This story has already been submitted to the WFCR, but as cool as it is to have my story on that site, I won't recieve much, if any, feedback. So I post my story here, in the hopes that it will be read and commented on. However, Raptor II is almost 200000 characters long. And since I don't want to take up lots of space on this board by posting many topics, I have simply converted the story into HTML.
Bear in mind as you read that I am not one with much knowledge about Dinotopia, and so I have probably committed some factual sins. Let me know.
EDIT 122906: Raptor II has been updated with more content!
I've also removed the link as it went and broke itself, and I cannot be bothered to fix it. The story in its current entirety is posted below, and more content will be added as I write it.
This story is in the Registry? Hmmmmmm....... Confuzzled. What do you have it titled as, in the Registry? I can't seem to find it anywhere! Also, I use the character name Ava for a Parasaurolophus in the Blackwood Flats Safari RP;) Not complaing or anything, just pointing out that it's apparently become a great Dinotopian name! I'll read through it more thoroughly later. Maybe something will refresh my memory.
Hey, do you still have contact with Silverclaw? If so, I need to speak to him about a Sunstone story that he wrote years back. Thankies!
Post by Shingebis on Sept 12, 2006 14:50:46 GMT -5
Well, I sent it to you. It was HTMLized and ready to go, but I can't say if you have gotten around to posting it or not.
And now that I look at it, I did word my post like the story was available on the WFCR. My bad - poopoo English skills right there. Oops.
Anywho, I had no idea Ava was already taken. The thing is, I wrote RII with a huge amount of help from Sil - the Rainy Basin pack my heroes meet up with are mostly his. (Silverclaw/Ava/Brightfrost/Quickclaw) Meaning that he gave me that name.
What do you think of the story? Or is that the "read through more carefully"? I'm not sure if you mean your RP or RII, but either way, I'd love to know what you think.
Finally, I do have contact with Silverclaw, I'm fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on who you ask) enough to go to the same school he does. Have you a specific message or just a general "Hey you!"?
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren
I think a simple 'get your tail back to the Dinotopia messageboards' would do. People always seem to be leaving the boards quietly and only a few ever come back to pay a visit after 'reality' claimed them.
Well it seems the link went and got itself broken..... rawr. Anyway, I'll post the story in segments. I apologize for the quinthousand-posting, but that's already been addressed and is rather necessary.
Here we go:
R A P T O R II
F O R E W O R D
Hello again. Just a few short words and then you can get on with the story. Firstly, and most importantly, two of this story’s characters have been copied from a short piece by one Patrick Harrison. With his permission, these characters have been written into the story, and to outline them perhaps a little better, a verbatim copy of that document has been included here, as the Prologue.
Secondly, if you didn’t notice in the first Raptor, my version of the velociraptor is molded from the Covenant Elite. If you don’t like it that way... tough! Otherwise, read on, and as it was with the first, please send me ideas and comments and so forth via email.
P R O L O G U E -- B R I G H T C L A W ...Ten Years Ago
Silverclaw was ready. He had trained his life for this! He could do it! As he walked to the standing stones, he fiddled with the sunstone on his neck he’d inherited by birthright. His clan was in charge of the only sunstone in that part of the Rainy Basin. Law required that the first born boy of the generation was to guard it. And that was him. By law he wasn’t to remove it until his death day. Upon reaching the standing stones he put his fears beside him and let the ancient instincts of his species override his senses. Standing in front of him was his father, Quickclaw. The red and green velociraptor looked down into his son’s eyes. Even being tall for his age, Silverclaw only came up to his father’s shoulder. ^How could I think him ready^ Quickclaw thought to himself. ^He’s not even full-grown.^ But upon looking into his son’s eyes he knew he had made the right decision. The clan shaman, Quetzal, began to chant the ‘Song of Ages’, an ancient song that would continue through the battle. The raspy, high-pitched whistle, which was in the velociraptor language, echoed over the Standing Stones.
Sickle claw, And teeth to match, With our speed, We’re hard to catch.
We hunt in packs, Because we’re small, With our teamwork, The larger will fall.
Let the stronger lead, And the weaker fall, And the victor, Will rule us all.
Great ancestors, Guide your chosen one, And with your guidance, He has always won.
Then the battle began!
*Win* the voices in Silverclaw’s head said. Silverclaw was smaller and had the advantage in size. But Quickclaw was older and more experienced. Slowly they circled the battlefield, never taking an eye off the other. Then Quickclaw charged! Silverclaw wasn’t expecting this and was caught slightly off guard. Luckily not enough. Silverclaw sidestepped and received only minor cuts. Quickclaw was not so lucky. The momentum of his charge sent him directly into one of the entrance spires. Silverclaw noticed his chance. While Quickclaw was recovering, Silverclaw pounced! With Silverclaw’s pale white sickle-claw on his neck, Quickclaw knew it was over. Silverclaw knew it too, and released his father. Quickclaw rose and hung his head in submission. He had done it! Silverclaw was the new alpha! His mother, Ava, came over to congratulate him. The clan elders, hatchlings, his sister Brightfrost, even the expectant mothers were there to watch the battle and congratulate the victor. Silverclaw had done it. He was the new alpha of the clan.
F L A W E D L E G A C Y
It was a beautiful calm day, and Dena ‘Fulsamee decided that he would take some time away from his pack for a change. He had brought only himself and his close companion, the human ‘Ornamee. Now well into his 15th meta-cycle, ‘Ornamee was a foot and a half shorter than ‘Fulsamee, but no less fierce and skilled. He hadn’t changed any over the cycles, either, he and ‘Firnomee still thoroughly enjoyed pulling pranks on ‘Fulsamee.
However, these thoughts were swept from ‘Fulsamee’s mind as he came around a particularly large tree and for the first time in a while, discovered something he hadn’t known existed. Hovering in the air about five feet away was... a rip? It was though a section of the forest had been replaced with a new set of trees and shrubberies. As he moved his head, the affected area’s scenery moved too. It was almost like a window into some other part of the forest, but not one ‘Fulsamee had ever seen before.
“Woah... What is that?”, asked ‘Ornamee.
“That’s what I’d like to know.”
‘Ornamee reached forward for the window, but ‘Fulsamee slapped his hand away.
“Don’t touch it! You don’t know what it does.”, he said.
‘Fulsamee reached down, grabbed a long stick, and gingerly touched it to where the window seemed to begin. The moment it touched, the stick was drawn into the window like meat into a hatchling’s belly. Fast. ‘Fulsamee managed to release the stick, but not before it had pulled him enough that his momentum carried him forward and his outstretched claw contacted the surface of the window.
‘Fulsamee tried to fight the pull of the window, but it was too strong. ‘Ornamee reached out to help him, but at that instant the window won out and both he and ‘Fulsamee were sucked through.
For several long seconds, they floated in inky blackness, dotted with pinpricks of light moving by. Suddenly, ‘Fulsamee felt a tingle at the tip of his tail... and noticed the some of the particles zooming past were the same color as he was. Faster and faster, the tingle traveled up his body, dissolving his legs, his arms, then finally his head, until the void was full of glowing bits of raptor-colored energy. The particles gathered momentarily, then raced into the distance, closely pursued by ‘Ornamee’s disassembled body.
N E W B E G I N N I N G S
There was a loud whooshing sound, ‘Fulsamee’s vision flashed several colors, then he was unceremoniously deposited upon soft grass. He got up in time to see the window that now looked back into his home forest swirl into nonexistence and be replaced by trees that matched those around them. It was gone, and both he and ‘Ornamee were somewhere unknown, and with no way of getting back.
“Um.. where are we?” asked ‘Ornamee.
“You put too much faith in my ability to pull information from thin air, you know that?” He sighed. “Paths normally lead somewhere, so let us follow this one.”
He indicated a dirt path nearby.
The odd looking pair of raptor and human set off down the path, which looked well-used. However, there were no discernible footprints in its dry surface. After a while, the sun had begun to set, and the two were ready to call it a day when ‘Ornamee spotted something.
“Look! On that hill! Doesn’t that look like --”
“--our nests? Yes, it does.”, finished ‘Fulsamee. “But we can’t go charging up there. As you well know, eggs are considered even by other races to be the most precious of all possessions, and it is not uncommon to find raptors prepared to spend their lives, that the eggs might hatch unharmed. Parading up that hill would be the worst and last bad idea either us of would ever have. Having said that, we can still gain the hilltop. If you would follow my lead...”
‘Fulsamee walked slowly but purposefully toward the hill, arms down, sickle claws tilted towards the ground. The black quills on his head lay flat, where they had been raised slightly. ‘Ornamee followed close behind, doing his best to look submissive. As he approached the base of the hill, two dark red raptors and one slightly larger, silver and black one, hopped out of the shadows. The largest rose and spoke to ‘Fulsamee.
“Rise, brother. I am called Silverclaw. Tell us, where are you from? I haven’t seen anyone with your colors before. Also... why are you traveling with this human?”
‘Fulsamee stood to his full height, just under seven feet, and addressed them. “I am Dena ‘Fulsamee.” He recounted the story of their trip through the window, and of arriving. “The human is ‘Ornamee. 15 years ago, my pack found him as a hatchling abandoned in the forest. I was directed to take charge of his raising and see that he could exist within the pack. ‘Ornamee has proved himself quite capable in the past, and has never had any real contact with others of his species. He presents no threat to your nests.”
The raptor who had greeted ‘Fulsamee said, “That is very strange. I’ve heard of odd happenings that bring humans here, but never anything like that. I do not foresee any problems with you taking up temporary residence within our pack. As for the human... we must hold council to determine whether or not he stays. Otherwise, I can direct you towards the nearest city.”
‘Fulsamee said, “Fine. Where would you have us wait?”
“You may ascend the hill and find yourself a place to stay. Once the council approves of the human, you may join us in our daily activities.”
“Thank you.” With that, ‘Fulsamee and ‘Ornamee followed Silverclaw up the hill, and to a small clearing set apart from the rest of the area. The section of the forest they were now in was dark and full of a variety of plant life. Strange sounds, warped and distorted, echoed off the trees. In the clearing there were three decent sized sleeping depressions, lined with soft dried grass. ‘Ornamee sat in one, but ‘Fulsamee remained standing, alert for unknown danger.
The forest was dense enough that no indication of the pack’s activities were able to filter through to them. However, after a long wait, the sun had begun to set, and the sounds of someone walking towards them were noticed first by ‘Fulsamee, then ‘Ornamee. ‘Fulsamee motioned for him to get up.
“Someone is coming.”
“Oh. No idea who?”
“Wait and see, give it a moment.”
True to his words, Silverclaw appeared from the gap between two trees, looking moderately surprised at the pair, who were tensed as if they expected an attack.
“Did I miss something? Or are we just nervous today?”
“Not nervous, cautious.”, said ‘Fulsamee.
“Fine. But, anyway, the council has decided that both you and the human may enter and be accepted as members of the pack, if you so wish.”
“Your offer is most kind. We would be honored to join the pack.”
“Thank you. Now, the council does require one thing of you before you may join us. You will each separately be placed into a contest of skill against a selection of the members of this pack. Should you win, you will be fully admitted into the pack. If you fail... there is nothing I can do. I’d like to see you in, but on an issue like this I need the support of the Council. The tests will begin tomorrow morning. I leave the rest of the night to your discretion.”
With that, Silverclaw turned and left.
“Hmm hmm hmm..... a test. Should be interesting. I am very curious as to what they’ll set you to do.”, said ‘Fulsamee.
“What if I’m against someone out of my range?”
“Your point is? You’ve never cared before who you’re fighting. The only difference this time is that you have fair warning.”
‘Ornamee thought for a moment, then said, “True... I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what I get.”
“Yes you will. Now, I’m all for some sleep.”
As if this ended the matter, ‘Fulsamee settled down and within seconds was doing exactly what he said he was going to.’Ornamee gazed at the stars overhead for a few minutes, then he too gave in and slept, though not nearly as fast.
U N E X P E C T E D G L O R Y
As the first rays of dawn broke over the forest, ‘Fulsamee woke and contemplated the events of the past few days. The strange transportation to this new land was a problem. He had left his pack behind, without leadership, though he knew that if they were gone too long, a new leader would be selected. Which brought up another problem. How to return. At that point, ‘Fulsamee was quite at a loss for ideas as to returning. The window had vanished after it had dumped him and ‘Ornamee here, wherever here was, and there did not seem to be any way to make it reappear. Until he found a means of getting home, both he and ‘Ornamee would have to remain with the pack. Silverclaw seemed friendly enough, ‘Fulsamee hoped that the rest of his pack was the same way. The last thing he needed was for ‘Ornamee to come to harm because he was human, although after living with the Dena pack for almost 16 years, ‘Ornamee had very little in common with the rest of his species. ‘Fulsamee allowed himself a small sigh. All answers will come eventually.
Presently, ‘Ornamee stirred, and woke.
‘Fulsamee said, “And how are we this morning?”
‘Ornamee grumbled something incoherent.
“So, it seems I’m not the only one who doesn’t like getting up.”
‘Ornamee managed to shake the last vestiges of sleep off and replied, “No, you’re not. You also weren’t kept up half the night because a certain someone was snoring loud enough that it sounded like a small stampede going by.”
At that moment Silverclaw walked into the clearing and said, “Morning. Did we sleep well?” Both nodded. “Good. If you’ll follow me, I have breakfast.”
“That may have been the best thing I’ve heard in a long time.”, said ‘Ornamee.
The two got up and followed Silverclaw down the path a small distance, then turned right onto another, larger path that neither of them had noticed the previous day. It went on for 500 feet, and then widened into a massive open area that was easily a quarter-mile to a side. In it were groups of raptors sparring, and taking part in various athletic events. Down one whole side of the area was a series of large structures whose functions ‘Fulsamee could only guess at, though they looked moderately like obstacle courses.
“If you’ll look to your left, you will find a table set with your breakfast. Take your time, you have two hours before we’ll get started. I will come for you then.” He walked off to a distant corner of the area, and left ‘Ornamee and ‘Fulsamee to the selection of fresh meat, and several soft cakes. They ate more slowly than normal, taking the time to observe the field and its activities. A group of young raptors was running over, under, and through the structures ‘Fulsamee had noticed. It did seem to be an obstacle course. A nasty one. There were many others engaged in a large assortment of events.
Suddenly it dawned on ‘Fulsamee how very large this pack was. There were at least fifty raptors here, and he had no doubt that there were half again as many that were not. His pack in the Yagen had only ever boasted of fifteen raptors. He wondered how it was possible to maintain such a large pack effectively, but it seemed, at least, to be possible.
They sat and watched for the next hour, until Silverclaw visited once again, and said, “Have you eaten? Excellent. Let's have a walk and talk, then.” They set off in the direction of the large structures ‘Fulsamee had observed. “The first test will be of ‘Ornamee.” Looking at him, Silverclaw continued, “You will be required to navigate both Challenge Towers against three of ours your age.” With a wave of his claw he indicated the pair of structures. “You may complete the course in what way seems best to you. The rules are simply that you cannot skip or run around one or both of the towers, and you may not leave the course until you have completed it. To win, you must reach the end line first. Do you have questions?”
‘Ornamee answered, “Let me check: I only have to get through these Towers first, using any method I choose, and I’m good?”
“Okay then. When do I start?”
“In a few minutes, follow me. ‘Fulsamee, if you are planning on watching, stay outside of the blue lines.”
‘Fulsamee looked, and saw that there was a thick blue line that marked off a rectangle containing the Challenge Towers and a small border. He walked right to its edge and waited, along with nearly all of the other raptors, who apparently were very interested in seeing how a human would fare against their competitors.
“Welcome, and good morning! In our first event of the day, Redback, Ingie, Sifre, and a newcomer, Dena ‘Ornamee, will run the Challenge Towers course.” He faced the competitors. “Is everyone ready?”
Three raptors and one human acknowledged his query.
“Right then. On my mark... FOUR... THREE... TWO... ONE... MARK!!”
‘Ornamee raced ahead of his competitors, into the course. He sized up the first Tower as he entered: it was a series of logs spaced at irregular intervals, with small trip wires or other obstacles randomly placed. The whole deal was encased in a frame of thick logs. ‘Ornamee hauled himself up onto one log, and ascended to what was the ‘roof’, and leapt from support to support. One perceptive raptor hopped up behind him, and rapidly closed the distance between them. As he approached the end of the first Tower, ‘Ornamee realized that the second was not in reach. “Oh well”, he thought and dropped off the Tower. However, this allowed the raptor above him to get ahead and into the final leg of the race. ‘Ornamee dashed after him. The second Tower was much, much, taller, and did not have a way to reach its support frame. His trick wouldn’t work. He looked and saw pathways and catwalks galore. It was a mazelike tangle of choices, and only one would lead to the finish. ‘Ornamee blasted up a likely looking path, took a left, then a right down a long catwalk high in the air, and noted that there was a small gap in the wall separating its end from the rest of the Tower. A raptor would never have fit through, but he certainly could. The path he was now on was very narrow, and looked as if it twisted at points. ‘Ornamee ran as quickly as he could down it, being careful not to fall. He spared a few seconds to look back at his opponents, who were trying their hardest to pick a path through. His narrow walk was almost over. ‘Ornamee nimbly skipped down what he now realized was actually a thin support beam, and out of the course, over the finish line.
‘Ornamee looked around to see an extremely pleased ‘Fulsamee, and the entirety of the pack standing there, bugling in appreciation. As the three raptors finished the race, one rolling out, ‘Ornamee turned to face them, and graciously bowed. They returned the favor, accepting without question his victory.
Silverclaw came to him then and said, “Excellent work! I never suspected that the Challenge Towers would pose so little of.... a challenge.... to you. Very good. You may follow us, it is time for ‘Fulsamee’s test.”
Turning to ‘Fulsamee, he said, “Right this way.”
A C C E P T A N C E
Silverclaw walked to the middle of the field, where a set of five red circles 35 feet in diameter were painted. Each was set apart from its neighbor by six feet. He told ‘Fulsamee, “These are the Sparring Circles. You will face one of our best warriors in combat. The object is to gain complete dominance over the other. You may use any techniques to reach this goal. It is neither necessary nor desirable to kill your opponent, though that is accepted as a risk of this test. When you are ready and understand the rules, you may step in circle four.” Silverclaw then said to the audience, “In this Sparring Match we have Fireclaw, and another newcomer, Dena ‘Fulsamee.”
‘Fulsamee entered the circle. A few seconds later, his opponent emerged from the crowd. ‘Ornamee stifled a gasp, and even the normally stoic ‘Fulsamee was stunned. The raptor before him was as tall as he was, and looked to be almost totally comprised of dense muscle. A dark blue stripe ran from the tip of his snout, where two large teeth showed, down his thick neck, split into several jagged spikes down his flanks, and tapered at the tip of his tail. The claws on this raptor’s feet were longer than any ‘Fulsamee had ever seen before, and his eyes burned vibrant orange with a fire more intense than that of a volcano.
Silverclaw said, “Ready? On my mark, then... FOUR... THREE... TWO... ONE... MARK!”
The young raptor roared his challenge to ‘Fulsamee, who had never been given to that sort of outburst, but was content to circle, looking for a pause, a lapse in attention, or anything that would give him the seconds he needed to down the raptor and so gain victory. His enemy was evidently not the patient type, and dashed at ‘Fulsamee. The charge seemed oddly familiar to ‘Fulsamee, though why he wasn’t sure. At any rate, he knew how to counter it. ‘Fulsamee sidestepped the attack, lashed out with his fist... and connected with the air. The young warrior had expected him to try that, and was ready for it. He took advantage of ‘Fulsamee’s momentary confusion to leap at him. His speed threw his aim off, though, enough that it wound up being more of a tackle than the spine-breaking slam desired. They were down, tearing at each other, each trying to gain the upper claw. They rolled, twisted, as they were locked together. The young raptor’s strength was incredible. ‘Fulsamee was finding it very hard to keep his adversary’s claws away from his throat, let alone attempting a similar attack. Suddenly, ‘Fulsamee found himself on his back, with his enemy’s foot descending upon his neck. It was all or nothing, now. The pressure on his neck increased, cutting off his breathing. If the raptor had wanted to end it right then and there, he could have. He had ‘Fulsamee right where he wanted him. But he made the mistake of putting his foe through an agonizing slow defeat, something ‘Fulsamee would never have done. He gathered his legs under the raptor’s body, as his vision began to swim, and kicked with everything he had. It was enough, it seemed, and the bulky raptor was sent into the air, and crashed to the ground. Like lightning, ‘Fulsamee was up, and pressed not only his foot but the tip of a very sharp claw to its neck. He wasted no time with the demoralizing approach that had seconds before been used on him. The blazing fire within his opponent’s eyes raced, searching for an escape, found none, and dulled, but was not extinguished.
‘Fulsamee released the raptor, and solemnly bowed. It stood, and returned the bow. Silverclaw entered the circle, and made a valiant attempt at speaking over the discordant bugles of the pack. When they calmed down, he was able to say, “Excellent! You both have succeeded at your set tasks, and! may I be the first to welcome you into our pack.” ‘Ornamee came up to him and offered his congratulations as well. He added, “But what’s next? Where do we go from here?”
At that point, ‘Fulsamee’s former opponent stepped forward and introduced himself, raising his left claw, palm out, in a friendly greeting.
