood.
“My raptors did,” Quincy said. “And I’m aware of the underground. I’ve got friends there. One of ‘em was in the Containment Authority, long ago. He died. All those guys die, at one point or another. State tells us it’s a necessary sacrifice. I don’t think so. Would you believe I got people killed so that people wouldn’t have to die?” He laughed, the sound sharp and bitter.
“You had a noble motivation,” Fr. Antonie said. “That much is clear. It hasn’t seemed to me, from your actions since we found you, that you’ve wanted anyone to die. What I’m curious about is what possessed you with the courage to, so to speak, fly under the radar to try and accomplish this. It was not easy.”
“Hell no it wasn’t easy,” Quincy said. “Creeping into those ruins wasn’t easy. Finding working equipment wasn’t easy. Neither was using it. Or wiring up a building far up enough to not be destroyed by the first ignirugiens to walk by. We’re talking long nights, hours and hours. Creeping into a raptor nest with six etropine darts too few. Catching youngsters. Moving them. Endless problems. They’re unruly. They smell terrible. They’ll cut you up on accident at the very least. And they have to eat. They have to kill. Keeping a creature like that? It’s like a prison sentence.” He smiled wryly. “I did it for every citizen of every Undermine. And I failed. But if they lock me up, it’ll be like a vacation.”
Judith taped over the injured ear, and then nodded. “You can put your helmet back on, if you want,” she said. “Though it’ll heal quicker if you don’t, and there will be less chance of infection.”
Quincy pulled it back on, along with his gloves, refastening his vest. “I’ll take the chance,” he said. “It’s a worse chance being aboveground… anywhere… without armor.”
“He has a very good point,” Fr. Antonie said.
“You overdo it, just a tad, Father,” Clifton said.
“Considering the circumstances, I really don’t think that I do,” Fr. Antonie said. “I’ve ended the lives of a lot of animals bent on eating me.”
“That’s what you gotta do,” Quincy said. “It’s kill or be killed out there, unfortunately. I’m not happy people died. I didn’t plan all this. You can’t plan living things. They do what they want.”
Someone tapped on the door. Clifton opened it. “Yes?”
“You almost done in there?” It was Oscar’s voice.
“We’re done,” Judith called.
“About time,” Oscar said. He pushed the door open. “I sent Edward to take a nap. We’ll be on watch all night until we leave in the morning.” He glanced at Quincy, eyeing him, before turning back to Judith. “Are our injured stable enough for transport?”
“By morning,” Judith said, “they should be, though I’ll have to take a look.” She glanced back at the patients in the beds. Laura lay fast asleep; the morphine was still in effect. Bryan had drifted off as well, still and relaxed. “Sleep is the best thing for them now.”
“My friends,” Fr. Antonie said, “I believe it’s almost time for Vespers. Let’s all get a good night’s prayer, meal, and rest.”
“I second that idea,” Clifton said. “It’s been a long day.” He nodded at Quincy. “For some more than others.” He, Judith, Fr. Antonie, and Quincy filed out to join Oscar in the hall.
“I’d like to find my niece,” Quincy said. “She’s probably scared.”
“Knowing her,” Fr. Antonie said, “she might be in the library.”
“Well,” Quincy said, “let’s go then. You all have fun at Vespers.” Without asking for a second opinion, he strode off down the hall, leaving Oscar to catch up, which the man quickly did.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Oscar said.
“Going to the library,” Quincy said, not breaking his stride. “You’re welcome to come. Lyric said they started some research on those formulations of mine… I’m curious what they found out.”
“I’ll have you know,” Oscar said, “the monks confiscated your equipment. You’d better not be thinking to take it back… you’d do better to give them all the information they want on what you did. The Transgenic Authority would like to know. The monks weren’t able to provide us with much information on the formulations.”
Quincy glanced over his shoulder, his eyes flicking across the walls, the tapestries, the few statues here and there as his boots rang dully on the stone floor. “Well,” he said, “I can help you with that.”
Oscar frowned, and was silent for a moment. Then, he pointed. “The library is that way,” he said.
“Thanks.” Quincy adjusted his course, and soon enough they found themselves at the big doors of the library. “I hear they’ve got quite a collection here.”
“I haven’t seen it,” Oscar said.
Quincy tried to open the big double doors—they were locked. “Huh,” he said.
“So much for not having any locks,” Oscar grumbled.
“It would be stupid not to have locks, out here,” Quincy said. “I can respect that.” He leaned back, gazing upwards at the doors. “I would think, though…” Lifting one gloved hand, he knocked sharply on the door.
They heard a shuffling from the other side of the door, and then footsteps. The sound of latches and locks being undone echoed from behind the thick wood, and then the door creaked open. A bearded monk peered out. “Ah, your timing is unfortunate,” he said. “I was just about to leave. It’s time for Vespers, you know.”
“I know,” Quincy said. “I was wondering if you’d seen my niece. Lyric.”
“Lyric? Yes, she’s here—wait, your niece?” The monk’s eyes brightened. “You must be Quincy.”
“That’s right,” Quincy said. “I hear you ended up with some of my formulas.”