“I am called Fireclaw. Silverclaw cannot be with you as much as he has recently, he has many duties to attend to. I would be honored if I was allowed to be your guide.” As if to confirm that, Silverclaw left so fast he might as well have vanished.
‘Fulsamee said, “I do not think that I can deny you that honor. We would appreciate your help.”
“Thank you. First, you may have noticed that this pack has a large number of members. We are one of very few packs that can boast of such strength.
“Wait... Dinotopia? I’ve never heard of such a place.”
“That doesn’t surprise me. Most Outsiders haven’t. And if they have, it is a poor mockery of this island. But in the same, there is very little I know, or that anyone knows, about the Outer World. At any rate, this island holds humans and saurians alike, and most of them live in harmony together. We, on the other claw, have chosen to distance ourselves from them. The way Dinotopians lead their lives is very different from the way we do. It is a long, convoluted tale, though, and I am not the most knowledgeable about it. So I shall not impregnate your minds with false concepts. But, as I was saying, we are a very large pack. This has led to the creation of smaller divisions within it, each dedicated to a certain task or aspect of life. These divisions, or guilds, normally have around ten members, though variances do occur. There are Gatherers, Artificers, Watchers, and Artisans, to name a few. I personally am a Gatherer. We hunt for food for the rest of the pack, and we also handle the defense of the pack, if necessary. There are actually very few of the pack who regularly kill, and those are all Gatherers. You two may choose any Guild you desire to become a member of, though it is not possible to belong to more than one.” He paused, then said, “Have I gone too fast? Did you miss anything?”
“No. That is very interesting. It gives us a great deal to think about.”
They spent the rest of the day observing a series of combat events on the Field. At one point Fireclaw, who had been running a helpful commentary for them, had to leave, as he was entered in one of the events. When the activities ceased, the two left Fireclaw to his devices and returned to their clearing.
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren
‘Fulsamee said, “Well, firstly, very, very good work today. I don’t think that anyone really expected you to perform that well. You are, after all, only human. Or at least they see you that way. And that brings us to another point. It seems that you are no longer alone. There are others of your kind here. If... if you should so choose, I believe that you would be able to rejoin your kind.
“Thanks for the offer, and I am honored that you would propose it. But I am not truly human. You, of all people, know that - you were largely responsible for my upbringing, and so you understand that I have been a human for less than a year. From that point on, I have been as much a raptor as you are. In the short form, I cannot and would never leave this pack, our old pack, or you for a race I cannot associate with.”
“I was hoping you’d say that. I do want to learn more about the differences Fireclaw mentioned. We can find someone to enlighten us tomorrow. However”, he yawned, “it is late, and I am being increasingly persuaded to discuss this further tomorrow.”
‘Fulsamee took the opportunity to once again demonstrate his remarkable ability to sleep instantly. ‘Ornamee took several minutes and gazed into the night sky, studying the unfamiliar stars, then he too was quickly fast asleep.
The next morning found the two standing before one of the pack’s elder raptors, called Quickclaw.
“The basic set of rules that define the Dinotopian way of life was originally copied from an ancient stone tablet. We do not know where they discovered it, or who may have created it. All Dinotopians live by this Code, at any rate. It reads,”
Survival of all or none One raindrop raises the sea Weapons are enemies, even to their owners Give more, take less Others first, self last Observe, listen, and learn Sing every day Exercise imagination Eat to live, don’t live to eat Don’t p...
“The last line is incomplete because the original tablet was damaged. Its full version has yet to be discovered. I don’t know if Fireclaw told you, but our two cultures are not all that different. Our raptors hold to the ideas of duty to the pack, the importance of the individual within that pack, and selflessness. We also teach the same concept of Observe, listen, and learn. The first letter of each line makes another ideal - Sow good seed. This is that each individual should pass on the knowledge he has gathered in such a way as best benefits his community. This is common to both of us.”
‘Ornamee interrupted and said, “Okay. So why are we separate from the Dinotopians if our two groups are so alike?”
“I was getting to that. The key point that divides us is that Dinotopians shun weapons, the disciplines behind weapons, and the killing of fellow sentient creatures. They do not allow such atrocities into their calm, peaceful lives. You haven’t seen them yet, but we do. Our pack lives separate from the Dinotopians as a choice to retain our ways, not to conform to their standards. It is this choice that is the sole cause of our division.” Once again, he paused, took a deep breath, then started anew, “I believe, at this point, that I have covered all of the important points concerning the factors separating our cultures. Do you need me to repeat anything?”
“No, we’re good. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.”, answered ‘Fulsamee.
“Anything I can do help you. Enjoy yourselves today.”
Quickclaw left in the direction of the field. ‘Fulsamee and ‘Ornamee retreated to the seclusion of their clearing.
B L U E S T R E A K
‘Fulsamee said, “Well. There we go. I didn’t realize how much our cultures shared. But, it doesn’t make the one big obstacle any less daunting. It seems as though the Dinotopians are very strict about their rules and that Code. Having learned what I wanted to, I’m going to go watch some of the events today. You can do whatever, don’t think you have to stick with me.”
“Oh, I don’t think in any case.” He laughed. “But I was interested in those Guild things Fireclaw mentioned. I’ll find you again.”
“Okay. Enjoy yourself.”
‘Ornamee went to find himself a Guild. ‘Fulsamee didn’t have the foggiest idea where he might be headed. He shrugged and walked over to the the Towers course, where Silverclaw had just started another race to the finish. Unfortunately, the way the Towers were oriented made it so that he saw them in almost a head-on view, meaning that the action was difficult to make out. As he got closer, though, he watched as one contestant smashed headlong into a thick pole. The raptor, who ‘Fulsamee thought looked familiar, shook it off and threw himself right back into the course. When ‘Fulsamee made it to the start of the first Tower, all four raptors had just started in on the second. He continued walking. As he moved along the edge of the blue lines, he noticed that the durable raptor he’d seen earlier was none other than Fireclaw, threading his way steadily through the course. ‘Fulsamee ran to to the end so that he could congratulate the winner. He made it in time, and added his deep voice to the storm of approval being rained upon the racers. Fireclaw noticed him and walked over.
“Second again, are we?”, said ‘Fulsamee, grinning.
“Yeah...”, he said, distractedly, “The Towers aren’t my thing. I’m much better at sparring - you were the first person to beat me. I really only entered this because my friend Darktooth was in it.”
“I see. Where are you headed next?”
“Actually, I’ve been scheduled for a Race. See the track?” Fireclaw indicated a track that bordered the field. ‘Fulsamee had no idea how he’d missed it.
“How long is it? One mile?”
“It’s about one and a half, there’s a short segment that runs into the forest that you can’t see from here. Four laps, totals six miles.”
As he finished, a horn blew, loud and deep. The sound resonated around the entire field.
“And that... is the call to the track. Coming?”
Fireclaw walked swiftly to the start line. ‘Fulsamee wasn’t far behind. When he arrived, he found five other raptors preparing for the race. All were around Fireclaw’s age, fast and agile. A raptor he hadn’t met stepped forward and addressed the growing crowd in a thundering baritone.
“Welcome! This is the four-lap Race, six miles long. Competing today are Reeyben, Windclaw, Sohan, Antark, Fireclaw, and Sessel. Runners? If you would take your places on the line please...”
After they did, he continued, “Ready? On my mark... FOUR... THREE... TWO... ONE... MARK!!”
Six raptors flew away from the line. As they covered the first quarter mile, it struck ‘Fulsamee that the racers were still tightly grouped. No one had a discernible lead. The group rounded the corner, and it was then that gains were made. A small, thin raptor pulled ahead, with another and Fireclaw close behind. The remaining three dropped back slightly. Quickly, the half-mile mark was approaching. ‘Fulsamee then lost sight of the fast-moving raptors as they entered the forest detour. He thought, “If the track is one and a half miles... the field is one... and... that makes it... ah. Might be a while.”
No sooner had he finished thinking than a cloud of dust drifted out of another part of the forest, and chased five rapidly growing dots down the track and behind the promethean Challenge Towers. ‘Fulsamee watched them for a few seconds, then it hit him. Five? Where was the last one? His question was answered as a reddish-blue someone dashed out and tried to catch up with his competitors. Half a minute elapsed as the group completed the stretch, then rounded the corner and quickly bore down on the crowd. By now the red-blue blur had come close enough that he could make out Fireclaw’s form. ‘Fulsamee’s new friend wasn’t doing as well as he might have hoped, though, the young raptor was keeping pace roughly six and a half hundred feet behind the others.
The first five were still closely grouped together as they rushed past the starting line, and began the second of four laps. Not too long after, Fireclaw ran through, and managed to make eye contact with ‘Fulsamee, who was standing the farthest away from the line, separated from the rest of the pack. He saw something in Fireclaw’s eye, though what he wasn’t entirely sure. It wasn’t rage, nor despair... but it was something. The inferno ‘Fulsamee had first seen inside the Sparring Circle burned as intensely as ever. Fireclaw hadn’t given up yet.
The next two laps flashed by, and each time he seemed to draw a little closer to the now much more spread out pack of contenders. One raptor had tripped, rolling heads over heels for a distance, and the racer directly behind hadn’t been able to stop. The resulting collision had removed both raptors from the track, one, Reeyben, with a shard of pale bone protruding from his thigh.
As the raptors turned the corner and cross the starting line for the final time, someone unexpected showed up.
“Hello! What’s this?”
It was none other than ‘Ornamee, returned from his venture.
“Well, good day to you too! This is a Race. Four laps, one-and-a-half miles each. Fairly basic concept, though Fireclaw is finding it to much more difficult in practice.”
“Is he now? Where is he?”
“The one way behind.”
“Oh. Mmm... I see what you mean. What lap is this?”
“Last one, and there they go, into the forest. Not much left now. If Fireclaw’s waiting for the opportune moment to catch up, this would be it.”
As the remaining three raptors pulled out of the short forest area and behind the Towers, Fireclaw proved ‘Fulsamee correct. Unleashing some hidden store of energy, he surged ahead, flying right past Sohan, Windclaw, and Sessel. The reaction from the three raptors was a simultaneous expression of shock. Either not caring, or perhaps simply not looking, Fireclaw continued down the track, across the remainder of the field, and obliterated the tape that Silverclaw had put up only seconds beforehand. It took him almost the entire rest of the side to stop, but when he did, ‘Fulsamee and ‘Ornamee had run down to meet him.
‘Fulsamee exclaimed, “Wow! Incredible!”
“Fireclaw was still breathing heavily, as his body tried to fully absorb what it had just done. He was very shiny, dripping with sweat in the hot sun. When he offered no response, ‘Fulsamee asked, “What happened back in the first lap? You’ve had me worrying the whole race!”
Fireclaw grinned and said between breaths, “Strategy happened... I knew that trying to lead... so early wouldn’t work... Too many chances to be passed... and then you have to work even harder to regain the lead... I dropped back enough to make.. the others think I was out of it.. but close enough to sprint through.. in the last bit there. It worked!”
It was then that ‘Fulsamee was able to identify what he’d seen in Fireclaw’s eye as he’d run by in the second lap. It was powerful determination, the undying flame that kept him in the race for those laps, and propelled him along the final quarter mile in less than 20 seconds. That fire hadn’t dimmed any since his victory.
At that moment, Silverclaw and behind him, the pack, swept around the trio, shouting congratulations and bugling. The three raptors who had not sustained injuries came forward and offered Fireclaw their honorable defeats. He returned the favor, bowing to them.
It was several minutes before the crowd dispersed to watch the next event. When they had, the three were left alone.
Fireclaw, now recovered, said, “That was fun. I like racing.”
“You seem to have a thing for it -- that stunt at the end was nothing short of miraculous. I can’t imagine you do that on a regular basis.”
“You’d be surprised, very surprised. It’s all about pacing yourself. If you can handle running around at a constant speed, you can work on sprinting like I did.”
“Can anyone join in on Races?”, asked ‘Ornamee.
“Yes. Well... I don’t mean anything against you, but I think you’d find it difficult. Raptors are much faster than humans are, and I know from experience.”
‘Fulsamee commented, “Now THAT was a bad idea. You just challenged everything ‘Ornamee has worked for all his life - to be equal to us. And he’s done an excellent job of it, I don’t think anyone’s gotten away with a statement like that since he could walk.
“I’m putting my name down for the next Race, and so are you, Fireclaw. We’ll see how fast I am then.”
Fireclaw opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted as a horn blast rang out across the field, high-pitched and loud.
“That’s not good. The Council needs everyone for an emergency meeting - quickly! This way!”
He ran off, with the two close behind.
D U T Y A N D H O N O R
The area was set up as a series of concentric half-rings that formed it into a depression large enough for the entire pack, and then some. The trio walked down from the top and took places in the second-front row, next to Silverclaw.
Silverclaw said, “When everyone settles down, the Council will tell us what’s going on. I have no idea, I’ve been out doing things.”
True to his words, it was only a few moments later when an ancient raptor strode down into the center circle. The quills behind the crest of his skull were long, and shone a brilliant silver. He radiated a feeling of quiet confidence. As he made his introduction, Silverclaw whispered, “That’s Fennark, the Eldest. He leads the Council.”
Fennark’s voice had not been diminished by his age, and it carried well throughout the Council Ring. He said, “Good evening to you all. Thank you for coming so quickly.” He frowned, then said, “Tonight I have some unpleasant news. The city Chandara of Dinotopia is soon to come under attack from dolphinbacks who apparently are not willing to follow the established system. They stand to cause great harm to both the city and its inhabitants.” He took a breath, let his news sink in, then continued, “Separated though we are from Chandara, it is not our way to allow others to come to harm if we can stop it. So, this night I ask for volunteers to aid in the defense of Chandara.”
Everyone present raised their right claw.
Fennark looked pleased, and said, “I anticipated as much. Thank you.” He turned to a raptor near the end of the semicircle and said, “Riftor, if you would be so kind...?”
The raptor he had addressed got up on the speaker’s platform as Fennark left. ‘Fulsamee was, for the second time, stunned. Riftor would have stood head and shoulders above him, and made Fireclaw, as powerful as he was, look diminutive.
Silverclaw introduced him as well, saying, “Riftor isn’t much older than Fireclaw, but he’s proven himself to be an excellent tactician and a deadly fighter. As such, he leads the Gatherers and he’ll have command over this little excursion.”
Riftor’s voice was a low rumble that, while quiet, bore his words clearly to even those high in the back. He said, “Brothers! Our enemy has not yet reached the gates of Chandara, but if we do not act soon, there may not be any gates to defend. Follow me, and we can begin our work.”
The trio of Silverclaw, ‘Fulsamee, and ‘Ornamee joined the crowd and were swept along behind Riftor. They went into the forest, down a wide path, and emerged in a clearing the size of the Council Ring. However, it had not places to stand, but rack upon rack of weapons. ‘Fulsamee recognized a few of the weapons, spears, staffs, and double-tipped pikes, but several he had never seen before. At the back of the clearing sat a pair of catapult-like devices.
Riftor said, “Our enemy has only basic melee weaponry: swords, shields, and the like. Take what you want, but only what you can use.”
The raptors moved about, choosing their devices. It was at that point Riftor noticed ‘Ornamee and exclaimed, “A human! Surely, the ancients have blessed us. Come here.” When ’Ornamee did so, he said, “I am glad that we have you, it will make this campaign much easier. I’ll need you to be our advance scout. Take two raptors, any two you want. You know what to do?”
“Yes. Travel ahead of the main body, report back when we find enemy forces. We go silently and swiftly.”
“Good. When we’re ready I’ll let you know so you can get ahead.”
Riftor turned to ‘Fulsamee. “And as for you... you have not yet been out with us, but I assume you know what you’re doing?”
“You assume correctly - before I arrived here, I led my pack. I’ve seen my share of battles. Where or how can I be most useful to you?”
“At the front. I need my best to engage the enemy first. Even spread out as we will be, it makes a difference. I have only a moderate idea of what we’re up against, because the Watcher who reported the coming attack didn’t stay long enough to completely assess the strength of the enemy. However, you can only fit so many humans on a ship, I don’t expect a massive force. But we’ll see. That’s what ‘Ornamee and company are for.”
“Right. I’m going to grab something.”
“Do that. We’ll be moving out very soon.”
‘Fulsamee walked over to a nearby rack that was now almost empty, but still held a trio of spears. The weapons, as he found out, were perfectly balanced for throwing, and had reinforced heads. He picked one up and walked back into the crowd, which had begun to regroup.
Riftor found ‘Ornamee and said, “You’ve made your picks, then?”
‘Ornamee had chosen two of his former opponents, Sifre and Redback, both young, fast raptors. They had elected to go without weapons.
“We’re ready when you are.”, he said. His companions nodded.
“We will move out soon. Go, and run fast.”
The threesome disappeared into the forest behind the war engines.
Riftor gave them a few minutes for a ahead start, then turned and addressed the crowd. His voice rolled out and filled the clearing. “Now that you are armed, it is time. You have all fought before, you know what to do and what to expect. Spread out and move through the forest. Swift as the wind, strong as the river, and sharp as the claw.”
He motioned to ‘Fulsamee, and the two, along with three other experienced fighters, led the contingent towards their goal.
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren
As the attack force moved unseen through the forest, another group was steadily making its way to the same destination. The band of pirates had wrecked on Dinotopia, though they did not know it as such. Their plan was simple: Raid the closest city, kill the resistance, take as many slaves as possible, and otherwise rape, pillage, and plunder their filthy black guts out. And after the fun had ceased, find or force someone to fix their ship, and leave forever the island. It was an excellent plan, or so their captain thought. Fairly standard as pirating went, but if it worked, who cared? They had a shipload of crew, all weathered fighters and the best of the best. Nothing could go wrong.
Or maybe it could. Luckily, the forest was quiet enough at that hour that Riftor and company could move quickly through, and were at the forest’s edge within two hours. The moon was high and bright as they walked down the final four miles of roadway that would lead them to the entrance of Chandara. Riftor was of the opinion that the enemy would start attacking there. It was what he would have done, the entrance was naturally the weakest part of the installation.
“And there we are. Beautiful, isn’t it?”
‘Ornamee looked up at the towers and grand buildings of the city. Even in the moonlight, they were awe-inspiring.
“This is odd. Where’s the enemies Riftor sent us to look for?”
Sifre, one of the two ‘Ornamee had selected, said, “No idea. As far as I’m concerned... they can take their time. It’s nice to sit out in the moonlight like this. Well, I say that figuratively, we’re not exactly ‘out’”.
And they weren’t. ‘Ornamee had climbed up a tree near the edge of the forest, concealed, but also commanding an excellent view of the entrance of Chandara, and a large portion of the road leading to it. He had gotten even luckier and managed to convince Sifre and Redback to jump up onto the thick branches of the tree. The branches were large enough that ‘Ornamee could sit comfortably on one, and that the raptors could perch fairly easily. Both kept a claw on the trunk, though, just to be safe.
“Can’t say I like this idea of yours, ‘Ornamee.”, remarked Redback. “Never wanted to sit like a bird before.”
“Give it up. You’ve better balance than me, and--”, said Sifre.
“Hey... what’s that?”
Simultaneously, the two raptors turned to look in the direction ‘Ornamee was pointing, where the shine of metal had appeared. And was moving.
“Oh great! There they are. Dunno, what do you think, Redback? How many?” A dark mass was gathered around the small sparkles of light.
“Ah.... maybe seventy, eighty, something like that. Timewise, I’d give them half an hour. We know what to do. Let’s move out and get Riftor.”
All three jumped, and scrambled to keep in the tree. Directly below them were Riftor, ‘Fulsamee, and the rest of the raptors.
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t fall on me. How long have you been here?”
Still shaken, Sifre answered, “Maybe an hour?”
“Really?” Riftor looked surprised. “You were moving.”
“It’s fine. So, what do you think?”
Redback replied, “I’m seeing something to the tune of seventy, possibly eighty troops. Armed, like you said, and perhaps half an hour until they’re here.”
“Excellent work. Get down and we’ll make ready for them.”
‘Ornamee made his way down the tree, but Sifre and Redback chose to simply drop the twenty or so feet down. They landed silently, and rejoined the pack.
Riftor addressed the whole group in a low voice. “Alright. Here’s how it’s going to work. I need a group of fifteen to get around behind the enemy force. Then, I want two more groups of fifteen to flank them. The remainder will sit here. Sort yourselves.”
Quickly and quietly, ranks of darkly colored raptors rearranged themselves into the specified divisions.
“Good. First group, to go behind, you’ll be with me. Second, under Agos, third with ‘Fulsamee, and the front and final group with Keljev.” The three raptors walked up to him. “Okay. After the first group gets in position behind the enemy, they can attack whenever. If they’ve a rear guard, take those out before making a scene. Once that’s done, make noise, get all the rest to turn around. After their attention has shifted back, second, third, and fourth groups move in simultaneously, but two and three will have a slight lead just because of how this area is. We’ll have them on all sides, and with luck they’ll be confused enough to make things a bit easier. Try to keep fighting on your original side, I don’t need escapees. However, if you can find a leader type, save him. The Dinotopians might want that sort of person to have a little chat with. Questions?”
Keljev said, “Fifteen to a group? Are you sure that’s enough?”
“Should be. There really aren’t that many dolphinbacks. Well, actually, there’s quite a few. But I don’t really see much of a threat in them. It’ll be way overkill when your lot go in.” He glanced at the advancing mass. “They’re getting close. Take your people and go.”
Using only claw gestures, the two veterans moved their raptors out of sight. ‘Fulsamee followed suit, and was soon hidden, waiting for the moment when he and his group could attack.
Captain Sorlar wasn’t new to the idea of breaking and entering, and he suspected that the crews at the gates would have a surprise waiting for him. As they ascended to the top of a hill, he could see the dark portal. With the aid of a pocket spyglass, Sorlar saw... no resistance? Odd. No fires lit, no piles of weapons on top, nothing. Island softies. Never expecting pirates to come and visit. This raid would be easier than he had originally thought.
‘Fulsamee had his raptors in a tangle of overgrowth, which provided ample cover and also allowed for easy exit. He was standing near the edge of the roadway, next to a well-built raptor he hadn’t met. Slowly, a faintly familiar, but strange, scent drifted past. He remembered the smell of humans, though it had been a long time since he’d been near any, outside of ‘Ornamee, and he didn’t smell human. This smell had another tone to it, something new. He wasn’t entirely sure what. But he knew what it meant at any rate, and as ‘Fulsamee considered this, the beginning of the dolphinback company came into view, and there was an outburst of human screams and short, excited barks from Riftor’s group, just out of sight. The front lines of men turned to face this threat, and began slicing at the raptors with a motley assortment of weaponry. ‘Fulsamee waited for the two groups to become moderately entangled, looked back at the raptors under his command, and nodded. He then raised his spear and broke out of the forest, running madly for the humans’ outermost line, followed by fifteen blood-crazed raptors.
Riftor was enjoying himself. He hadn’t brought a weapon, but it didn’t matter. He was having fun playing with one of the humans.
“Oho! Almost got me there.” The now angry swordsman took another swing, missed, and was insulted again, though he couldn’t understand it. “That was better, try leaning into it more.” Riftor laughed. “This is fun. But your time is up.” As he darted forward and disemboweled the man, still alive, another rushed in to avenge his comrade.
“Another one of you! And with an even bigger sword! I don’t suppose you want a piece of me too, then?”
The pirate’s column had been in complete disarray from the moment the first assault came in. None of Captain Sorlar’s men had ever seen the human-sized creatures before, and many never had the chance to draw a weapon. He hadn’t posted a rear guard, not thinking it was necessary, and the monsters had taken down ten of his crew before anyone noticed. When the first scream was heard, all sixty-four remaining crewmen attacked, but it was like fighting a tidal wave. Even as the deadly beasts were taking hits from human steel, two more groups of them came from the left and right.
‘Fulsamee saw the human, decked out as he was in bits of metal and shiny objects, and carrying a large sword. He wore clothes different from the rest of the enemy, so ‘Fulsamee assumed that he was important in some way. As he made his way towards the figure, a short, fat human came at him, brandishing another sword. ‘Fulsamee sidestepped, stabbed him in the back, and continued wading through the battle. Suddenly, a pair of the filthy humans lunged for his back, and began hacking away, hoping to cut his spine. ‘Fulsamee swung his spear backwards, through one, who howled in pain and dropped off. For the other, still determinedly slicing at him, he dropped and rolled, causing the human to lose his grip. ‘Fulsamee spun and made use of his spear like a blade to remove his attacker’s head. Problem solved, he once again moved for the important one.
It was at that point that the remaining thirty-one raptors joined the fray. The sight of even more adversaries flicked a switch in the hostiles. They detached from the fighting and ran, back the way they had come. Swords and spears lay forgotten in the mad rush to be gone from the bloodstained path. One of Riftor’s leaders, Agos, came up to ‘Fulsamee, and said, “May I have that?”
It took ‘Fulsamee a moment to realize Agos wanted his spear.
He took a short running start and flung the spear after the fleeing survivors. It whistled through the air, and landed squarely in a tall, dark human’s back.
“It was, wasn’t it? Too bad I don’t have more.”
Keljev came from behind then, and roared at the enemy in a familiar baritone, “Filthy deserters of a dishonored race! Run while you still can!” He looked at ‘Ornamee, who had just walked up, and said, “Nothing against you. Those.... aaaggh! There is no honor in running from battle! The enemy is not to be left standing, they are to be destroyed, or you are to die trying!”
He replied, “True. Why don’t you find Riftor and see if you can’t go off to finish them?”
Keljev left to make his request.
“Not enthusiastic at all, is he?”
Agos said, “He’s not the only one. You’ll find that most, if not all, of this pack are of the same opinion. Keljev is just more outspoken about it. It’s a good thing.”
A blur streaked past them and after the now distant humans.
“And there he goes. No weapon, six to one. Miserable odds for the deserters.”
Riftor called the raptors back together then, and addressed them. “Excellent work tonight. The humans took sixty-eight casualties, and we had... four. Outside of that loss, which was to be expected, the operation was a complete success. I don’t know that anyone in Chandara so much as heard our battle. Excellent work, all of you. As soon as Keljev gets back, we’ll head back for rest, and tomorrow..... we shall honor our dead.”
It was several minutes before the raptor in question returned, and brought with him the important human, now somewhat less grand looking, as Keljev had knocked him out.
“Not sure, but this might be a leader type that you wanted. I... fixed... everyone else.”
“He’s dressed well enough to be one. We’ll bring him back and see what the Council wants to do with him. Thanks for going after the deserters.”
R E M E M B R A N C E
The sky was gray as ‘Fulsamee and ‘Ornamee stood, waiting, as the pack waited for the ceremony to begin. While he waited, ‘Ornamee considered the goings-on of the previous night. Sixty-eight humans killed, actually seventy-three, after Keljev did his thing, and four raptors lost. Acceptable results, though none would have been better. In just a few minutes, those dead would be celebrated.
The pack was in the competition field, arranged in a half-circle around a small raised platform that had been moved in earlier. A pile of wood was set upon it.
A new horn sounded, deep and loud. The ground vibrated slightly. A path was made through the crowd to the platform, and nine solemn raptors slowly walked in. At the head of the procession was Fennark, and behind him two raptors carried each body. The horn went through a series of notes that set a sorrowful mood upon the pack. The four dead were laid upon the wood, and fires were lit underneath each one. The eight bearers returned to the pack.
Fennark spoke to the pack, saying, “To serve others is the highest goal of existence, and to perish doing so brings supreme honor upon those who do. These four - Brightflash, Kinsar, Boramek, and K’lain, are no exception. Their lives, given in service to both this pack and the denizens of Chandara, are not true losses, but illuminating rays of guidance for those who walk the path.”
As he said this, the four bodies were almost totally consumed, burning brightly. Fennark turned, and tossed a clawful of shining metallic powder onto the blaze. Streaks of brilliant blue and purple shot skyward as the flames jumped twenty feet in the air. Turning back to the pack, he continued, “Their ashes will be added to our fires so that we may recall the path they have shown us.” Once again, he turned to the blistering heat emanating from the fire, bowed his head, and began murmuring a blessing over the dead. The pack in its entirety joined in, and the field was filled with the reverberating tones.
‘Ornamee had never heard the blessing before, and so stayed silent, but bowed his head as well.
The sound of the raptors’ blessing faded, as the flames guttered and died. Another set of four slowly walked onto the platform and scooped the still-glowing ashes into four separate urns. It was then that Fennark dismissed the pack to their daily routines.
‘Ornamee watched as Riftor strode up to the platform and accosted Fennark, presumably about something having to do with the prisoner they had taken the previous night. He heard a slight rumbling, looked around, and was confused by the fact that no one was around to be making such a noise. Then he heard it again, and realized that hunger was beginning to make itself known. ‘Fulsamee went to solve that problem.
I N A M B E R C L A D
The rest of ‘Fulsamee’s day passed uneventfully. As the sun began its descent towards the horizon, he headed over to the council ring. It wasn’t long before the horn sounded again, but this time with a much less urgent tone. The pack filtered in, and stood waiting. Six raptors that looked to be about Fennark’s age found their way around the sides of the platform. Silverclaw was among them. ‘Fulsamee supposed the six must have been the rest of the Council, and as pack leader, Silverclaw would have a spot there too.
Fennark wasn’t far behind them, and got up on the circular dais.
“Hello all, another timely gathering, though this is much more low-key tonight...” He gave a wry grin. “Just a few short notices for you. Riftor needs a couple volunteers to take the prisoner captured two days back to Chandara, see him if you want to go. And, for those of you so inclined, Keljev has plans for a large-scale Race in a weeks’ time. Again, see him for more information and to join up. You young ones can have it, too, I don’t know that I’ll be running like that.” This elicited polite laughter from the crowd. “And, actually, I think that’s it for what I have to throw at you. Now, for the fun part. You all know the idea, raise your claw, come up and say your bit.”
No one moved.
“Oh... well... okay. That’s it, then... you are dismissed. Thank you.”
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren
‘Ornamee nodded. “True, very true. And Keljev has created a Race that fulfills the criteria I set. And... There he is. Let's go sign up for it.”
Keljev was busy marking down four raptors’ names when they approached, but it was not long before he finished and looked up.
“Fireclaw! And ‘Ornamee! Good to see you. What can I do for you?”
‘Ornamee said, “We’d like to enter your Race.”
“I expected as much. Word’s gone around, you know. There’s quite a few people interested in seeing how you fare in this - and a bunch who’d like to beat you.”
“I don’t suppose I know who told them.”, he said, somewhat sarcastically.
Fireclaw said, “Speaking of which, is ‘Fulsamee down for the Race?”
“He is. Came to see me last night, right after Fennark announced it.”
“Thanks. When is the Race, anyways?”
“You didn’t sign on any too soon - it’s in an hour.”
“Wonderful. We’ll be there.” He looked at ‘Ornamee. “Any chance you’d want to go find ‘Fulsamee?”
A short search brought them near the Council Ring, where ‘Fulsamee was deep in conversation with an older raptor ‘Ornamee hadn’t met.
“.......certainly. I’ve signed up for Keljev’s Race today, but I can drop in after that. Probably after lunch, too.”
“Good. I’ll be waiting.” The raptor left.
Unnoticed by ‘Fulsamee, ‘Ornamee silently crept behind him, got close, and then leapt on his back. The two went down with a crash.
Struggling to get a grip on the smaller human, ‘Fulsamee managed to dump ‘Ornamee off his back, stand up, and trap one thin, fleshy leg under a clawed foot.
“That you did. Lack of vigilance on my part. What brings you my way?”, he said, as if nothing had happened.
In place of ‘Ornamee, who was still attempting to free himself, Fireclaw answered, “Not much. Thought we’d grab you for the Race in an hour. And we had nothing better to do.”
‘Ornamee managed to extricate his leg, and got up.
“Oh. And I thought you had something important to tell me. Now, ‘Ornamee, remind me why you think you can succeed at this?”
“I don’t, actually. But don’t tell anyone. I just wasn’t going to let Fireclaw get away with a comment like he made. Though I might do halfway decently.”
“I see... It is true that an honorable defeat is preferable to dishonor from lack of trying.”
The trio began walking towards the start of the racetrack, along with several other raptors making similar journeys. As they made it to the track, Keljev waved his arms in the air for attention. He yelled, “Hello everybody!” A silence fell. “Good. Okay, we’re almost ready to run this Race! First, though, I want to tell you all that I have six-teen competitors today! This is great! The Race will be seven laps around the normal course, which means you’ll be running ten and a half miles. Should be fun. now, let’s get our racers up to the line. Ready? Antark, Colfir, Darktooth, Eridas, Fireclaw, ‘Fulsamee, Ingie, Linglin, ‘Ornamee, Redback, Riftor, Sessel, Silverclaw, Sohan, AAAANND Tyrol!” He looked around to be sure that everyone had followed his directions. The sixteen had neatly arrayed themselves behind the starting line, so Keljev had only a few things to tell them.
“Right. This is really a long Race, so small walking breaks are perfectly in order. I would expect and encourage everyone to take at least one - running ten miles straight out is insane. Having said that, good luck to you all and...” He turned back towards the waiting crowd. “Here we go! On my mark! FOUR...” Several raptors counted with him. “THREE... TWO... ONE... MARK!!”
The sixteen went from neatly ordered rank and file to a mess of bodies in a matter of seconds as everyone tried to get ahead. ‘Fulsamee managed to dash out and bump a couple raptors out of his way, and in doing so positioned himself behind Fireclaw, Linglin, and Tyrol. The rest of the racers lagged only a few dozen feet behind.
‘Ornamee was a part of this slower bunch, and was finding it difficult to keep up with the raptors. They really were better built for running than he was. Realizing that he had enough to do without thinking, ‘Ornamee put more energy into getting ahead, and succeeded in moving up in the now more spread out pack.
Silverclaw found himself behind ‘Ornamee, and spent a few seconds wondering what had happened. It just wasn’t right. He, pack leader, in the middle of the slower bunch? Unacceptable. However, he didn’t find it too hard to run a little faster and move up behind ‘Fulsamee, leaving the rest behind.
It was halfway through the first lap that he made this advance, and he wasn’t alone in such a maneuver. All over the stretch of track they were in, racers were exchanging places and doing their best to stay ahead. One raptor began to fall behind the larger whole even as they rounded the final bend of the first lap and completed one and half out of ten miles.
From his vantage point, Keljev watched as the racers flew past him, and he did his best to commentate on the standings. “And it’s Fireclaw in first! No, sorry, now it’s Tyrol!” The raptors changed places gain, and he was forced to call out, “Okay, and that’s ‘Fulsamee out front!” And they moved again. “Sorry, all, this is tough! Silverclaw has taken the lead!”
Sixteen blurs moved into the forest section of Lap Two, and it wasn’t too long before the first few started on their third. By then the once tightly grouped raptors had diffused across an eighth mile of track, and ‘Ornamee was near the back. He was out of breath, and ready to quit. As he ran, he was only dimly aware of his feet hitting the ground, and fuzzy, colored shapes swam in his vision. It was time for a break. At that point, only two raptors had to fly past him as he walked through the rest of his third lap, regained his composure, and started out again.
Keljev watched as ‘Ornamee slowed, then slowly jogged a quarter mile. It was then that Fennark came to see him.
“I’ve been absent for most of this, Keljev - mind updating me?”
He jumped. “Fennark! What an unexpected surprise! Um... I’m not really sure how the standings look right now, they have this bad habit of moving around. But last I knew, Fireclaw, Linglin, ‘Fulsamee, and Silverclaw were the front four.”
“Thank you. Is... is that who I think it is? Jogging?”
“Yes. I can’t believe he entered this. I know that he can do almost everything we can, but this is a bit much for his type, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I would have to. I was told that ‘Ornamee challenged Fireclaw to a Race, and it seems he chose this one to use for that purpose. Why he put one of ours to the test, I don’t know. And why Fireclaw, of all people, I’m even less sure.”
“That’s interesting. Well, I know it’s a bad idea to try and predict the future, but I would have to say that Fireclaw has this one. Easily.”
“Yeah... I’m thinking the same thing.”
The sixteen racers were at that point spread so far across the track that Silverclaw actually ran by Eridas, in last place. Not far behind him were Fireclaw and ‘Fulsamee. Tyrol had dropped back a ways, though, as Fireclaw had demonstrated, that didn’t necessarily mean anything.
‘Ornamee and two raptors were a quarter-mile behind them, and by then he had settled into a comfortable pace, and wasn’t completely out of breath anymore. “Perhaps”, he thought, “I might still have a chance at the top ten.”
Keljev fared much better announcing the standings as the raptors completed their fifth lap. There was much less switching around. “Okay, in first place, we have Fireclaw, closely followed by Silverclaw and behind him ‘Fulsamee! Fourth place, Tyrol, and from there, Riftor, Colfir, Sohan, Antark........ Redback, Sessel, Linglin, ‘Ornamee, Darktooth, Ingie, Sifre, and.......” He had to wait as the final racer came into view. “Eridas!”
For ‘Fulsamee, most of the race had been fairly consistent. He and the other two foremost raptors had been just messing around, trading places only to keep things from getting dull. The real competition would begin in the seventh and final lap. Until then, all he had to do was keep up. “You never know”, he said to himself, “I might get lucky and someone will drop back.” ‘Fulsamee didn’t really see it happening though, it was merely wishful thinking. His musings were brushed aside, though, as he heard the rhythm of another raptors’ footfalls. He risked a glance back, and to his surprise, Riftor had left Tyrol behind and was closing in on the top three. Being in third place, ‘Fulsamee threw in a small burst of speed to keep Riftor where he was.
Riftor watched as ‘Fulsamee pulled ahead of him, enough that attempting to dash by him would be very difficult. But he also knew that they were on lap six, and very close to crossing the line into seven. And then things would get interesting.
From Keljev’s point of view, things got interesting fast. Midway through the seventh lap, with around three quarters of a mile to go, the leading four raptors sped up, knowing how little distance was left to get in front. Fireclaw and ‘Fulsamee dashed ahead of Silverclaw and Riftor, though the separation was not large. Then Riftor managed to get in second, and from then it was a furious rush to the finish line.
Behind the leaders, gains were being made as well. Sifre had come from near the back to sixth behind Linglin, who had also pulled forward. ‘Ornamee was trying to keep as many of the rest behind as possible. He was doing well, too, in ninth. Something had clicked inside ‘Ornamee, and he now found himself propelled down the track at speeds he hadn’t known he could run.
Keljev watched as Silverclaw, momentarily out front, blasted down the final five hundred feet. The three behind him were clearly giving it all they had, but he wasn’t sure if that would be enough. Silverclaw had just that much space between him and the others that he might have the win. At two hundred feet, no less than Riftor was dead even with Silverclaw. It would be close. One hundred feet, and Fireclaw and ‘Fulsamee were hot on their tails. Fifty feet. Twenty five. Fifteen. The crowd bugled wildly as Silverclaw broke the thin wire signaling the end of the Race. Tenths of seconds behind him followed the other three.
Keljev had perhaps half a minute before twelve more raptors would cross the line, and he used it to yell, “WE HAVE A WINNER!! SILVERCLAW FOR FIRST PLACE!!” As the rest bore down on his position, he called off their names. “Second place, Riftor! Third, ‘Fulsamee, and fourth Fireclaw! Behind them, in fifth place, Sifre!” The assembled raptors had quieted enough for him to continue then at a lesser volume. “Then it’s Linglin, ‘Ornamee... Colfir, Tyrol, Antark, Sohan... Darktooth, Redback, Ingie, Sessel........ and finishing last, Eridas!”
The pack’s reaction was overwhelming. Keljev hadn’t seen them this excited in a long time. Which made it that much more difficult for him to squeeze his way through the tightly packed raptors to get at the completely exhausted racers.
“Well! Excellent job, everyone! You have all done very well to complete this course, no matter where you finished. As for prizes... first, second, and third place... you have won only the respect of your competitors.”
Silverclaw raised his left claw, balled into a fist, and said, “That is all the reward I could wish for.” Riftor and ‘Fulsamee nodded in agreement.
As the pack filtered off to do other things, ‘Fulsamee caught a whiff of a marvelous scent. It spoke of freshness and of tasty fruits and of several things he hadn’t run into before, but were very nice anyway. He called to Fireclaw, who was making his way off the field, “Fireclaw! Got a minute?”
Fireclaw walked back and said, “Possibly. What’s the matter?”
“Nothing much. Do you smell that?”
“What?” He sniffed the air. “Oh. You haven’t been there yet?”
“The kitchens, where else can you find something that good?”
“No, I haven’t. Why don’t you show me them?”
“I can do that.”
O N C E M O R E , W I T H F E E L I N G
As they walked, he said, “Might even snatch a little something while I’m over there, too...” He laughed. “Although, our cook, V’lain, would have my tail for it. Very protective of his creations. And yes, sometimes they are best referred to as creations.”
“Likes to experiment?”
“Don’t even get me started. We had to rebuild an oven once.”
Fireclaw led ‘Fulsamee off the field, down a short path, and into yet another clearing in the forest. This one about one quarter of the size of the Athletic Field, however. And the raptors hadn’t wasted a inch of it. Under the shade of several massive trees, there stood rows of long tables, some clean, and some loaded up with assorted foodstuffs. In one corner, neatly organized racks held every manner of cooking implement, mounds of herbs and spices, or packaged greens. Near those, dozens of cuts of meat hung from another set of specially designed racks. But the centerpiece of the area was the four huge brickwork ovens, each one lit and smoking away merrily. Eight fires were dotted around the landscape, as well. The area was a hive of activity. No less than fifteen raptors were engaged in every kind of culinary practice.
Before Fireclaw and ‘Fulsamee could get very far into all this, however, an irate raptor confronted them. He was short, heavyset, and brandishing a solid-looking ladle. Deep green slashes ran along his spine.
“FIRECLAW!! What are you doing here? Come to steal more of my pastries? Or maybe some fresh meat?”
Fireclaw held up his claws, as if to ward off this assault, and said, somewhat apologetically, “No. None of those.” The short raptor waved his ladle menacingly, looking unconvinced. Fireclaw continued, “You know ‘Fulsamee?”
The ladle was lowered slightly. “Might have heard the name. Why?”