“So we did,” said the monk. “Very intriguing. I would ask you a hundred questions about it, but now isn’t the time. Perhaps we can talk later, after dinner? It’s a pleasure to meet you, by the way. My name is Brother Paphnutius.”
Quincy nodded in acknowledgement. “Likewise. So Lyric’s in here?”
“She is. She’s been sitting by the window over there, looking at the garden.” Brother Paphnutius pushed the door open so that they could come in, pointing across the room.
Oscar looked around, his eyes shifting. “Where did you put the box?” he asked.
Brother Paphnutius looked at him, his friendly eyes taking on a tinge of sadness. “I shelved it, meaning to continue my research. Of course, with its formulator here, I can make much more progress.”
Quincy took a few slow steps across the room, the echo of his boots on the stone suddenly muffled by a rough carpet that stretched nearly wall to wall. The high ceiling soared above, nearly blocked from view by all of the tall shelves, crammed with books, datastreams, papers, and a few random items and boxes, that clustered broodily in every corner, overflowing at every angle into what would otherwise have been a very spacious room.
“He’s under arrest, you know,” Oscar said. “His actions are responsible for the death of seven men.”
“Six,” Quincy corrected.
“No,” Oscar said, his voice rising, “seven.”
“Four goons at my place Friday morning,” Quincy said. “One escaped. So three died. Three of them followed me into the ruins. Six.”
“Frederic died while we were in pursuit of you,” Oscar said, his words clipped and angry.
“That doesn’t make me responsible,” Quincy said.
“We’ll see about that,” Oscar said stonily.
Quincy shook his head and looked back across the room. He saw Lyric, sitting on a bench next to one of the windows. The window was tall, barred on the outside, and overlooked the foliage of what looked like an enclosed sort of area or garden. Even in the fading evening light, there were birds in the trees and bushes, flitting around, chirping excitedly, then suddenly taking off and zipping in circles through the air.
“They’re here,” she said, glancing back over her shoulder at him.
“Who’s here?” Quincy walked over to her, leaning forward to peer out the window.
“Sparky and Nova,” she said.
“Really? I don’t see anything, kiddo,” he said.
“Lyric,” Brother Paphnutius said, “you’ve been thinking that you see them for the past few days. No predators can get past the kentrosaur herd without them stirring a fit. We would have heard something, at least, if raptors had come up here.”
“I know I kept thinking I saw them,” Lyric said, turning back to the window, “but they’re really there this time. Birds don’t act like that normally, do they?”
“I suppose it’s a possibility,” Quincy said. “I don’t see them, but they’re real good at hiding.”
“Why don’t we search the garden?” Oscar said. “Edward and I will search all around the monastery. We don’t need any rats hiding out.”
Brother Paphnutius nodded. He was glancing at the clock on the desk. Spring-wound, it ticked pleasantly, but with firm resolution marked the time—five o’ clock. “For now,” he said, “let’s all stay inside. I don’t want anyone doing searches in the dark. It’s too dangerous. Let’s go to Vespers, and then to dinner. Would you all like to accompany me?”
“Sure,” Oscar said, looking at Quincy.
Quincy was still standing by the window, hunched forward with his hands in his pockets, his eyes narrowed as he searched the vegetation for signs of the animals. “Yeah,” he said, straightening. “Let’s go. We’ll figure this out later. Come on, Lyric.”
Lyric climbed off of the bench and followed them out, slowly, dragging her feet as she cast glances back over her shoulder. Unseen outside in the garden, two sets of careful, watchful yellow eyes tracked them as they left. Brother Paphnutius snuffed the lamp and locked the door, and only the pleasant tick of the clock echoed in the empty library.
Jathan felt so tired. Dragging Frederic’s body on the gurney, crouching in terror out in the wilderness for a night, the sounds and sights and omnipresent fear of the huge monsters that lurked in the jungle on all sides, he couldn’t get any of it out of his head. They were supposedly safe here, behind thick stone walls and a herd of kentrosaurs, but his body wouldn’t register it. He couldn’t stop shaking.
He hadn’t been able to stop shaking since he’d heard that roar. The sound, coming with the heat and flames, was a scream out of his worst nightmares. And he had thought the raptors’ screams were terrifying. He couldn’t get away from that roar, not even holed up underground in that crypt, where the walls must have been as thick as… well, the ground. And it was cold down there, as cold as death, as cold as the skulls that grinned from the alcoves, and, he imagined, from inside the coffins. The lamps, the torches, none of it had warmed him. His head was so full of that roar that he could hardly hear the monks chanting.
When Brother Augustine had come to get them, saying he’d seen a flare, there had been a mad rush—not from the monks, of course, who moved as dumb and placid as monks ever did, but from everyone else. Except Jathan. He’d been rooted to the bench he sat on. He wasn’t going back up here. Not even if people were alive and needed help. There were plenty of other people to help. He’d done his share. He felt a little guilty, but even that small sting of conscience was barely a pinprick compared to the terror that held his mind in ironfast jaws.