“Well, this is him. He smelled the wonderful aromas wafting from your ovens and, naturally, wanted to investigate. I agreed to show him your kitchens.”
“Is that so?” The raptor’s already large chest expanded slightly. The ladle went to the ground, and an appraising eye was run over ‘Fulsamee. “I’m going to regret this... I will show him around, and you may stay close by, and not touch anything. That work for you?”
“Of course it does. I thought of it.” He turned to ‘Fulsamee. “Name’s V’lain. We haven’t met. Follow me, and don’t touch.”
V’lain expertly moved through the aisles and the raptors working in them to arrive at the racks ‘Fulsamee had noticed as they walked in.
“Even someone with Fireclaw’s intelligence should be able to figure out what these are.”
“That they are. I don’t expect you can tell me what’s on them, beyond the obvious?”
“That’s fine, there’s maybe thirty of us who can. The culinary arts are not hugely popular around here, in case you couldn’t tell.”
Next they went to the first of the long tables, where a large chunk of meat was being sliced into smaller pieces.
V’lain said, “And this is... maybe you know?”
‘Fulsamee studied the cut for several seconds, then replied, “Herbivore, killed within the week. Maybe Triceratops?”
V’lain brightened and said, “Oh yes. Very good. Four days ago, to be exact.”
Fireclaw said, somewhat petulantly, “I could have told you that.”
“I’ll give you that much... you could have. But I didn’t ask you.” Turning back to ‘Fulsamee, he said, “Anyways, this will be cut up into nice little strips and then they’ll either be seasoned and set out for a meal, or I might have one of my assistants do something special with them. Speaking of which, this is Nikos.”
V’lain’s assistant continued working as though they hadn’t been standing next to him.
“And he’s not one who likes to be interrupted.”
From there, the trio visited a series of assistants working at more tables, on a wide variety of projects. When they had seen almost everything, V’lain led them into the center of the kitchen, where the four brick ovens sat.
“And these... these are the pride and joy of my kitchen. You can only do so much with meats and veggies, but baking allows for so much more inventiveness.”
At that precise moment there was a loud BANG! and a cloud of smoke rose from one of the ovens.
V’lain took this development in stride and continued, “Sometimes too much. Shall we?”
Upon approaching the oven, they found a pale gray mess covering its interior, and a similarly splattered raptor hurriedly cleaning up.
“So, what was it, Dax?”
Dax removed his head from the oven he’d been washing out and said, “Oh... um... I wanted to see if adding more flour and Anhur spice would give the scones a better flavor.. but it would seem that it causes a nasty reaction.”
“I agree. Want a claw or three?”
He agreed, and V’lain, ‘Fulsamee, and Fireclaw spent the next ten minutes cleaning up from the small explosion. The paste proved extremely difficult to prize out of the small gaps between the bricks of the oven, and resisted all efforts to be washed from the sturdy brush used to get it off the brick. After a few minutes of intense scrubbing, a frustrated V’lain took the brush and flung it into a nearby fire pit. The flames burned white for several seconds.
“There. Solved that one.” Seeing the look on Dax’s face, he said, “I’ve got about ten more like it, don’t worry.”
V’lain turned to ‘Fulsamee and Fireclaw, who were patiently waiting to see what was next, and said, “That’s pretty much it. If you’re truly interested in what we do in my kitchen, you can find the results at... oh, well, next meal is lunch, isn’t it? Yes, at lunch. So... get out, and don’t take anything with you... Fireclaw.”
After the two had left V’lain and his kitchen well behind, ‘Fulsamee whipped out a small pastry, broke it in half, gave one of those halves to Fireclaw, and thoughtfully munched on his piece.
Fireclaw looked astonished and said, “You have got to be kidding me. I get all that crap from V’lain about stealing food, and then you go off and nick something? And from right under his nose, too.”
‘Fulsamee would have replied, but as his mouth was now completely full of soft tart, he settled for a nod.
Fireclaw sighed, and ate his tart in one gulp.
“Consider that thanks for introducing me to the cook.”, said ‘Fulsamee.
“And... I don’t like to just run off like this, but I did tell Halfjaw that I’d drop in on him after the Race.”
Fireclaw looked faintly disappointed, and said, “Can it wait until after lunch?”
“Oh. Yeah, lunch would be a good thing.”
“The call should sound any time now...”
And it did, less than a minute later. The two found their way over near V’lain’s kitchen, where rows of tables had been set up and laid out with an assortment of foodstuffs. It wasn’t the most extravagant meal ever, but rather one designed to be small and simple, yet full of energy-rich foods that could power a raptor for days. As ‘Fulsamee looked over the spread, he saw several things he enjoyed, those being fish and the meat strips Nikos had been working on.
‘Fulsamee picked up a small tray, loaded it with a few of each item, and wandered through the loose assemblage of raptors, and was surprised to find ‘Ornamee also munching away.
“‘Ornamee! There you are. Where did you disappear to?”
He swallowed the last of a small cake, and said, “I’ve been talking with a few people, most notably Silverclaw.”
“Really? I don’t suppose you’ll tell me what about?”
“No, I will. It seems that between Silverclaw and the seven members of the Council, something big is being organized. He wouldn’t tell me exactly what, but it sounds good.”
“That’s interesting. I wonder what it is...”
“Again, I have no idea. But anyway, are you doing anything after lunch?”
“You’re the second person to want me then. But I have somewhere to be. Have you met Halfjaw?”
“Well, he’s on the Council. Which makes me all the more inclined to visit him, after what you just said. I also am not sure what he wants, but I’ll find out soon enough.”
“Okay. I wonder if he’d mind if I came along?”
“I doubt it. And if he does, he’ll say so.”
“When are you going to go find him?”
“Right now.” ‘Fulsamee downed his last piece of fish, placed the empty tray upon a nearby table, and said, “Shall we?”
As they walked, ‘Ornamee said, “Shouldn’t you give Halfjaw some time to eat?”
“No. He’s already had it. Members of the Council and Silverclaw are served lunch first. Age has its benefits.”
“That makes sense.”
They found Halfjaw in the Council Ring, standing next to the raised speaker’s platform. Although nearly as old as Fennark, Halfjaw’s quills retained faint traces of green, matching the stripes down his flanks. The left side of his lower jaw was deformed, burned away years before. It hadn’t stopped him talking, though.
Halfjaw greeted them, and said, “Thank you for coming, ‘Fulsamee. It is even better that you have brought ‘Ornamee with you, he needs this information as much as you do. What I have called you here for is to tell you that this evening a meeting of the Council will be held, and Silverclaw will have a grand announcement to make. It is that in two days, Treetown is holding the track and filed part of the Dinosaur Olympics, the largest and most grand competition ever devised. There will be athletics competitions of every type, and mostly things we do well. The city council has graciously extended an offer for our pack to join them.” Halfjaw cleared his throat. “And you are probably wondering why I have told you this beforehand. The reason is that you two alone out of this pack cannot speak the Dinotopian language. I imagine this would be a barrier to your participation in the Olympics. I volunteered to teach you enough to get by at the event. If you should so desire, I can fill in the gaps afterwards. Questions, before I begin?”
“Excellent. The first set of nouns...”
The rest of their afternoon was spent learning the basics of the Dinotopian language. Much to Halfjaw’s delight, the pair learned quickly, and he was able to cover all the topics they needed in that span of time. This included greetings, asking for various things, proper ways to address different people, and a small sprinkling of useful sayings, among other things.
“Very good! You should have no trouble at all when we set out.” he said, after a review.
“So... that’s it?”, asked ‘Ornamee.
“Well.... no, not really. The Dinotopian language contains far more than what I have taught you, but we also don’t have the luxury of unlimited time in which to learn it. What I have taught you two this afternoon will serve you well in the city. You should not have any trouble talking to people, or expressing needs and desires. But as I said before, if you want to learn more of the language, see me after the festival.”
“I think I might be interested in that.”, said ‘Ornamee.
“Good. I am glad to hear it. Now...” Halfjaw looked at the sun, which was steadily sinking below the horizon. “We might as well just wait here, the meeting should open soon.”
He was slightly off, it was twenty minutes before the now-familiar horn call sounded and the pack began to fill the Council Ring. Once again, Fennark walked up onto the speakers’ platform. He waited several seconds for silence, and not getting it, energetically waved his arms in the air for attention. And this time, he got it.
“Good evening to you all! Tonight we have some very important news for you all, so I am going to ask for your announcements first.”
Fennark waited several seconds, and, seeing no claws raised, continued, “Silverclaw? Would you like to do the honors?”
Silverclaw strode up onto the platform, waited for Fennark to find himself a place to stand, and said, “Thank you. Well, as I know you are all very excited about what I have to say, I won’t waste your time.” He took a deep breath, and said, “In two days... Treetown is holding the track and field events of the Dinosaur Olympics! There will be all the athletics competitions such as we are familiar with, those being races, sparring, javelin, obstacle courses, archery... and the list goes on. Now, I know as well as you do that there is more, much more, to the Olympics, but I know you all well enough that I am sure you would rather compete than watch.” At that point Silverclaw was forced to stop as the pack bugled loudly in agreement. When the din subsided, he said, “But we are not the only special guests. I am told that delegations from several other nearby cities will be attending, as well as the Troodons of Halcyon. Preparations for the trip will begin tomorrow. And remember - attending the Dinosaur Olympics is entirely voluntary.” Although, from the looks on the pack’s faces, very few of them needed that option.
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren
Silverclaw looked around to find who had asked for him. He was surprised to see his father standing there.
“Are you busy?”
“No. This group has their instructions.” Silverclaw had just set four raptors to work gathering supplies.
“Good. Come with me, please.”
Quickclaw brought Silverclaw away from the kitchens, across the Athletic Field, and to a place he hadn’t visited in years - the ceremonial site of the Standing Stones.
“When we travel to the Dinosaur Olympics, you know that we cannot expect most of the other attendants to recognize our leadership. And it is the wrong time of year to be traveling through the Basin, as you know all too well. So, the Council has decided that you should be presented with this.”
He revealed a matte black cylinder in his left claw. It was shaped to fit a raptor’s claw, and had a dark gray cap on each end. In the middle of the cylinder there was a small triangular bump.
“This is one of our most ancient and cherished possessions - the ceremonial blade of the Leader.”
Silverclaw wondered why it was called a blade if the device was limited to a small handle.
“And you’re probably wondering how it works, right? Take the handle.”
Silverclaw did so, and noted that the molded black handle fit the contours of his claw perfectly. The grip wasn’t soft, but it was almost... sticky. Though round, he couldn’t get it to spin in his claw, as he would have been able to do with a spear or bow.
Quickclaw said, “Take the sunstone that you have guarded from your neck, please. Break the chain off it.”
Silverclaw hesitated, then removed the thin chain from the sunstone’s base.
“The first thing to know is that the bump on the handle is the front. Do not hold the blade so that it points towards you. Secondly, if you look on the back, you will find a small, round socket. The sunstone’s mounting will lock into it. Put it in, please.”
The sunstone slid easily into the socket, and Silverclaw discovered that the raised designs on the sunstone’s metal base could be slotted into matching receptacles in the blade’s grip. A twist left secured the stone. When Silverclaw placed the handle back in his claw, the sunstone made contact with his palm, and he felt a slight buzzing run through his body.
“Open your claw.”
He did, and was amazed to see that a twisting pattern of glowing blue lines had lit in the black grip.
“Now...” Quickclaw clasped his claws together. “It has been so long... Hold the blade as I said, bump away from you... and give it a flick.”
Silverclaw gave the handle a sharp flick, there was a hissing sound, and sparks gathered around each end cap. The sparks intensified, and extended into blue-white tendrils that wrapped themselves around Silverclaw’s claw and partway up his arm like so many sinuous vines. A pulse ran from the end of these reaching tendrils, back down to the handle, which reacted by extruding six thicker tendrils, which grew away from Silverclaw, twisting and intertwining to form a long blade, which sparked once and calmed, humming with the sound of hundreds of tiny arcs between the tendrils.
“The Leader’s Blade is a small miracle of Poseidon engineering. It is energized by the sunstone you inserted into the grip, and cannot function without it. It will only light for the one who guards the sunstone - currently, that is you. Anyone else can lock in the sunstone and flick it, but nothing will happen.” Quickclaw watched Silverclaw rotate the blade so it was vertical, then slice it through the air, leaving a fading trail of light behind it. “The blade is pure sunstone energy, and can slice through anything you choose to cut. You must use caution, for it offers no resistance. When you are finished and wish to power down the sword, loosen your grip on the handle.”
Silverclaw attempted to release the handle, but found that the vines of energy bound his claw to it, and it took quite an effort to get the tendrils to snake back into the end caps, with a small explosion of sparks.
“We had been waiting for an occasion to present you with this, as all Brightclaw alphas have wielded this sword, and the decision was made that the Dinosaur Olympics were such a worthy occasion. Additionally, I’m of the opinion that you’ll want it on the way there.”
Silverclaw gave the sword another flick, and the blade flashed to life once more. Raising the weapon, he said, “I am honored to wield this sword and symbol of my forefathers.”
“You have done well, Silverclaw. I remember standing on this spot ten years ago, and wondering whether you were ready to lead our pack.” He paused. “I decided then that you were, and you have not failed me. Thank you.”
Silverclaw met his father’s gaze, and thought he saw the older raptor’s eyes water slightly. No sooner had he seen this then Quickclaw shook his head and said, “It is time we got back to preparing for the Olympics.” Quickclaw left, at perhaps a faster walk then normal.
Silverclaw was left with no choice but to follow.
The raptors finished preparing their supplies, which consisted mainly of food from V’lain’s kitchens, late in the afternoon. The whole pack had worked hard to complete the task as quickly as they had, and so Silverclaw allowed them the rest of the day to do with as they pleased. The real fun would begin tomorrow.
He was heading off to his secluded nest when there a piercing cry rent the air. Silverclaw spun, expecting an attack, but saw only a lone Skybax and its rider gliding in. He walked over to meet the pair when they landed in the middle of Sparring Circle Two.
“Good evening. What brings you our way?”
“I’m just here to drop in and be sure you and your... you ARE the pack leader, right?”, said the young boy, somewhat nervously.
“Good. Anyway... yeah. I’m here to make sure you and your pack know where they’re going tomorrow.”
“North to Treetown, follow the signs on the road?”
“That should work. You won’t have any problem with the mountains?”
“I happen to know of a way through.”
“Wonderful. That’s good to know. Well, unless you need anything else, I’m off to Halcyon next.”
“Breathe deep, seek peace.”
The rider was airborne within seconds, clearly eager to be gone from the raptors’ land.
A W A L K I N T H E W O O D S
‘Fulsamee woke to an extremely loud clanging noise. He opened his eyes and saw ‘Ornamee leaning over him, wielding a mischievous grin and one of V’lain’s pots, which he had struck with a stick to produce the noise.
“Thanks for the wake up call.”
“You should thank me. We’re all ready to go and waiting for you.”
‘Fulsamee had never jumped up so fast in his life. They raced down the path, and out onto the field, where, true to ‘Ornamee’s words, the pack was assembled and waiting. Silverclaw walked over and commented, “Sleep well?”
‘Fulsamee bowed his head and replied, “My apologies.” As he did so, he saw that the stone that usually hung from Silverclaw’s neck was gone.
“Don’t worry about it, I had to talk to them anyway.” Silverclaw turned to the rest of the pack, and motioned to Agos, who was standing on the edge, watching them. He came over. “Agos, mind leading us there?”
“Not at all. When shall we begin?”
“Right now. I’ll be along momentarily. Ah, ‘Ornamee... go with them please. I need to talk with ‘Fulsamee alone.”
Agos nodded, and directed the pack to follow him into the depths of the Rainy Basin. ‘Ornamee went a few feet, looked back, and then joined the group.
Silverclaw gave them a minute, then began walking and said, “So... ‘Fulsamee... were you planning on entering any events?”
“I had considered perhaps racing or sparring.”
“Okay. Um... I hate to ask... but the members of the council elected to remain behind, and I’m going to need a claw keeping everyone in line and keeping track of where my raptors are, and so on. Would you want to assist me?”
‘Fulsamee considered Silverclaw for a moment, then said, “I will help you to the limits of my abilities. But I am curious... of all the raptors under your command, whom you have known for years, why ask me, who joined your pack within the month?”
Silverclaw hummed a few notes to a song ‘Fulsamee didn’t know, and said, “You make a good point. And I considered asking a few other individuals. But you came to me as one who has both followed and led, and from what you told Fireclaw, one who has had more than his fair share of run-ins with nasty situations. Most importantly, though, you’re still around to tell us about them.”
“I hoped you would.”
It wasn’t long before they were able to catch up with the rest of the pack. Agos had covered a decent amount of ground in the few minutes Silverclaw and ‘Fulsamee had been talking. He was pushing the raptors hard, but the prospect of the Dinosaur Olympics quickened their pace. Through the Rainy Basin the pack traveled. Within half an hour, they reached its edge.
‘Fulsamee had found Fireclaw walking near the front of the pack. The two had been chatting about their expectations of the Olympics, when they rounded a corner, Fireclaw cursed and said, “Oh no. Look ahead.”
‘Fulsamee as well as the raptors around them did so, and the effect rippled through the entire contingent. The thing Fireclaw had noticed was standing in the middle of their path, less than two hundred feet away, and was clearly not pleased to see them. It was a massive bull Tyrannosaur, and one of the largest ‘Fulsamee had ever seen. Bloody flesh dangled from its open jaws as it growled menacingly.
‘Fulsamee said, “He doesn’t honestly think he can take on all of us, does he?”
Fireclaw replied, “I wouldn’t imagine so. But... this is also the time of year when his kind mate. If he’s got eggs nearby... We don’t want to be here. I don’t care if we’re fifty strong. And he would have moved already if he didn’t have a nest. Or, there’s always the option that he’s got something against us.”
“But how then do we get to Treetown?”
“Silverclaw knows what he’s doing”, Fireclaw said confidently.
And it appeared that he did. The Tyrannosaur, who at that point was still angrily surveying the raptor pack, bellowed at them in defiance. In response, Silverclaw boldly stepped out from the front of the pack, and in his right claw glowed the blue-white blade of the Leader. Silverclaw took another fifteen steps, which brought him closer to the beast than he might have normally liked to be, and called to him, “We come not for your nest, great Saurian, but to travel the path. Allow us to walk through or I shall be forced to move you.”
And it seemed that the Tyrannosaur was ready to see how far Silverclaw would go. He motioned to the pack to remain still, as some of them had eagerly began to walk towards the obstructing saurian, and before it could react, Silverclaw sprinted forward, leapt high into the air, and swung his blade in a shining arc across its snout, creating a blackened gouge, and causing the Tyrannosaur to reel backwards in pain. As Silverclaw came down, he made another swipe at its foot. Neither hit was anywhere near critical, but the opposing dinosaur howled in pain and ran, crashing through the woods.
Silverclaw extinguished his sword and said, “It would be unwise to remain much longer here. The mountains are not much farther ahead. Let’s go!”
Fireclaw looked at ‘Fulsamee and said, “Told you he had a clue.”
From that point on, the pack moved at a fever pitch, following Silverclaw’s advice. ‘Fulsamee understood this - fifty raptors are more than a match for one, two, or even five Tyrannosaurs, but any such battle would create injuries, and perhaps even deaths, and given their destination, neither result was desirable. So they hastily vacated the premises.
The remainder of the journey was mercifully devoid of obstacles, and so Silverclaw and his pack behind him found themselves on the road to Treetown just as the sun began to set. They weren’t the only ones making the journey, though, a number of other, smaller parties streamed towards the site of the track and filed part of the Olympics. The raptors seemed to be the odd bunch, however, and many of the travelers looked surprised or even scared to see fifty of them calmly walking down the road in formation.
It wasn’t too long before the pack reached the entrance to Treetown, a pair of massive trees set with platforms and spiral staircases. Near the base of one tree, a small, rotund man was giving instructions to those who passed by him. Silverclaw walked up to him, greeted him by means of a politely raised claw, and said, “Hello. Are you directing incoming groups?”
The man was easily two feet shorter than Silverclaw, but that didn’t appear to bother him much, and he replied, “That I am.” He flipped through several pages of notes. “You’ll be with the Brightclaws?”
“Great. We’ve got you... ah.... in.... You won’t mind ground-level accommodations?”
“Not at all. In fact, we’d much prefer them.”
The man looked relieved. “Even better... if you would follow my assistant then...”
The person in question turned out to a young boy, who possessed little of his master’s confidence, and was visibly shaking as he said, “Th-this way, sir.”
Silverclaw motioned for the pack to follow, and the boy led them under the branches of even more trees, past a few more ‘ground level accommodations’, and finally to a large clearing that would have been well shaded, had it not been sunset. Their guide began to say something, choked on his words, and turned very red. Before he could try again, ‘Ornamee stepped out of the pack, laid a claw on his shoulder and in a comforting sort of way, said, “Breathe deep, seek peace.”
The youth knew the saying well, and it did wonders to calm him, both that and seeing a member of his own race in with the terrifyingly large raptors. He face returned to a more normal tone, and he said, “Your pack may rest here. The citizens of Treetown and I hope you find it to your liking. There are refreshments in the central area, and a meal will be delivered here shortly. Finally, after sunset, we will open the games.” He bowed, and left, presumably to show more guests around.
Silverclaw said to ‘Ornamee, “Thank you. That was very good of you to calm him.” To the pack, most of whom were still standing in a tight formation, waiting for direction, he said, “Settle in!” And they did, forming smaller clusters within the clearing as friends found one another. Fireclaw, ‘Fulsamee, Silverclaw, and ‘Ornamee chose a spot near the path into the rest of the complex.
Fireclaw was the first to speak, and said, “Silverclaw - what was that sword you had? That thing was awesome!”
Silverclaw hesitated, then said, “My father gave it to me. It’s called the Leader’s Blade. Quickclaw knows what the Basin can be like, and he felt that the journey qualified as an appropriate time to do so.” He laughed. “And he knew what he was talking about, huh?”
Fireclaw never got a chance to reply, however, as it was then that the promised meal arrived, wheeled in on carts. The fare was all stuff the raptors loved, due to the fact that V’lain had been in touch with the cooks in Treetown for several weeks. The raptors ate in the space of twenty minutes, but still went through everything that had been brought to them, and left the men assigned to the carts stunned. They bowed and pushed their carts back where they had come from.
A few minutes later, another man came by, this one with a clipboard and pencil. He said to Fireclaw, who had happened to be near the edge of the raptors’ allotted area, “Are you this pack’s leader?”
“No. I can bring you to Silverclaw, though.”
They found Silverclaw observing the treehouses of the town, but the thin human apparently had little time for sightseeing, and he said, “I am told they call you Silverclaw. I am Gecal, Keeper of the Records. I am here to sign your velociraptors up for the various events.”
Silverclaw only then turned to face the man, and said in a slightly irritated tone, “Is that so? One moment, please.”He gave a short bark, and within seconds, clean lines of raptors stood before him. “Go for it.”
Gecal looked distressed at being given the full attention of fifty raptors, but he managed to announce, “In an orderly fashion, I need each one of you to select the event that you shall compete in. Yes - you may only choose ONE category of event.”
He received some nasty looks and grumblings, but the ranks quickly shuffled into a meandering line that wandered around the area. ‘Fulsamee was directly behind Fireclaw, and two raptors behind him stood Riftor and then Keljev. ‘Ornamee was much farther back. It was some time before they made it to Gecal, who was steadily making tick marks on his clipboard. When Fireclaw reached the front of the line, he was asked, “Do you know what you wish to compete in?”
“What do you have for running?”
“Hmm.... one fifty, three hundred, and fifteen hundred foot dashes, and a four mile run.”
Fireclaw thought, “Wow. And I thought five was easy...” He replied, “I’ll go with that.”
“Okay then... name?”
“Thank you... NEXT!”
To ‘Fulsamee, Gecal said, “Do you know what you wish to compete in?”
“Let’s see... you have sparring, right?”
Gecal consulted his list, and said, “Is that like wrestling?”
“Basically, you gain control over your opponent in such a way that he cannot get up from the mat.”
‘Fulsamee thought about it, and said, “Close enough. I’m in.”
And so the line was diminished until everyone had chosen an event. Afterwards, ‘Fulsamee learned that Riftor had chosen the odd ‘wrestling’ event, Keljev was in javelin, and ‘Ornamee, whom he had found six places from the end of the line, was to compete in the agility tests, which ‘Ornamee told him was a fancy term for an obstacle course.
After the man had gone, as the sun vanished below the treeline, Silverclaw gathered his raptors, raised his sword and thundered, “Tomorrow begins what may be the greatest and most daunting test of our abilities. Tomorrow, we fight for the Brightclaw, with the honor and distinction natural to our race. We fight to win!”
His pack responded with an earsplitting roar that drew the attention of everyone in Treetown. No one came to investigate, though.
Silverclaw blinked and said, “I am glad to know that you all are ready for this event as I am. The night is yours.”
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren
‘Fulsamee woke long before ‘Ornamee on the morning of the Olympics, and took advantage of his timing to talk with Silverclaw, who had also risen early.
“How may I serve you best today, Silverclaw?”
“You may compete in your event and win if at all possible, which comes first. Outside of that...” He paused. “Now, let’s think. I did not sign up for any events, so I’m free in that respect, but it would not really surprise me if we had people in different events at the same time, in which case you would go with one group and make sure I get them back. Outside of that... just general maintenance - be an extra set of eyes.”
“I can do that.”
Matter settled, they both turned to watch the sun begin its journey across the brilliant blue sky. It was close to half an hour before anyone else woke, and as more and more did, their chatter grew from a low buzz to an excitable cacophony of speculation and assorted miscellany.
When at last everyone had woken, Silverclaw stole their attention by lighting his sword with a sharp crackling of energy. He told them, “I expect that we shall be led into the events fairly soon, but I do need to tell you first that I expect no less than your best efforts to be exerted in these Olympics. Remember, YOU represent the raptors of the Rainy Basin, and I should be highly dishonored if my pack did not compete at their fullest ability. Additionally, ‘Fulsamee has kindly agreed to assist me today. You will offer him the same respect you all do to me. And now, having said that--”
Silverclaw was interrupted for the second time in twenty four hours as a blue and orange Dimorphodon landed directly on top of his head, and proceeded to announce, “The first event is the Javelin Competition. Will all competitors please follow the purple lines.” Finished, it left, without so much as a parting remark.
Silverclaw recovered quickly and said, “You heard him. Double wide, and let’s go!”
His raptors sorted themselves into two lines of twenty three, with Silverclaw at the front and ‘Fulsamee behind. Once out of the raptors’ assigned area, Silverclaw scanned around for purple lines, and found them to be thick ribbons, strung along poles that ran alongside the wide path. The purple ones led left, and so the pack hurried off to find the Javelin Competition. They passed by what looked like the Agility Course ‘Ornamee was in, forty-foot high structures, set in a field all to themselves, and a road even wider than the one they currently were on, marked with brightly colored banners and symbols. It appeared to be the racetrack, or part of it.
Javelin was, unfortunately, very near the end of this display of events, which meant that the raptors were among the last groups to arrive. They joined a crowd, nearly filling the huge field, of Dinotopians from every walk of life. There were Parasaurolophus twice as tall as the raptors, adorned with vibrantly colored head crests, humans of all shapes and sizes, some darkly skinned, other paler. Brachiosaurs peered down upon the assemblage from their lofty heights, near them stood a formation of Skybax and their riders. But most interesting to ‘Fulsamee was the delegation of Troodons, who he presumed were from Halcyon. They were of the same persuasion as the raptors - almost every one had a long, thin sword buckled to his or her belt, along with the countless other pieces of armor that they wore. ‘Fulsamee couldn’t tell what served to protect the Troodons, and what was for decoration.
His observations were cut short as an Ankylosaur lumbered onto a ten-foot high wooden stage, built at the head of the field. The excited buzz that had moments before animated the crowd vanished. His voice, for the rumbling was undeniably male, rolled past the raptors in a manner similar to that of thunder.
“Welcome, all of you, to the Dinosaur Olympics! As many of you know, this is but one of many parts of the whole, and today we open the Track and Field Games!”
Until that point, the crowd had refrained from applauding or cheering, but this was too much for them, and the ensuing din lasted several minutes.
“I see many familiar faces gathered before me, but I also see some new ones, ones that I know are new to the Olympics as a whole. Allow me a moment to introduce these two groups. In the left rear, your left, stand the Troodons of Halcyon, who kindly agreed to attend, and even to perform a couple exhibitions of their own sports!” Several of the Troodons acknowledged this introduction by raising their silvery blades in greeting. “And on the right, also in the back, hailing from the Rainy Basin itself, the Brightclaw Velociraptors!” Silverclaw decided on the spot that he couldn’t let the Troodons have all the fun, and the Leader’s Blade cut a glowing swath through the air.
A round of applause went up after this, as well.
“Now, let me not delay the excitement any further. If all of our Javelin Throw competitors would follow these purple lines a bit farther, behind the stage, and to the competition area.”
Paths were made for the athletes, and several made their way along the purple lines. Keljev was waiting just outside of the pack for other raptors to join him in the Javelin Throw, but after a few seconds, Silverclaw approached him and said, “You’re it - no pressure, mm?”
Keljev’s claws balled into fists and he replied, “Then I alone shall bring honor to my pack.”
And he resolutely followed the other competitors behind the stage.
The Ankylosaur presiding over the sprawling crowd watched as Keljev disappeared behind him, and then said, “And you spectators! The stands await!”
The assembled masses flowed around the stage and into two identical, facing stands. Each stood nearly fifty feet high, with seats form ground level on up. Between the two, almost all the spectators had a seat, save the Brachiosaurs, who were ill-suited to use such a contrivance. The Ankylosaur simply moved from one end of his platform to the other, forty feet away, and found himself perfectly positioned to commentate on the event.
Down on the field, Keljev was receiving instructions.
“There will be three trials, to even out mistakes, and in each trial you have three javelins to throw. The farthest distance of each trial will be compared against the highest from the other two trials, and the farthest out of those three will be compared against everyone else’s best. Are there any questions?”
No one spoke.
“Good then. Everyone, move out onto the field, pick any lane.”
Twelve humans, seven Troodons, and one raptor did as told. The field contained twenty-five lanes, each a thousand feet long, set apart from one another by two feet, and bordered on either side by the now-filled stands. Keljev chose a spot between two Halcyon Troodons, and took a moment to examine the competition.
Though similar in form, Keljev saw many differences between him and the Troodons. For one, they were decked out in layer upon layer of highly ornamental armor. Silver arm guards, breastplates with inlaid gold designs, sashes, ribbons, and a number of other small fripperies. He couldn’t see the point in it. The Troodons also were all a fairly uniform shade of blue-grey, whereas the raptors boasted of a wide variety of colors, patterns, and markings. Finally, the decorated warriors were easily a foot and a half shorter than Keljev was - he could easily see across the width of the field.
His thoughts were cut short as the commentator announced, “Trial One of the Javelin Throw is begun!”
Keljev snatched his first javelin, got a feel for its weight, leaned back slightly, and hurled it downrange. By some mechanism of the weapon’s design, it did not fly quite as well as he had hoped, almost immediately, his javelin began a graceful arc earthwards, coming to a halt firmly stuck into the soil around a hundred feet away. As disappointed as Keljev was, it was a small consolation to see that all of his competitors were having similar troubles. Their throws were landing more or less where Keljev’s had, which was distressing, as it meant he was not performing as well as he should have been.
His second and third throws went farther. Not much farther, but greater distances still they were. As his fellow athletes finished throwing, the proclamation came, “And now... to measure the results! Judges?”
Twenty blue-clad humans jogged out form behind the stands, each equipped with a measuring reel and a clipboard. One such judge was assigned to Keljev. He jammed the end of his measuring tape into the edge of the rectangle Keljev stood in, and walked down to the three javelins, unreeling the tape as he went. As he got to the first javelin, the tape was snapped taught, and a note was scratched on the clipboard. One all three javelins had been measured and the distances recorded, the judge rewound his tape, and jogged off the field with the javelins.
As Keljev looked around, slightly worried that he had somehow failed, he saw that everyone else had had their javelins taken as well, so he wasn’t sunk yet.
A minute passed before the Ankylosaur spoke again. He said, “And for the first trial, the third farthest throw was... one hundred twelve feet, by Indon of Chandara!”
There was a polite round of applause.
“Second farthest... one hundred fourteen feet, thrown by Keljev, from the Rainy Basin!”
The other forty-six raptors bugled loudly enough for triple their number, though they were not alone in doing so.
“And the farthest throw in Trial One was one hundred fourteen and one half feet, by Syrae of Halcyon!!”
Joyous applause and assorted noises were showered upon the victor, who swept his plumed helmet off and bowed. Back in the stands, Fireclaw, standing next to ‘Fulsamee, exclaimed, “Half a foot! Ridiculous!!”
“That it is. I can imagine how Keljev must be feeling.”
Keljev was, in fact, about as furious as furious gets. Not with his opponent, but with himself, for failing to throw his javelins far enough.
And then the event moved on. “Now... for Trial Two!!”
Twenty pages scurried out from under the stage, each bearing three brand new javelins. These were placed in specially designed racks near each competitor, and having completed their task, the pages retreated.
“Competitors, begin when ready!”
Keljev resolved to do better this time around, and so he threw the first javelin with renewed vigor, and saw it fly in a noticeably shallower arc than before. He rid himself of the second and third javelins quickly as well, and was very pleased as each successive throw went farther than the last. It was not long before everyone else had finished throwing, and the announcing Ankylosaur boomed, “Well, that was fast! Judges, measure, please!”
Once more, the blue-clad judges dashed out with their reels to record the distances. Almost simultaneously did the twenty judges draw their tapes tight, and make note of the distances. They proceeded to the remaining two for each thrower, and soon were leaving the field, javelins in claw. Several minutes passed before the results were announced.
“Sorry for the delay, everyone, slight problem, but not to worry! Third greatest distance in Trial Two was one hundred eleven feet, by... oh! Indon! Second farthest... one hundred sixteen feet, thrown by Atrek, from Halcyon!” He paused. “And... best throw for Trial Two... was one hundred twenty eight feet... by Keljev!”
The reaction from the crowd might have been best compared to the sound of an extremely violent waterfall. The pack’s efforts to make noise stood out, though not by much.
“Here we go!! Trial Three, the final trial of the Javelin Throw, begins now!”
Once again, the javelins were replenished, and the throwing commenced. Keljev knew this was his last chance, that all his work could be undone right then, and most importantly, that now was the time to expend anything he had been holding back.
Looking around, he saw that he was not the only one thinking this, as many of his competitors were very clearly giving it everything they had.
Suddenly, Keljev realized that he had not thrown so much as a single javelin, and moved as though he had been struck by lightning. His first throw was less than perfectly aimed, and the design of the javelin brought it down in what Keljev knew to be well under a hundred feet. Inadmissible. He took his time on the next, and tried something new: he threw the javelin at a greater angle, in an attempt to counteract the earthbound tendencies of the weapon. Keljev’s new strategy yielded far better results than his previous, and so he threw the final javelin in an identical fashion. He turned out to be the last to finish, and so mere seconds passed before an announcement was made.
“Judges! Let’s measure the final throws!”
The routine was the same as it had been for the previous trials, except for that the small racks that had held the javelins were collected along with everything else, leaving the field bare.
“Alright then! One moment while we run up the results...”
There followed a short pause.
“We now have the results of the Javelin Throw! These are the final standings, and third place, in the competition, was one hundred sixteen feet, and that was Atrek of Halcyon! Second place... one hundred twenty four feet, by Syrae, also of Halcyon! And the winner of the Javelin Throw Competition...”
The scattered applause that had been going around died instantly, and the crowd was silent.
“One hundred... thirty-one feet. And that was thrown....... by Keljev, from the Rainy Basin!!”
The ensuing chaos far outstripped any of the earlier cheers and congratulations. Caught up in the moment, Silverclaw and his pack behind him, stormed out of their ground-level places in the stands to swarm around Keljev, who was in the process of honoring the throwers who had not won.
“You did it!”
“Knew you could win!”
And so on, until the announcement came - “Okay! On to the next event, which is the Race! Follow the blue lines, everyone, blue lines. The Race will start in fifteen minutes, so be there!!”
This effectively stopped the praising of Keljev that had been going on, so Silverclaw used this to his advantage, and said, “Alright! Who’s in for the Race?”
Ingie, Redback, Darktooth, Twilightrose and Morningrose, and several more came forward. Silverclaw looked surprised and said, “Well! Quite a few of you, then!” He turned, and, almost apologetically, said, “’Fulsamee, mind getting everyone down to the track? I’ll be along in a moment.”
“Sure thing.” ‘Fulsamee nodded meaningfully at the pack, and made for the road, and the specified blue lines.
To Keljev, who had remained behind, Silverclaw said, “Very, very good work in the competition. You performed admirably under the conditions - and you were alone! Amazing.”
“No, thank you. You did exactly what you said you would, Keljev, you have brought honor to the pack. We are all thankful for your efforts.”
Keljev was at a loss for words, and so simply nodded.
“Now, let’s move on to the Race.”
Keljev jogged off to meet up with the pack, but, knowing that he had time to spare, Silverclaw settled for a more leisurely pace.
He was just off the field when something hard struck him in the back, and he was down. A clawed foot descended upon his neck, and attached to that foot was Agos.
“What is the meaning of this? You delegate leader’s duties to a newcomer? Have none of us gained your respect over these long years?”
Breathing with some difficulty, Silverclaw replied, “That... is not... your decision... to make. Now... release me... don’t make me...”
He choked on his last few words as Agos pressed down harder on his throat.
“Is that so? I want a real answer. Because it might be time for new leadership.”
“I do not want... to hurt you, Agos... release me...”
“Hurt me? You are in no position to do anything - except what I tell you to. It’s just you and me out here.”
“If that is... how you feel.”
Quick as lightning, Silverclaw’s energy blade flashed to life, and he swung it across Agos’ chest, causing him to leap back, howling. Silverclaw got to his feet, and said, “You struck without honor. You challenged my leadership, and threatened to kill me. I cannot forgive such wrongs. I told you that I did not want to hurt you. But you leave me no choice.”
The reverberating hum of the Leader’s Blade was the last thing Agos ever heard.
Silverclaw was slightly worried, though, how many more would challenge him?
From Fireclaw’s point of view, things were going very well. The pack had won the first event of the day, and the next was one they all loved like fresh meat.
‘Fulsamee wasn’t so sure about things. He had taken a head count before leaving, and had counted forty-five raptors, including himself. Which left Silverclaw and Keljev at the Javelin field, so that was fine. But now, waiting for the Race to begin, he still had forty-five. But he shouldn’t have gotten that number - Keljev had returned. Somewhere along the line, he’d lost a raptor. And he had no idea why. ‘Fulsamee was somewhat anxious, waiting to see if Silverclaw had perhaps called back an additional raptor to talk to, but when Silverclaw walked up, looking equally worried, and worse yet, with no one behind him, he forced himself to remain calm, and said, “Silverclaw! Did you grab somebody? I’m missing one.”
“It’s fine. We only have forty-six now, counting you and not me.”
‘Fulsamee’s face went blank. He knew, or at least had a decent idea.
“Agos... decided that he didn’t like how I made my decisions, and confronted me, back on the Javelin field. To simplify matters, he refused to listen and I was left with no choice.”
‘Fulsamee realized then why his count had been off. He knew exactly why. His eyes went wide. “There was no other option?”
“I... understand. How unfortunate.”
“That it was. But let us not talk of these things! The Race is about to begin.”
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren
Silverclaw, it seemed, had a talent for predicting the future. No sooner had he closed his mouth than the master of ceremonies rumbled out onto another stage, and dove right into it. “Good job! I can see that you all managed to find your way here, and just in time too. Now, know I said ‘race’, but we are in fact going to hold all the running events at this time. That includes the one fifty, three hundred, and fifteen hundred foot dashes, and the previously mentioned four mile race. There is one small difference, well, no, not a small difference... but a difference anyways, between these and the last event. I think that you can all agree with me when I say it is unfair to place a human and a saurian in the same race, right? Yes you can. What we’ll be doing is having two separate, but simultaneous, running competitions. And without further ado, humans! Continue following the blue lines, and saurians, the gold!”
Near the head of the pack, Fireclaw saw Silverclaw make a slashing motion with his claw, and accordingly, the front few raptors began walking, and the action rolled down the ranks. They were off, to his event! Fireclaw thought, “This should be good. I’m not the only one who likes to run... there must be more then just me competing...... but what if there isn’t? What if I am the only runner?” As they neared the entrance to the track, he put these worries away, and remembered something Silverclaw’s twin sister, Brightfrost, had told him a few years before.
“When you are worried and feel alone, helpless, think of your pack. A raptor is strong not because he has sharp claws and a cunning intelligence, but because he has his pack. His pack is always there to help him, and he is always there to help his pack. No raptor is ever without his pack, for we travel together and in great numbers. They may not be where you can see or smell them, but they are continually ready to assist you in whatever way they can. In his pack, no raptor can ever fall. You are with the Brightclaw. You shall never fall.”
As Fireclaw listened to the instructions being drawled out to him, waiting for the event to begin, he thought, “But now I am truly alone. No one can help me run this race. Five of my pack are here, but they too, cannot help me. What do I do now?” His worries returned, and he trembled slightly.
And then it was time. Still unsettled, Fireclaw followed the other runners out into to bright sunlight, onto to the track.
The track was a rectangle with rounded corners that filled the area, and was three quarters of a mile on the parallel long stretches, and only a quarter mile on the shorter parts. It was a two-mile track, and the stands for it were longer, but concentrated near the starting line. This meant that they could be built much lower, as not as many spectators had to sit in one area. ‘Fulsamee, and the pack around him, was standing near the entrance to the track, as they had gone in almost last, and the first groups in had gone into the back. That, and the much lower stands, allowed him to see Fireclaw, standing, waiting for the 150 foot dash to begin, and looking distressed. “Is he nervous, I wonder? Probably.”, thought ‘Fulsamee. He looked around, and found Silverclaw one row down from him. He leaned forward, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Silverclaw! Light your sword for a moment, wave it around. Fireclaw’s nervous.”
Silverclaw looked in Fireclaw’s direction, and said, “Sure thing.” A sharp hiss and a crackling announced the blade’s presence.