Eventually he’d come out. The omnipresent heat was gone, the smoke from the forest fire was being carried in the opposite direction. There was no roar. Just the kentrosaurs, griping and groaning, looking around furiously. They’d killed it, he heard. And everyone had made it back safely, except for some pretty nasty injuries. Everyone had been occupied dealing with that. They had also found their criminal. It was too much excitement for Jathan. His nerves were already shot. So he abandoned the rush in the halls, slowly making his way out through the cloister, towards the garden. The winding cloister ended abruptly at a heavy door, windowed with bars, where you could see out into the garden.
It was quaint, almost unbelievable to him, how they had this protected space. A protected space, that was also outside, and not underground. Jathan himself had little memory of architecture beyond the vague recollection of the high-powered, streamlined expanses of Missoula, and the more recent impressions of the dark, low-slung domiciles of the Undermine, dwarfed by the huge steam engines. The never ending crashing and grinding of the drills as they dug out new tunnels and reinforced them. It made the fragile little homes, schools, and bars that they came in and constructed afterwards seem small, insignificant. Afterthoughts to the crushing weight of the rock above them. No sky, no air. It was why he had always snuck aboveground during his breaks. Just seeing the sun made him feel alive, and the fresh air gave him hope. Someday it wouldn’t be like this. They were all working towards someday.
Someday? Even right now, there were people aboveground. Living aboveground—successfully! It thrilled Jathan, on the one hand, that this was being done, though the circumstances were exceedingly special. Kentrosaur herds of this size, that didn’t roam, weren’t that common. On the other hand, though, he couldn’t relax. The thought of the setting sun, the fresh air that so delighted him was hamstrung by a nervous terror that pinned his limbs. He still felt it, that foreboding. It had been constant, over the last couple of days, and even now he couldn’t shake it.
The little garden outside the door looked peaceful, though. It was enclosed within the monastery walls, the halls of the garden cloister, like a colonnade, separating it from the building proper. The door that opened into it was heavy and solid. All the doors to the outside were, and even most that were not. This one had a small brass plaque screwed into it, just below the window. On it words were engraved—GUESTS: PLEASE CHECK THREAT STATUS BEFORE ENTERING GARDEN. It reminded him of many similar safety placards that were put up in the construction zones in the Undermine.
A note was pinned to the door under the placard. Danger too high. Stay inside. - Fr. C, it read. Jathan thought again of the terrifying roar, the heat and smoke that had billowed up from the trees below the mountain, and he shuddered. No wonder! And they hadn’t just stayed inside—they had gone underground! Thank goodness that the thing was dead now. Jathan shook his head. Forget raptors—Quincy was on the wrong foot with that one. Why not train kentrosaurs!
Jathan smirked a bit and pushed open the door. He took a deep breath as he walked out into the garden. There was still the tinge of smoke on the air, and the rotting stench of dinosaurs, but it was better. Much better. The wind in the mountains would clear it away as soon as the fires in the jungle died down.
Jathan looked around. Even in the fading light, the size and variety of the garden impressed him. He followed a small gravel path towards a small area paved with flat stones. Fruit trees of many varieties, as well as arbors with vines, clustered around the angles of the paths. It was rustically quiet. There was not an inch of space unused by some useful plant, whether for food, fiber, or medicine. Past the paved area, back by the pillars of the east side of the cloister, there was a well. So they had water, too!
It wasn’t secure, exactly. Jathan looked up, past the walls of the cloister that surrounded the garden. The walls and roofs of the surrounding could probably be easily climbed—or stepped over, depending on size—by dinosaurs. Jathan shivered. The heavy feeling of dread just wouldn’t leave. But the enclosed garden was a nice idea, he thought, and despite the lingering smells of smoke and rot, the air was refreshing. And it was quiet. The spacious quiet of the monastery extended even here. There didn’t even seem to be any birds—
A hooting little quirk sounded behind him. The ever present dread quivered up from the pit of his stomach into his neck and shoulders, and his breath shortened. No, he knew that sound. That wasn’t a bird. Slowly, he turned around.
One wicked, clawed foot clung, bird-like, to the wooden gutter on the edge of the monastery roof where the rest of the animal balanced itself in a crouch, its colorful feathers dull in the fading light, its eyes fixed on him.
I’m going to die this time, Jathan thought, feeling his blood freeze. He couldn’t move his feet. He didn’t have weapons on him, he didn’t have anything—and—the raptor looked different, as if it wore a harness with a halter. Leather straps and metal rings. It was so incongruous that he felt a fog of confusion scattering his mind amidst the rising panic. Then he saw something he did understand.
A face, in the barred window of the door to the garden. It was the girl—Lyric. Even behind the goggles she wore he could see the shock and fear in her wide eyes. He didn’t want to move. His arms dragged. He managed to lift them, spread eagled. Don’t open that door, he mouthed, pleadingly. Don’t open it, there’s a—
She opened the door, shoving it with childish hurry as she scrambled towards him. Passing right under the eave where the raptor crouched.
“No!” Jathan shouted, and then he saw a flash of colored feathers in his peripheral vision, and something hit him from behind. Hard.