Almost out of his vision, Fireclaw saw something whitish waving in the air, and he turned his head to see Silverclaw with his glowing sword, looking right at him. And around him was the all of Brightclaw who had come to the Olympics. It was then that Fireclaw realized that he was not alone. His pack was still there, shouting dimly audible advice and encouragement to him and his fellow racers.
He also knew that Brightfrost had spoken true, that even in this unusual circumstance, he still had his pack. They were helping in the only way they could, and it was enough. Fireclaw regained his lost confidence. He was ready! He could win!
There was a stage at the head of the field identical to the previous two, but no Ankylosaur appeared on it to run the show. Instead, a tall, thin human walked out to greet the crowd. He evidently did not possess the vocal capabilities of their former host, as he carried a large, metallic megaphone.
“Alright! Let’s begin with the one hundred fifty foot dash!”
Fireclaw was waiting behind a white line of the track, as another judge, dressed in the same shade of blue as his comrades, yelled, “READY? THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!”
Fireclaw, the other five Brightclaw, five Troodons, two Gallimimus, and four other raptor’s blasted away from the line. Fireclaw ran ahead, but he had barely time to think before he’d reached the finish line... behind two Troodons. Yet another of the judges made some marks on her clipboard.
He thought, “That was fast! I’ll have to put more into the next one.”
Their new host used his megaphone to great effect, booming, “One moment while I get the scores...”
The air was full of the sound of hundreds of spectators whispering for the thirty seconds it took the judge to run to the stage.
“And now, for the scores! Third place, in the one hundred fifty foot dash... Fireclaw, from the Rainy Basin! Second, Iok, of Halcyon! And in first place for this first run... all the way from Waterfall City, Rani!”
The assembled and watching saurians were not as worked up as before, as this was only the beginning, and the obligatory discordant applause was somewhat muted.
Undeterred, the commentator continued with the event. “Now, for the three hundred foot dash. For those of you not gifted with number skills, that’s twice the distance.” He laughed, and it carried through the megaphone to the audience.
Fireclaw waited again, just behind the line. He would run faster. He would not--
“THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!”
Before he knew it, he was at the front, then he stumbled slightly, but enough, and quickly even this longer run was over. He had failed to place in the top three. Disappointed, Fireclaw walked back to the starting line as the judge ran her list up to be read off.
“For the three hundred foot dash... in third place, Rani. Second place, Redback, another from the Rainy Basin. And first place in the three hundred foot dash was Ingie, again, from the Basin!”
More into it this time, the response from the crowd was much greater in volume. Particularly noticeable was the bugling from the general direction of the Brightclaw.
“Okay, and now... for the fifteen hundred foot dash! This is the final one before the big race!”
Fireclaw took a deep breath. This was getting closer to what he liked doing.
“THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!”
And they were off. Fireclaw didn’t even begin to think strategy as he would in a Race, he just ran. As fast as he could. Even being five times the distance of the last dash, Fireclaw, with two of his own pack very close behind, had only to run a little better than halfway down one long side of the track. Fireclaw saw the finish line approach, knew someone was close behind, but didn’t dare look back. Just as he came even with the line, Redback threw himself forward... and broke the line first. He paid for his daring move though, and skidded snoutfirst for several feet.
Fireclaw walked over to him, and said, “You all right?”
Redback rolled over, looked up, and replied, “Fine, thanks.”
“Want a claw up?”
So Fireclaw bent down, and offered Redback his claw, leaned back slightly, and helped him to stand upright.
“Now, let’s go back.”
They were the last ones back to the starting line, and so immediately afterwards the placings were read off.
“That was the fifteen hundred foot dash, everyone, and placing third in it was... oh! Paper’s upside down. Ahem, third place was Linglin, from the Rainy Basin! In second we have Fireclaw, again, and in first place, Redback, with the flying finish!”
More and louder applause followed.
“Now, for the main event! The four mile Race!! Now, this track is in fact a very large two miles, and so that means that each of our runners has to complete only two laps. It’s also the reason why the stands are more or less at this end. You wouldn’t be able to hear me from way down there.” Their host lowered his megaphone, looking mildly amused. “We’re going to give our hard-working racers a moment to catch a breath,so they don’t all go to pieces in the Race. While they do so, I have some news for you all. This is the last official event of the Dinosaur Olympics, for today. That’s today. There’s more tomorrow. However, a you may have heard, the Troodons of Halcyon have arranged a demonstration of what I am told is called the Art. I haven’t seen it myself, so you’ll find me there. Oh! That would be good, huh, if I told you where to go? The show is going to be right next to where we are now, on the human racetrack, at sunset. Be there!”He peered down over the edge of his platform, where the runners were massed, and called, “All ready down there?”
A number of variations on “Very!” were thrown up at him.
“Okay good!” Picking up the megaphone once more, he said, “Our racers say they’re ready, and they would know best, so! Without further ado, the Four Mile Race!!”
Fireclaw was ready. This would be easy. He regularly ran five or more miles, but he also knew that the other five from his pack did the same - or better.
“THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!”
The racers quickly left the starting line behind, as everyone was in a huge rush to get ahead. Fireclaw was in his element. He knew how to run these, and used one of his favorite strategies: He slowed ever so slightly, but it was enough to put him thirty feet behind everyone else.
He had been counting on the fact, or rather, the assumption that no one else knew what he was up to. He had forgotten that he had five other raptors there who knew what was up. Redback had managed to get in the lead by then, and as he looked back to see who was where, he saw Fireclaw slowing, and realized what he was trying to do. Redback used this to his advantage, and put on an extra burst of speed to widen the gap between them, as he and the eleven runners behind him rounded the first corner - three quarters of a mile, done. One and a quarter to go.
Fireclaw swore vehemently enough to crack an egg as he saw Redback pull forward. “Not what I needed! This is going to mess it all up!” There was nothing for it. He would have to catch up.
Blessed as he was with great strength, even for a raptor, Fireclaw was able to run his way up the ranks, slowly passing Ingie, Sessel, and Windclaw, to the point where it was just him, Redback, and some Troodon in front, although the others were not too far behind. This took him the remainder of the lap to do, and so they were on Lap Two, of two, when he made it behind the Troodon, who was putting on quite a show of trying to pass the leader. Redback wasn’t new to racing, and easily kept the smaller Troodon in second.
Fireclaw watched carefully how the two moved from side to side, and planned his move. If he moved to the opposite side at the right time... there! He dashed forward, using every last bit of energy he had, and gained first place, even as they turned Corner Three, and only a quarter mile was left.
At that point, the thought struck all the racers at once - this is it! Places were exchanged rapidly and often in the back, though Fireclaw held first for most of the stretch down. He found himself warding off determined attempts at passing from both Redback and the Troodon, but he had resolved not to make Redback’s mistakes again, or for that matter his own. As they bore down on the finish line, to the sound of hundreds if not thousands of ecstatic spectators cheering, Fireclaw glanced back, saw Redback there, and thought, “He’s going to leap for it again.”
There was only fifty feet left. Fireclaw blasted ahead, with all the speed he could manage. Would it be enough? Twenty five feet, and Redback was dangerously close to him. The Troodon had vanished. Ten feet. Five feet. Fireclaw leapt forward simultaneously with Redback, and the two crashed over the line together.
It was Redback’s turn to help, and he grabbed Fireclaw, and dragged him off the track, out of the way, as one, three, five, then ten racers came to a series of stops, some smooth, some rather clumsy.
Two judges were in the middle of a heated debate not far away. Fireclaw heard only snatches of their conversation over the roar of the crowd.
“--no! I distinctly--”
“I have the times!”
“It can’t be.”
Finally, the two came to a conclusion and made their way up to the stage. Soon after, the announcement chased them back down to field.
“And we have a winner!!” The crowd immediately fell silent.“But, we also have the other two places to cover. So, in third place for the four mile race, we have... Rani! In second place...”
Fireclaw and Redback looked at one another. Neither one knew who had crossed the line first.
Even as the report continued, Redback bowed graciously, accepting his defeat.
“And in FIRST PLACE, for the four mile race, was... FIRECLAW!!”
Once again unable to hold back, the Brightclaws cascaded off the stands and around the two exhausted raptors. They poured a torrent of congratulations over Fireclaw and Redback, equally pleased with each’s achievement. Silverclaw made a number of attempts at grabbing the pack’s attention, but those went largely unnoticed, as everyone was still occupied with their racers. ‘Fulsamee came up behind Silverclaw, tapped him on the shoulder, and in a voice loud enough to be credited to someone four times his size, roared,
“RAPTORS, ATTENTION HERE!!!”
The command squelched all the talking that had been going on, and focused all the raptors’ attention on ‘Fulsamee, which was what he’d been going for. He said nothing, but gestured to Silverclaw, who got the idea, and said at a much more normal volume, “Thank you. As they told to you before, we’re done for the day. To everyone who competed today, you did extremely well - some of the performances today were absolutely incredible. Good work. The only thing left to do is watch the Troodon demonstration. If you want to go, great, stay here for the moment. If not, then you can head back to our little clearing there and relax. I’m sure some of you need it.” There were a few odd rasping noises of raptors laughing. Redback and Fireclaw gave toothy grins.
As the raptors sorted themselves into two groups, one to go and one to stay, Silverclaw turned to ‘Fulsamee and said, “Did you want to see the Troodons?”
“Well good! Know what I want to do?”
“Ah... not go?”
“Correct. Any ideas what YOU get to do?” Silverclaw was wearing a very pleased smile.
“Oh yes.” More seriously, he asked, “You can handle it, right?”
“As long as you’re okay with it.” To the patiently waiting pack, he said, “Alright. Those of you that don’t want to go, can follow me back. All of you who are going, ‘Fulsamee will take you.”
It was a mark of how much the pack trusted Silverclaw’s decisions that no one protested or so much as commented to their neighbor about the appropriation of duties.
“Enjoy yourself.” Silverclaw raised his claw and said, “Okay, everyone going back, let’s go!”
He and seventeen others headed off the field. ‘Fulsamee was left with the remaining twenty seven. Rather than give a command, he merely began walking towards the human racetrack. His group caught on within seconds and fell into step behind him.
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren
The display was set up in a number of stations around the track, each with a bunch of Troodons doing something different. Onlookers could freely wander around, choosing what they wanted to see, and for how long.
The raptors split up, each wanting to visit somewhere different. Something glinted in the blazing sunlight, and caught ‘Fulsamee’s eye, so he went to see what it was. He wound up watching a fast-paced show of swordplay. Two Troodons, each decked out in the standard fancy armor, crossed blades with blinding speed. Never having picked up a sword himself, ‘Fulsamee could only speculate at the moves being made.
One swung, the other blocked, the blades moved up, around, each making opposite arcs back towards the opponent, met again, and it wasn’t long before ‘Fulsamee was perfectly lost. Abruptly, the demonstration ended, and the two Troodons relaxed.
The Troodon to ‘Fulsamee’s left, who was wearing a highly polished silver helmet, said, “Good afternoon. Who are you?”
“I am called ‘Fulsamee. And I might ask the same of you.”
“You might. We are Etia and Izer, sixth level swordmasters.”
“And that means what?”
“The teachings of the Unrivaled are not for those of the uneducated races.”
‘Fulsamee thought, “What a waste of my time.” Without another word, he turned and left to find someone more talkative. A short search brought him to something he liked - sparring. The Troodons had put a new twist on his favorite event, and instead of two competitors, had three. And it made all the difference. As he watched, part of a group of around fifteen spectators, two Troodons became somewhat entangled, and rolled, trying to get free. The third warrior had been observing this turn of events, and after a moment’s hesitation, leapt forward, and pinned one of the engaged Troodons to the ground. The other Troodon got up and promptly squashed the would-be victor. A gold-armored Troodon stepped in the ring then, and called, “Match over!”
All three got up, rested for a few seconds, and dove right back into combat. ‘Fulsamee squeezed his way to the front of the crowd, reached forward, tapped the officiating judge on the shoulder, and said, “Hi. What’s the deal with three competitors? I’ve never seen it done before.”
The referee turned his head just far enough that he could see both match and raptor, and replied, “We made the addition of one extra person to make things more interesting. We regularly have two, three, or even four Troodons fighting at once. I think it works fairly well.”
“It looks like it does.”
“You seem interested in this event. If you want, you can join in. These are exhibition matches, but I don’t see any problem letting you fight.”
‘Fulsamee thought, “And you think I’ll get a fair fight? No. You just want to show off your Troodons before tomorrow’s events.” Not that the prospect of an unfair fight bothered him much, he’d been in far too many to care. But he also knew that a loss would be somewhat demoralizing for the six or seven raptors he saw in the crowd. He debated the issue for a minute, then thought, “No. I’ll save it for tomorrow.” To the judge, he said, “Thanks for the offer, but I’ll let your Troodons run the show.”
He stayed for half an hour, watched some creative moves, memorized them, and then began going around to the various stations, collecting his raptors. Several times, the request was made to stay longer, and so he would wait and watch with those few, then move on. When, nearly an hour later, he finished, the twenty seven he had been assigned made two columns and followed ‘Fulsamee back to their quarters.
“Welcome back! Did you have a good time?”, asked Silverclaw.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it good, perhaps... I had a time, at least. Everyone else seemed fairly happy, though.” ‘Fulsamee grinned. “And I was even invited to join in on a demonstration sparring match.”
“No. They were running three Troodons at once - I didn’t figure it would be a fair fight.”
“No kidding. Huh... I wonder if tomorrow’s event will run like that. That’s very strange.” Silverclaw frowned. “Well, anyway, I’m glad everything went well for you.”
“Same here. What did your lot do while we were out?”
“Ah... nothing. I took a nap.”
Fireclaw chose that moment to interrupt the conversation, saying, “Hiya! Is ‘Fulsamee taking us around tomorrow?”
Silverclaw said, “I wasn’t planning on it, seeing as I’ll be watching the events with you. Why?”
“No reason in particular.”
“Okay. He might, I don’t know yet.”
“Sounds good.” Fireclaw turned and left, back to play with the other raptors.
‘Fulsamee asked, “What’s his problem?”
“No idea. None at all. You’d almost think he likes having you around.” Silverclaw laughed.
“By the way, I wanted to ask you.. I hope it’s not too personal... but I’ve been noticing that you’re spending less and less time with ‘Ornamee. What’s up?”
Not looking at all disturbed by this question, ‘Fulsamee replied, “I forget if I told you or not, but it was I who found ‘Ornamee, separated from his real parents in my home forest. My pack leader assigned me the duty of raising him, and the 12 years I spent doing that forged a bond between us, not so much a nestmate’s, but more of a parental one. But now, joined into your pack as we are, I am very pleased to see that he has found new friends and is living happily with your raptors. He no longer really needs me, and that’s good.”
Silverclaw mulled over this new information for a minute, then said, “So that’s how it is. That fills in a few gaps for me. Thanks.”
“Not a problem.”
“Yeah, so the rest of afternoon’s yours, I don’t have anything for us to do.”
A S C E N S I O N
The following morning, ‘’Fulsamee received another unexpected waking when an unfamiliar weight dropped on him. The breath he had been in the middle of was exhaled quickly. “Ooomph!” He coughed. “Hey!”
‘Fulsamee opened his eyes to find that Fireclaw had more or less fallen on him, and the end of his snout was really very close to his own.
Fireclaw said, “Good morning. Sleep well?”
“Perfectly, until a certain someone squashed me. You ARE heavy.”
Fireclaw put on a face of mock injury. “You think so, eh? Try this.” And he shifted the rest of his body onto ‘Fulsamee.
Struggling now to draw a breath, ‘Fulsamee managed, “Okay... fine... now... get up!”
Fireclaw did so, which allowed ‘Fulsamee to get to his feet and realize that was, once again, almost the last one to wake.
“Oh no.”, he said, looking around, “Maybe it was a good thing you got me up.”
“I think so. Breakfast has already arrived. We thought of you, though, and left some.”
“Thanks”, he said gratefully.
A few seconds of walking brought ‘Fulsamee to the serving carts, now barren and devoid of tasty eatables. One cart near the end held a dish of meat, though, and he took this to be his breakfast. Five minutes later, it was gone, and though ‘Fulsamee might not have particularly happy with the meal, he was satisfied.
“There you are. Finally got up, good.” Silverclaw stood nearby, watching him finish the last of his breakfast. As ‘Fulsamee looked up, and met Silverclaw’s gaze, he thought he saw them flash pale blue for an instant, though, he thought, it was probably the light.
“Morning, Silverclaw. Sorry for waking late.”
“Not a problem. We haven’t really done anything yet, aside from eat, so your oversleeping wasn’t a bad thing.”
“Glad to hear it. I don’t know... that’s twice now I’ve slept too long.”
“Well, in any case, a messenger popped by while you were eating and he wants us down the green lines soon.”
“Okay. Am I taking everyone down?”
“Nope. I’m having Zureon do it today.” Seeing the dejected look on ‘Fulsamee’s face, he added, “It’s not that you did anything wrong. I just want to rotate the job around to a few of my experienced raptors.”
“Understood. Think we should get going?”
“Wouldn’t be a bad idea.” Silverclaw coughed, then called, “ZUREON!”
Seconds later, Zureon arrived. He was shorter than either Silverclaw or ‘Fulsamee, thin, and wiry. He bowed and said, “At your service, Silverclaw.”
“Here’s how it’s going to work.” Looking at Zureon, he said, “You will lead the pack down the green lines to the first event, which is the ‘agility course’ It’s their version of our obstacle course. After that, it’s modified sparring, they call it ‘wrestling, and that’s the red lines. After that one.... I don’t know. The messenger didn’t tell me any more. We’ll have to find out as we go.”
“Are we ready to go?”
“As soon as you gather us together we will be. Go for it.”
Zureon gave a loud, sharp bugle, which served to grab the attention of the pack, and conveyed a come-here order.
Once the pack had rallied together, Silverclaw said, “Thank you. Today is the second day of the Dinosaur Olympics, as you know, and today I have delegated to Zureon the task of leading you around.”
Zureon took it from there, saying, “Shall we?”, and began walking. He didn’t possess the gift ‘Fulsamee and Silverclaw had for commanding - it took a series of exaggerated head nods and claw gestures from Silverclaw to get the pack to follow Zureon, who had set off, almost oblivious to the fact that everyone else was twenty feet behind.
The pack made it to the Agility Course fine, though, and joined in with the growing crowd once more. They waited quite some time before their Ankylosaur master of ceremonies made his way onto yet another stage, but as soon as he had grabbed everyone’s attention, the announcement was made: “Good morning once again! I am glad to see you all here looking very anxious to get started! You’re in luck, too, because I have very little to say, other than good luck, and will the competitors please come forward!”
Somewhat unprepared for this very quick admittance to the field, ‘Ornamee walked, along with six other raptors, including Darktooth and Sifre, under the stage and were met with an awe-inspiring sight. The Challenge Towers back in the Rainy Basin weren’t small by most standards, but these structures would have dwarfed them, had the comparison been made. The towers, in a triangle arrangement, ran high into the air, with myriad catwalks and ropes strung as ways to cross between. Observing all this, ‘Ornamee noticed a distinct lack of organization to the towers, there seemed to be no clear way through. There were paths between the structures even on the lowest levels, which would, in a normal course, make the upper ones useless. He was stumped as to how the event would run, or, more specifically, how he would run.
‘Ornamee’s question was answered as one of the judges walked up, ubiquitous clipboard in claw, and proceeded to say, “Hello! You’ve probably all noticed by now that these towers don’t seem to have a path through. And if you did, you’re correct. This is not a linear race. The object of this game is to find one of the flags hidden in the three towers, and get across the finish line with it. There are a few rules: One, you must not touch the ground once you’re inside the course. Two, you cannot complete the race until you have a flag - there are enough for each of you, but as they are collected, it will get harder to find one. When you have a flag, you may hit the ground and run for the finish line. And finally, four: Be careful. These towers go forty feet in the air. If you fall out, you will be seriously injured.” The man paused, looking somber. “Wait for the starting signal at this line.”
Six raptors, ten humans, six Troodons, and two Gallimimus stood just behind the indicated green line, painted on the ground. They had hardly taken their places when the command came: “THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!” ‘Ornamee ran, past the first two towers, which all but Sifre had begun climbing on, and began searching the farthest away tower for a flag. His search was hampered somewhat by the fact that he had no idea what color the flags were, or what they looked like. The tower was a mess of obstacles as well, which certainly didn’t help. ‘Ornamee found himself climbing vertical poles, dangling from ropes, balancing on very tippy logs, and a host of other challenges. He was near the top of the tower, scaling a nearly flat wall, when he saw it. A vibrantly blue flag, attached underneath a free-rotating log bridge. And so did Sifre. With a cry, Sifre, who had been following ‘Ornamee closely, leapt for the flag.... and missed, landing on a beam, then crashing down several levels, bouncing off a few more obstacles on the way down. There was a dull thud, and Sifre howled in pain. ‘Ornamee considered going down to help, but was distracted as the crowd exploded with applause: someone had crossed the finish line. He had a choice then, help Sifre, or grab the flag and try to place second. ‘Ornamee chose to go for the flag, and, getting to the top of his wall, crawled across the log, groped around its other side, and tore the flag off. As quickly as caution would allow, he dropped down to the level where Sifre had jumped from, then found a rope that led almost to the ground, slid down it, and dropped the rest of the way. He then made an all out dash for the finish line, even as another raptor and one of the Troodons did the same, both with blue flags. ‘Ornamee had just enough of a head start, though, that he was able to cross the line seconds ahead of the much faster saurians.
“Two! Three! GAME!”, called the judge. “ALL COMPETITORS IN, PLEASE! ALL COMPETITORS, RACE OVER! DROP YOUR FLAGS AND COME IN!”
His message was repeated by a judge near each tower, but some of the competitors took a while to extricate themselves from the traps and confusions. While they did so, the judge standing with ‘Ornamee and the first few finishers made some scratch marks on his clipboard, and handed it to an assistant, who set off at a run for the stage.
As the remaining racers, exhausted, joined back up with them, the Ankylosaur boomed out the results. “In third place, for the Agility Course, is Crina, from Waterfall City! Second place, was ‘Ornamee, from the Rainy Basin! And... in first place, we have... Mihal, all the way from Volcanum!”
Crina was short, abnormally so. At only four foot nine, with long black hair, she was a looker. ‘Ornamee couldn’t stop looking at her. She was as stunning to him as any table spread.
Predictably, there was a minute or so of loud cheers, applause, and bugling following that declaration.
“Alright! You’ve been given your directions already - off to the next event!”
Another call from Zureon drew together the pack, and as a whole they set out, following the masses.
“Well, I think that went well!”, said ‘Ornamee.
“I would have to agree. Congratulations on your placing second.”
“That reminds me - how is Sifre?”
“Oh, he’s fine. He’s pretty durable - just a couple small scrapes and a nasty bruise from where he hit, but other than that, perfectly okay.”, remarked Silverclaw.
“That’s good to know.”
Presently, they came to another stage, but did not have to wait, as their host evidently knew of a faster way to arrive than what they had been given, and was waiting for the crowd.
He wasted no time launching into another introduction. “I am rather of the opinion that whomever designed the colored line system, and I can’t remember who right now, had a very good idea. None of you have been lost yet. But anyway, it’s now time for the wrestling event, and once more, for the sake of fairness, we have been forced to split up the competitors into two groups - humans and saurians. For this event, you humans get to do the extra walking. Saurians, go through the gates here, and humans, please proceed down the lines.” The Ankylosaur looked around at the gathered mass. “Ready? Go!”
“Here I go...” thought ‘Fulsamee. He looked back, and saw that just three other raptors were participating in the event, and he knew two of them - Riftor, who acknowledged ‘Fulsamee’s glance around with a nod of his head, and Nikos, from V’lain’s kitchen. The third ‘Fulsamee recognized, though he didn’t have a name - it was the raptor who had been right next to him before the Chandara counterstrike. Together, the four joined a sizable knot of fighters, anxious to begin, under the stage, and as they did so, the audience began their move into the stands. Yet another blue clothed judge was waiting for them, and to the assemblage, she said, “Okay. This is the saurian wrestling event, as you know, and it is set up a bit differently than the previous ones. Instead of one all-out death match, each of you will be paired with another and will compete. These fights will take place simultaneously, the winners will square off in more one on one matches, and so on until we have a winner and second and third places.” The judge paused, then said, “This is a single elimination tournament, which means each of you has no extra chances if you lose a match. You lose, you’re out. The initial pairs have been selected at random, so you could be against anyone here. Questions?”
All that could be heard was the excited buzzing of the watching saurians.
“Well okay then! You all get the idea. Now, if you look out, you’ll see that there are seven circles, each has a number. I will call your names and give you such a number, go to it and wait for further instruction. Ready? First pair is...”
But ‘Fulsamee wasn’t listening. He was thinking about what the judge had said. “Single elimination? Great. So there’s what... two...four...seven...ten...twelve of us.” He did some quick thinking and thought, “And one lucky person gets a free match. Hope I’m on--”
He was interrupted as the judge called, “Tiero and ‘Fulsamee - Circle Five!”
By then, only three circles were left, and ‘Fulsamee found his easily, as it was very clearly demarcated with a five, in the Dinotopian footprint alphabet, bigger than he was. The circle itself was smaller than what he was used to - it was a little better than twenty feet across. ‘Fulsamee also took the time to size up his opponent, who stood motionless opposite from him. Tiero looked very average - for a Troodon, which meant that ‘Fulsamee had a good foot on him, and as went with the height, outweighed him. However, ‘Fulsamee had been around ‘Ornamee long enough to know that size was almost never the sole reason for victory, and to relax here would mean failure.
The last pair entered their circle, and the Ankylosaur, who had remained with them this time, called from his platform, “Round One! Ready? THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!”
Tiero stood, stock still, waiting for ‘Fulsamee to move first. And while he had misgivings about it, ‘Fulsamee began moving around the edge of the circle - Tiero would have to move at some point, or he’d be down. As it turned out, ‘Fulsamee got within ten feet of his opponent before he did something. Up until that point, Tiero had simply watched ‘Fulsamee make his way around the ring, but now he had to act.
‘Fulsamee caught the slight twitch, the tensing that meant Tiero was going to leap for him, and he was right. Tiero made a great forward jump, right for the throat, and, ‘Fulsamee dodged, but his timing had been slightly off, which meant that instead of a clean miss and having his enemy down, the two collided, and both found themselves where they did not want to be - on the ground.
Tiero rolled backwards, jumped up, and tried to land right on ‘Fulsamee - but he wasn’t there, having rolled forward at the last second. Now it was ‘Fulsamee’s turn to get up, and, thinking fast, he feinted, making as if he was going to mirror his opponent’s last move, but when Tiero rolled forward, in exactly the same manner as ‘Fulsamee had, he quickly found himself under a sharp sickle claw and heavy foot.
Another judge, who ‘Fulsamee hadn’t noticed up to that point, called, “Match over! ‘Fulsamee has won!”
A mark was made on his clipboard, and the judge left for the stage.
Tiero picked himself up, and said, “Well done. I will concede that I did not expect for one of the uneducated races to defeat me, but anything is possible.”
Not having a clue what Tiero was going about “uneducated races”, ‘Fulsamee said nothing, though he got the distinct impression that he had been insulted. He looked around, and caught the very end of Nikos’ match, which had not gone as well as his had: Nikos was squashed under a very large Troodon. It looked painful. Their judge scribbled on his clipboard, and brought it up to the stage.
Seconds later, the standings were announced. “Okay! Round one is over! Good job everyone, I saw some amazing fights going on! Unfortunately, half of you must leave the field now. Your judge has told you who you are, so those of you who did not win, please leave the field and meet up with your friends in the stands. Move now.”
Their host allowed a minute for the six losers to get out of the way, then said, “And now, for Round two! The pairs are as follows: Joyen and Drith, Circle One. Zyklon and Los, Circle Two. ‘Fulsamee and Riftor, Circle Three. Get there, and we can begin!”
‘Fulsamee was surprised at his next opponent, but not unduly so. He was also somewhat worried. He was as evenly matched with Riftor as could be hoped, though he was of the opinion that the balance was tipped in Riftor’s favor. “Oh well”, he thought, “I’ll just have to try that much harder.”
As soon as he and Riftor faced off, the Ankylosaur called, “Round two! Ready? THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!”
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren
Riftor wasted no time standing around. He immediately made a charge for ‘Fulsamee, who was completely unprepared and was sent crashing to the hard ground. Before ‘Fulsamee could recover, Riftor had rolled back to his feet and had dropped on him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, ‘Fulsamee counted down, “Seven... six... five...” He had to get up. ‘Fulsamee twisted his arms out of Riftor’s grasp, and used them to deliver a blow to Riftor’s chest, enough that the iron-hard hold on his legs released.
‘Fulsamee got his legs under him, and as he did so, he saw Riftor’s eyes widen. He had been there when ‘Fulsamee had fought Fireclaw for entry to the Brightclaw pack. He knew what was coming, and there was little he could do about it.
Riftor was correct in his thinking, and was sent a few feet into the air, but he did manage to cushion the shock by throwing out his arms. It was too late, though, as ‘Fulsamee used his favorite tactic on him - foot and claw to throat. To himself, he counted, “Seven... six... five.. four... three... two... one...”
“Match! ‘Fulsamee has won!”
The judge dashed off.
‘Fulsamee allowed Riftor to stand, and he bowed his head and said, “I am defeated. You did well.” Looking ‘Fulsamee in the eye, he said, “But let’s try again back in the Basin, ok?”
“Sure.” ‘Fulsamee laughed.
“I’m glad I lost to you... wouldn’t have able to bear going down to one of those Troodons.”
And without waiting for instruction, Riftor left to watch from the stands. Soon after, the standings were announced again.
“Round two is complete! And we now must leave three fighters behind... wait a minute. Why are there only five of you out there?” The Ankylosaur looked confused. “Did he leave already? Yes? Okay, fine. Correction now, TWO fighters must leave, so do that please...”
He waited, then continued, “Now it gets interesting. We are down to three, yes, three, competitors. And since only TWO can fight at once, one lucky person gets to sit out a match. And the way the branches ran that’s... ‘Fulsamee! So, that leaves us with Drith and Zyklon, in Circle one please................ thank you. Ready? THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!”
‘Fulsamee watched, ten feet back from the circle, as the two went at it. Zyklon was tall for a Troodon, perhaps six feet, and it made a difference. He put up quite a fight against Drith’s best efforts to pin him down, but before long, his neck was being crushed by Drith’s arm, and both his legs were held fast against anything similar to ‘Fulsamee’s maneuver. Five seconds later, they hadn’t moved, though it wasn’t for lack of trying on Zyklon’s part, and the judge yelled, “Match over! Drith wins!”
The defeated Troodon needed no urging, and strode off the field, head held high. And, somewhat unnecessarily, the standings were proclaimed for the third time.
“Round three is over, and Drith has won! Since ‘Fulsamee just had a nice five minute break, we’re going to give Drith the same, and while we do, I have some news for everyone. This is today’s final event, and in fact, the final ground event of this part of the dinosaur Olympics! Now, notice how I said ‘ground’. Yup, again this year, there will be a Skybax Jousting tournament held directly after this. You can get there by following the silver lines. It promises to be good - last time I saw it, the flying was beyond imagination. Absolutely incredible. And well worth your time- so stick around!”
This announcement had not taken the prescribed five minutes, and so the audience talked amongst themselves for another four. Drith walked over to ‘Fulsamee and said, “So here you are. I’ve heard much about you.”
‘Fulsamee looked up, and realized it - it had been a very long time since he’d had to look up to talk with anyone. Drith was easily a head taller than he was, which was exceedingly rare in a raptor, as ‘Fulsamee knew from experience that it was hard enough to find anyone his own size. He replied, “Is that so? What and from whom?”
Drith laughed. “Nothing bad. It sounded impressive, that’s all. Though I was around when you beat Fireclaw. That was awesome.”
Drith looked around, suddenly agitated. “Are we going to get started or what? I don’t need a break.”
“You think so, mm? If I had just been in a sparring match, I would make you wait, but.....”
‘Fulsamee walked over to the judge who was standing, also waiting patiently to begin. He said, “Can we start?”
“What? Ah.. I’ll go check.” He ran off, and ‘Fulsamee watched as he conferred with several other judges who were up on the stage. Soon, he had returned, and the Anyklosaur’s voice was right behind him, sounding amused.
“Now this is more like it! Drith is impatient to get to fighting, so let’s not keep him and ourselves waiting! Into the circle, you two.” They complied, and he continued, “Final round, Round four! THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!”
‘Fulsamee saw Drith tense, knew he would charge, but had no time to react as he dashed forward, grabbed ‘Fulsamee’s ankle, and with the remaining momentum from his charge, skidded around in a half circle, so that he was where ‘Fulsamee had been, tightened his grip, lifted up with shocking strength, and flipped ‘Fulsamee head over tail in the air.
Time seemed to slow as he flew, not high or far, but to him, it seemed like minutes passed in the air, and he saw Drith, looking at him with the same expression that would be given to small prey.
He hit the ground hard, on his back, and the world went dark.
A I R B O R N E
“Hey! ‘Fulsamee!! ‘FULSAMEE!!”
‘Ornamee was very anxiously calling for him.
‘Fulsamee opened his eyes, and found that he was exactly where he’d fallen - in the middle of Circle One. Picking his head up, he saw that Silverclaw, ‘Ornamee, and Fireclaw had joined Drith in the circle.
In a somewhat aggravated tone, he said, “I’m fine! Perfectly all right.” He had a raging headache, but they didn’t need to know that.
“You just got flung through the air, landed on your back, smashed your head, and you think you’re just fine?”
“If you tell me I am old, I shall pick myself up and personally fling you across this field. I am not old.”
“I wasn’t going to. But this isn’t the first time you’ve gotten beaten up and blacked out.”
“Yes it is.”
“No it is not. You suffered memory loss last time. I know you did.”
“............That’s... interesting. But regardless, I do not feel any pain.”
As ‘Ornamee began a reply, Fireclaw placed a claw on his shoulder and said, “‘Fulsamee hasn’t made it this far without a few bumps and scrapes. He’ll be fine.”
‘Fulsamee rolled his head to find Silverclaw a few feet from ‘Ornamee, and said, “So how long have I been here, anyways?”
“Not long. Maybe five, ten minutes. But I did send the pack to the next event already.”
“Good. I would be worried if it had been longer. And.. where is the victor? Drith?”
“Right behind you.”
“Aha.” ‘Fulsamee rolled over, picked himself up, said, “Congratulations”, and bowed.
Apologetically, Drith replied, “Thank you. I did not mean for--”
‘Fulsamee interrupted him and said, “Oh yes you did. Don’t argue the point, you meant to throw me. But that’s fine, because it was a move made in fair and honorable combat, and so I accept my defeat. However... I want a... well, not a rematch, but that was fun and I’d like to do it again when we get home.”
“I could go for that.”
Silverclaw interrupted them and said, “Did you want to get going for the Skybax Jousting?”
“I forgot, but yes, let’s go!”
‘Ornamee gave him a meaningful look and ‘Fulsamee replied, “You know, I don’t think anyone’s been this concerned about me since I hatched. But...” His expression softened, and he said, “I appreciate it.”
‘Ornamee didn’t say anything, but followed the four raptors off the field. The Skybax Jousting event was almost directly across the road - and it had already started. Two Skybax were wheeling through the air at one another, and it looked like they were going for contact.
‘Fulsamee and Silverclaw climbed into the stands and joined in with the pack, while Drith, ‘Ornamee, and Fireclaw found themselves places to watch.
“So... Silverclaw... how does this work?”, asked ‘Fulsamee.
“I have no idea - I came in when you did.”
‘Fulsamee found Redback in the row in front of him, tapped him on the shoulder, and repeated his question.
“Hi ‘Fulsamee! Are you all right?”
“Fine, thank you.”
“Good to hear that. Skybax Jousting is exactly what it sounds like: the human rider has a long staff, the end is padded, and he uses this to try and unseat the other rider.”
“But they’re so high up... is this a deathmatch event?”
“Are you kidding me? In a Dinotopian competition? Well, I suppose it could get nasty, but the idea is that the Skybax should be able to catch the rider if he falls.”
“I still think it sounds dangerous.”
“That’s half the fun.” Suddenly Redback pointed skyward and yelled, “Look! There he goes!”
One rider had been smashed from his mount and was falling earthward. The combatants had not been high in the air when they hit, and so the rider was less than twenty feet from impact when his Skybax swooped underneath with such precise timing that the rider landed right back in his saddle.
‘Fulsamee didn’t respond, he had become too wrapped up in the action high in the air. The fallen rider, wearing blue, had wasted less than a second getting back into the fray, as he had retained his lance, and so was quickly able to gain altitude, and make a dive for his enemy, in red. The other Skybax shrieked, flapped its wings powerfully, and dodged the outstretched lance by feet. Now headed straight for the ground, the blue team Skybax was forced to flap its wings to get back on a level with red team, who was doing the same, but much higher in the air.
From that point on, the two teams made constant attacks for one another, swooping and diving in a strange dance. The air was full, it seemed, of flapping wings and lances. The Skybaxes could fly fast, and they were both performing to near their limits. ‘Fulsamee was having trouble keeping track of who was where.
The somewhat repetitive attempts to hit were stopped abruptly, as the red rider grazed, but failed to knock off, his opponent, who took advantage of the time needed to get back to fighting altitude by making a dive that brought blue team within a few feet of the ground, coming up under red, and catching the rider under the shoulder, throwing him up and off his Skybax. They were so close to the ground then that there was no time for recovery, and ‘Fulsamee watched the rider head for the ground. but instead of the hard, cracking sound that he expected, there was simply a soft thud. Surprised, ‘Fulsamee saw that the arena was not paved with stone, as the other were, but had had a thick, padded mat laid out to cushion the riders’ falls.
But red team did not take flight again, as a high-pitched whistle blew, and both Skybaxes landed, and walked off the field. Soon after, the winner was called.
“That was Match Two of Round One of the Skybax Jousting Tournament - and our winners were Skev and his partner, D’jar! Next up!”
Another two teams paraded out onto the field, each again one Skybax and one rider. They made gestures to each other, then stood, waiting for the command to begin.
“Ready? THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!”
Both riders turned, leapt up onto their Skybax partners, and were quickly flying higher and higher, looking for the advantage of altitude. ‘Fulsamee found it somewhat confusing, as the team colors had not been changed, so it was almost like watching the last match over again.
Red team managed to get almost twenty feet above blue, and used this new development to execute a nose-down and go speeding towards the ground. The blue rider saw this, and tried to seize the moment by following the dive. Both teams raced down, and ‘Fulsamee wondered who would hit first. As it turned out, though, neither did. As the red Skybax pulled up, still forty feet in the air, blue continued for another second, until they were under red, and copied the move, coming up just to their left.... but still underneath. The blue rider raised himself up off the saddle just enough to give the other rider a sharp jab in the hindquarters, which took him completely by surprise and was also decently painful - blue had gathered a lot of speed from the parallel diving.
Red team’s rider jumped, lost his legs’ grip on the saddle, and proceeded to dangle in an extremely dangerous and unstable position off the left side of his Skybax, who tried hard to maintain level flight, but was forced into a slow, spiraling descent nonetheless. Meanwhile, blue team swooped around, and the rider took another shot at his opponent, still trying to get back into the saddle. The lance smashed down on red rider’s grasping fingers, which released in pain, and the rider fell the remaining thirty feet to the soft padding below. His Skybax made an hasty attempt at snatching him from midair, missed by feet, and the rider bounced once, and then the whistle blew and the winner was announced. The whole affair had taken less than five minutes.
“My! That was fast! Congratulations to J’red and rider Umin! You’ve won and are moving on in the tournament! Now, could we have the next two please?”
Once again, the red and blue team colors were used, but ‘Fulsamee could see the differences between those that had left and these newcomers, subtle though they were.
“Ready? Final match of Round One! THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!”
Blue team’s rider was young, and directed her Skybax in a series of maneuvers ‘Fulsamee thought to be exceedingly risky. First, they gained altitude so that they were flying level with red team, and then, seemingly without reason, dove towards the ground. Seeing his chance, blue team followed them, in an almost perfectly matching spiral flight path. Just fifteen feet up, red leveled off, skimming along the mats at high speed. And blue followed, looking to ram them at the end of the field, which was drawing closer at a fast pace.
The young female rider and her Skybax then arced up, and up, until they were flying straight up into the air, and continued to curve, now upside down, now heading straight down, coming back level with the ground, still flying fast... perfectly level... and behind a very surprised red team. blue was now less than five feet behind red - the loop they had flown in had been well planned.
Red team tried to compensate for this rearrangement of positions by angling upwards, trying to gain some room to work with, as they were now dangerously close to flying outside of the field. However, they had been simply gliding along for most of their near-ground trip, and so did not have the speed that blue team had.
Their adversaries copied the angle, closed the gap, drew closer, slowly, slowly, came even, so that the two Skybax were flying side by side, each straining to get ahead, and in the half-second that she had, blue team’s rider stabbed her opponent with her lance. And he fell, unable to grab hold of the saddle.
Immediately, his Skybax wheeled, back and down, to try and catch its rider. Blue team flew in pursuit.
The falling rider was saved by his mount perhaps ten feet from the ground, having plunged nearly thirty already. And in response to the blue Skybax bearing down on them, lance outstretched, the Skybax twisted so that the two were traveling for a head-on collision. Blue team had the advantage of height, and therefore speed, but it seemed that red’s rider had more than half a clue about his sport, and as he was about to be struck for the second time, leaned over, dodging the attack, but keeping his lance forward, and was able to send its padded, but still formidable, end into the blue rider’s midriff. She cried out in pain, was knocked from her mount, and plowed into the mats, back first.
For the third time, the whistle blew, and both Skybaxes landed.
“And that’s it for Round One! Our winners for this match were K’tan and his rider, Jikewa! Now, those of you who have not won any matches in this round may leave the field. We now have just four teams to run through... and we have a special way we’re going to determine our winner!”
The Ankylosaur gave the crowd two seconds to gasp, then said, “Instead of running another three matches... we will have a large free for all battle!! All four teams will be in the air at once, and will have a much harder time of it! So, without further ado, will our four remaining competitors please parade themselves out onto the field!”
‘Fulsamee saw that two new team colors were coming into play - so now red, blue, green, and gold riders and Skybaxes stood, waiting to fly. He saw only one new pair, and he suspected them to be the winners of the match he had missed while unconscious.
“Are you all ready? Yes? Good. THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!”
Placed each in a separate corner of the field, the four Skybaxes flew in upward spirals, to a height of around seventy feet. Once there, several seconds were spent circling slowly, waiting for someone to make the first move.
The gold team, who were also the ones ‘Fulsamee did not know, made that move by speeding for the closest enemy team, which happened to be red. He watched as the gold Skybax flew straight for red team, who responded in kind, and the two seemed bound for a head-on collision.
As it turned out, they were, and with lances extended, the two parties hit. The gold rider’s lance made solid contact with the other rider’s chest, and the rider was thrown backwards, off his Skybax, such was the force of the impact. The two winged saurians had similar troubles, as gold’s rush had been less than a clean pass by. ‘Fulsamee assumed the intention was not to have the Skybaxes hit just the riders’ lances, but they had, and were both struggling to pull away - and falling out of the air in doing so.
Meanwhile, red team’s rider was also falling, and by the time his Skybax was free and could dive for him, he was less than twenty feet up. The entanglement had lasted only a few seconds, but those were seconds that he did not have to spare. The rider’s faithful partner dove for him regardless, hurtling earthwards at top speed, and managed to get under the rider and catch him, but the impact of rider on Skybax caused the pair, already skimming the ground, to crash. They were out.
Turning his attention to the other competitors, ‘Fulsamee saw blue and green teams swooping around one another, but not scoring hits. Suddenly, blue team detached from the tight circles that they had been describing, and flew far above normal altitude. Green team tried to catch up, but they had figured out the plan too late, and so blue team was able to dive down upon them, rider’s lance extended.
In reaction to this attack, the green Skybax angled up, so as to bring its own rider’s lance to bear. To ‘Fulsamee, it looked like it would turn out to be a mirror image of the last maneuver he’d seen, and he had no doubt that the blue rider, traveling much faster than green, would win.
With their attention solidly focused on one another, neither blue nor green teams were aware that gold team was still in on the action, circling and observing for the moment. As it became obvious that blue team was flying to impact, the gold rider directed his partner to glide in.
The blue rider had planned her descent more carefully than gold had, and cleanly smashed the green rider in the stomach, knocking him backwards off his Skybax, and, due largely to the near-vertical angle they had hit at, straight down towards the waiting mats.
Leveling off, and now searching for other teams to fight, the blue rider was caught unprepared for gold’s lightning-fast strike, from behind. She received the padded end of the lance in her lower back, and was sent tumbling down in an almost perfect imitation of the rider she had unseated seconds beforehand.
Having seen all three of his fellow riders fall, the gold rider and his Skybax spiraled downward, and began walking back towards the stands. It was then that the whistle blew, and both rider and Skybax froze in complete shock. They had landed before the whistle had blown, which meant that the match was still running, and also that any rider to touch the ground was out of play.
As one, the audience and the three grounded teams looked up, to see green team circling, waiting for someone to attack. It seemed that the green Skybax had been able to catch his rider, and return to the air.
“Match over! What a surprising turn of events! Volke lands before the whistle and is disqualified! Incredible. Now, for the Skybax Jousting placings! For Round Two, our free-for-all, in fourth place, we have D’jar and rider Skev! Third place, was K’tan and with him Jikewa! Second place, and an interesting way to earn it it was, we have S’ron and Volke! And, for first place, with that really very good save, is J’red and his rider, Umin! Congratulations to all!”
‘Fulsamee joined his pack in bugling their congratulations to the competitors. The applause from the rest of the crowd lasted several minutes, but when finally it did die down, their Ankylosaur host proclaimed, “And with the end of the Skybax Jousting tournament we conclude this portion of the Dinosaur Olympics! I hope to see you all at the finale of the games in Waterfall City, in two week’s time! Many happy endings to everyone, and you are dismissed!”
‘Fulsamee turned to Silverclaw, still right next to him, and said, “So that’s it?”
“Yes, it is. Now we will return home, and get on with our normal lives. And you... can have your rematch with Drith.”
‘Fulsamee grinned and said, “Wonderful. Are we leaving this afternoon?”
“I don’t see why not. I’ll go collect the pack...”
It took him a couple minutes to grab the few raptors that had already begun walking back to their little site, but it wasn’t long before he had gotten everyone together.
“Okay! Everyone ready?”
A small chorus of agreements came back at Silverclaw, as he stood before his assembled pack.
“Good! Then it is to the Rainy Basin and home that we travel!”
He turned, waved forward, and began walking, off the field and onto the path leading out of Treetown. Near the front of the group were ‘Fulsamee and Fireclaw.
“What did you think of the Olympics, Fireclaw?”
“Me? I thought that I might like to see what else goes into them, remember how that Ankylosaur said that this was a ‘portion’?”
“Yeah. But Silverclaw hasn’t said anything about going too see other places and events.”
“I know, wishful thinking on my part. But I was wondering: Are you really going to challenge Drith to a rematch?”
“Well, admittedly it was a bad choice of words on my part. I know and accept that he defeated me in honorable combat, so it shouldn’t be called a rematch. But I do plan to have another sparring match with him, if only to see how I do against him when I haven’t been flipped.”
“I see. And I want to see that fight.”
‘Fulsamee laughed and said, “I don’t think you’re the only one. But, now that we’re on the subject, you did pretty well in your event - congratulations.”
“Only in the full Race, though. I did miserably in the shorter runs.”
“True. I wouldn’t call it miserable- you tried, didn’t you?”
“Yes, as much as I could.”
“Then that is all we can ask of you.”
“I still lost.”
“Okay, fine, if you want to be dejected about it, then go ahead! I’m trying to help.”
“I know you are, and I appreciate it. But it’s like misjudging a drop: you may have tried, but you still have a broken leg.”
“That it is.”
“And now it’s my turn to be inspired by the conversation. Silverclaw!”
Just a few feet in front of them, Silverclaw turned, now walking backwards.
“Why didn’t you compete in anything?”
“Mainly because I didn’t feel comfortable entering myself into something that might get me injured, and less able to lead the rest of you, a duty I don’t mind delegating out for a short while, but not for something like the duration of the Olympics. If I had competed, I would have done so in sparring, and as ‘Fulsamee so kindly demonstrated, probably would have hurt myself, or gotten hurt.”
“Always a good reason for everything.”
“Believe me, I wanted to join the fight. It’s against my nature sit and watch others do things for me. But like I said, with the power of leadership comes the responsibility of keeping each one of you safe to the best of my abilities, and that comes before my own personal wants and needs.” Silverclaw’s face fell into shadow as they entered the forest, and were on the path home.
“Good. Now, let’s be getting home.” Silverclaw turned forward again and redoubled his pace. The pack lagged slightly behind, as each successive row of raptors realized what was happening, then caught up.
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren
“Yes if I know my mate, and I do, there’s not much that can stop him.”
“I know, but he said he’d be home before night on the second day. And it’s almost nighttime. It makes me wonder if he hasn’t run into trouble.”
“What trouble can bother Silverclaw?”
“Da! Where did you come from?”
“Behind you, Brightfrost. I didn’t expect you to notice.”
“Don’t do that to me. I hate it when you sneak up on me.”
“You always have. But what are you and Ava going on about? Has Silverclaw found himself in a sticky situation?”
“I hope not. I am getting old, Quickclaw, and I worry more now.”
“You shouldn’t, Ava. Silverclaw has grown up to be a very responsible and alert raptor.” Jokingly, he continued, “Not like Brightfrost. I could bounce an apple off her head and she wouldn’t notice.”
“Yes I would!” Brightfrost frowned. “I may or may not have had such an encounter with an apple.”
“I knew I could get Drith to do it.”
“You told him to?”
“Of course I did. Granted, that was years ago, and he was young, well, younger, he’s not very old, but no, he was only too happy to pitch one your way.”
“Well, I shall have to have a talk with him when he gets back.”
“Something you’ve always done well. Maybe not specifically at Drith, but on the larger scale. Your perception is... not there, but you’ve got thinking skills like I and Ava only wish we had.”
“They tell me that’s why I’m barely twenty four and on the Council.”
“That’s most of it.”
“And I gave them a good word for you.”
“You weren’t even here when I was elected to Council, Silvershade.”
“So, I’m still Alpha Female, which trumps your Council membership.”
“But I still have the power of the Council behind me.”
“You still haven’t given me a reasonable answer as to why Silverclaw is still not here. It’s getting darker.”
“Please, Ava, relax. He has the Leader’s Blade and a good forty nine raptors with him. There isn’t a grand lot that can stop them.”
Ava sighed. “Fine, but I won’t be happy until he’s where I can see him.”
“I doubt you’ll have long to wait.”
Quickclaw’s prediction was tested, as the three raptors stood in the twilit field, waiting. Slowly, the sun sank closer to the horizon. As the very last of the day faded, a cool breeze started up.
“Doesn’t that feel nice after a long, hot day in the sun.”
“It does, and... it brings more than relief to me.”
“And what might that be, Brightfrost?”
“You can’t smell them?”
“I...” Quickclaw stopped short, suddenly catching the distinct and not altogether pleasant smell of forty raptors who have just put a long, hard day behind them.
“Yes, Ava - let’s go meet them!”
The quartet tore off across the darkened field to the path that Silverclaw had traveled two days earlier.
“Ha! I may be old, but I’ll beat you there, Brightfrost!”
“You will not!”
But both were outstripped by Ava and Silvershade, as they ran to meet her first-hatched son and mate.
“Well then - second place!”
Quickclaw and Brightfrost arrived seconds behind Ava and Silvershade, but were no less happily greeted, along with the raptors that had not gone to the Dinosaur Olympics, and were just as eager to rejoin their mates.
In the midst of the small celebration, ‘Fulsamee stood stock still, as he had left his friends and mate behind, in a forest that was almost beyond recollection. A few feet away, talking with his father, Silverclaw turned his head just enough to see ‘Fulsamee standing alone. His face was expressionless, but Silverclaw could read the pain he felt, remembering what he could not now be a part of. Silverclaw recalled what he’d learned about ‘Fulsamee - that he had once led his own pack, had done so for a few years, and could only imagine what it must feel like, to be in the middle of the joyous Brightclaw pack, and to be without those he had loved, maybe, probably, still loved.
“What were you looking at?”
After a few minutes, the raptors filtered off, a few at a time, to sleep. Every one of them was more than ready to be home and in their own nest.
M I S S I O N F I N A L
As the sun rose, inexorably, into the sky, ‘Fulsamee stretched, yawned, and got up. He was pleased to see that it was still very early, and that he had not woken last again. ‘Ornamee was still asleep, just a couple feet away. Deciding not to wake him, ‘Fulsamee left the clearing and made his way down the path. However, instead of making the right turn that would have taken him onto the Athletic Field, he chose to go straight ahead, down a path that he had not traversed before.
Fifty feet down the path, ‘Fulsamee noticed another, smaller path leading off into the forest. On a whim, he took it, and quickly discovered that it had not been used in some time, as the forest had begun to reclaim the once well-packed dirt and neat edging. Undaunted, he continued on, and was soon rewarded by a distant roaring sound. After a few more feet, he came out into a large clearing, one side of which culminated in, as he stood on its edge, a long drop to the valley floor below. The roaring he had heard, had not stopped, and now ‘Fulsamee could see that it was emanating from a large waterfall, that was also part of the cliff he was now standing on, and fell a great distance to join a river at the bottom of the cliff.
The drop was dizzying, but looking out, ‘Fulsamee was entranced by the amazing view with which he was presented. From the base of his cliff, and for mile upon uncountable mile into the distance stretched a vast landscape. Nearest ‘Fulsamee was the wide, rushing river, and the edge of the forest. From then on was all rolling, grassy hills. A low morning fog hung over the valley, and added an almost ethereal feel to the vista.
He stood there, motionless, as the sun rose still higher, burning away the fog and revealing, far in the distance, half hidden by the hills, the iridescent towers and gleaming white buildings of a large city.
“Wonderful view, isn’t it?”
Silverclaw walked up behind ‘Fulsamee, then stood beside him and took in the sight.
Slowly, ‘Fulsamee said, “Yes... it is.”
“I like to come out here in the mornings, too. I’m surprised you found your way out here, the path is so overgrown.”
“I wondered about it - there must not be many who stand here.”
“No, there aren’t.”
They spent the next few minutes in silence.
Finally, Silverclaw said, “Are you ready to get started with your day?”
As if waking from a dream, ‘Fulsamee turned around, straightened up, and said, “I am. Lead the way.”
Together, they walked back down the hidden path, and onto the wider and much-used path to the Athletic Field. However, Silverclaw turned right onto another path that ran close to the Field. This led them, eventually, right into V’lain’s kitchen, where the cook and his assistants were already hard at work.
It was only a few seconds before V’lain took notice of their arrival and walked over, saying, “Good morning Silverclaw! What can I get you?”
“Oh, I don't know... surprise us.”
“Us?” V’lain seemed not to have noticed ‘Fulsamee, standing next to Silverclaw.
“Yes. I brought ‘Fulsamee along this morning.”
“Okay. Two minutes...”
As V’lain strode off, Silverclaw leaned closer to ‘Fulsamee and whispered, “I do get the occasional break.”
‘Fulsamee just nodded.
They waited patiently for a minute, until V’lain and one of his assistants came back, each with a small tray, on which sat the makings of a light but hearty breakfast - several pieces of meat, a scone, and a tumbler containing a steaming drink.
“There you are. Enjoy!” And with that, V’lain dove back into the more than slightly chaotic workings of his kitchen.
“Why don’t we go somewhere less... active to eat?”
So ‘Fulsamee and Silverclaw took their trays, and found a perfectly sized boulder, three feet high and almost that wide and deep not twenty feet further down the path. They set their food upon the rock, and ate.
After they had finished, Silverclaw said, “I seem to remember a certain someone challenging another someone to a sparring match when we got back. And we are now home, so I do wonder when this match will occur.”
“That was a really roundabout way to ask me when I would fight Drith.”
“So what? When is it?”, Silverclaw asked eagerly.
“I never made plans for it. I suppose I should talk to Keljev, he runs the Field, doesn’t he?”
“Yes he does. Let’s go do that.”
Silverclaw set off at a blazing walk for the Athletic Field, with ‘Fulsamee close behind. They found Keljev, predictably, in the middle of the field, scribbling madly on a sheet of paper.
“Oh, hello Silverclaw, ‘Fulsamee. What brings you my way so early?”
“Do you remem- no, you weren’t there. ‘Fulsamee has challenged Drith to a sparring match, and I should like to see it run today. Can you fit them in?”
“You couldn’t have timed the question any better.” Flipping his clipboard their way, he said, “This is the day’s event schedule. I’ve been rearranging things since I got up. And... if I just do a bit more rearranging...”
Before he could make the changes, Silverclaw said, “No, don’t. I don’t want to to have to rework something you’ve been going at for this long. ‘Fulsamee can wait.”
Giving Silverclaw an unconcerned look, Keljev replied, “It’s nothing. I redid it once, I can do it again. And besides...” He pointed at ‘Fulsamee. “HE is worth it.”
“I am not. It’s a personal deal anyways, I’ll just--”
Interrupting, Keljev said, “You will do nothing of the sort, whatever it may have been. Do you realize that before you beat him, Fireclaw had a seventeen-match winning streak going? He’s really good at sparring. And you come in, cool as you like, and toast him! Incredible! I’ll tell you what, that shut up a lot of the people who were skeptical about you joining us. You are very worth remaking this little schedule. And I will not hear an argument against it.”
“Fine. Have it your way.”
“Oh I will! Here, if I do this...”, he made several marks on the page, “I can give you a nice long half-hour sparring match. And it doesn’t require much rearranging, either. Will it be enough time?”
“Good. Now for the surprise: go find Drith, I want you in the circle in an hour.”
“Where should I start?”
“No idea. Ask Silverclaw.”
Silverclaw said, “Tell you what. I have to get to my leaderly duties soon, but Drith is most likely out behind the Council Ring, where the council members sleep. Good luck.”
Silverclaw left, somewhat hurriedly.
“What are you waiting for? Go get him!”
With this urging behind him, ‘Fulsamee ran off to the council ring. When he got there, it only took him a few seconds to find a path leading around the perimeter of the half-round, sunken area. The path led through some dense tree cover, and into a large clearing. In it were seven raptors, but, looking around, ‘Fulsamee did not see Drith. He did recognize one of the raptors, though, and thought that he might know.
“Sorry to bother you so early, Quickclaw... but I’m looking for Drith. Silverclaw said he might be in here... but I don’t see him.”
“Drith? Oh... he left just a few minutes ago. I think he said he was hungry.”
‘Fulsamee thought, “Hungry. I wonder if he’s gone to the kitchen?”
And he walked out of the council members’ clearing, and down a path that was becoming steadily more familiar to him. The kitchen, as it turned out, was more or less in the middle of everything, meaning it never took long to get there.
However, ‘Fulsamee was not given much of chance to look around, as he was immediately accosted by an irate V’lain.
“What are you doing back here?! I just gave you breakfast!”
Holding up both claws defensively, ‘Fulsamee said, “I’m just looking around.”
“Not what, who. Quickclaw told me that Drith might be here.”
“Well... he was. He came by not five minutes ago, and wanted breakfast. So, that being his first time to visit me, I gave it to him, and he left.”
“Any idea where he went?”
“None. I make a habit of not sticking my nose into places it doesn’t belong.”
“For what? Now get out!”
Not wanting to upset the cook any more, ‘Fulsamee walked off the premises. Once safely away, he reviewed his options: Drith wasn’t in the council ring, nor the area behind it, nor the kitchen. There was a limited number of places he could be. One of them was the Athletic Field. ‘Fulsamee decided to go check it.
When he arrived back on the Field, a decent number of raptors had already begun various events, though they seemed to be just practices, as very few spectators were around. On the edge of the Field, he saw Keljev, and a line of raptors waiting to schedule events, or so ‘Fulsamee assumed. Easily noticeable in the line was Drith, as he stood much taller than everyone else. ‘Fulsamee walked up to him and said, “Hello. What are you here for?”
“Well, nothing now. I wanted to find out if you had set up our match with Keljev, but I’ll get the same answer from you. Did you?”
“Yes, Silverclaw and I stopped by maybe half an hour ago.”
“Good.” Drith stepped out of the line, and the people behind him moved up.
“Keljev put us in kind of early, too: it’s in... well, now about half an hour.”
“Really?” Drith looked surprised.
“Yeah... he seemed excited about it. And, are you going to stick around here until the match, or where should I go looking for you?”
“I might as well stay here.”
“I’ll do the same.”
And so they waited. It wasn’t too long before Keljev’s line shrank down to four, then two, then none, and with a few final scratches on his clipboard, he was off. They waited, and waited, the sun rose a little higher, and finally, Drith said, “Well, what do you think? Time to go?”
“Yeah. Better to be early than late.”
The two proceeded across the field to the sparring circles, two of which held practicing raptors. They had not long to wait before Keljev and a small knot of spectators showed up.
“All ready, then?”
Without waiting for a response, Keljev continued on, “Of course you are. Just a few people to watch this one, but that’s fine. I like small crowds. Anyways, here we go!” To the patiently waiting raptors, Keljev said, “Okay! Second event of the day is a specially slated sparring match between ‘Fulsamee and Drith!” Back to the two now-competitors, he said, “Pick a circle, there.”
When both raptors were within circle two, Keljev said, “Here we go. On my mark - FOUR... THREE... TWO... ONE... MARK!!”
Determined not to allow Drith another easy win, ‘Fulsamee kept his distance, on the very edge of the circle. The air was rife with tension, as the two raptors circled slowly, each looking for an opening, something to attack. After a minute or so of this, ‘Fulsamee gave up patient strategy and charged Drith.
Ready for the sudden move, Drith waited the second it took ‘Fulsamee to get close enough to slice at him, then sidestepped. ‘Fulsamee had been expecting this, though, and pushed off with his right foot, and his momentum made for a nasty impact with Drith’s side.
Drith was unable to maintain his balance, and the two raptors fell, but the competition only intensified. Seeking to end the match quickly, ‘Fulsamee went for Drith’s throat, but fell short of his goal, as Drith swatted his reaching claw away. The younger raptor grabbed ‘Fulsamee with both arms and legs, and used him as a counterweight, rolling forward, then throwing him off and standing up. The move was well executed and sent ‘Fulsamee sliding several feet.
Also getting up, ‘Fulsamee decided that the match had to end soon, and so he backed up a couple more feet, got a very short running start, and leapt high and forward. As he kicked off, he tipped forward so that as he flew through the air, he also performed a neat somersault. Time once again seemed to slow as he rolled through the air, and saw Silverclaw, at a strange angle, then Fireclaw, looking amazed, and upside down. ‘Fulsamee’s line of sight was cut off then, as he passed less than two feet above Drith’s head. Drith tried to swing backwards, to knock ‘Fulsamee down, but the jump had come so suddenly that he had not had the time to react, and ‘Fulsamee was able to land a solid, powerful blow to the back of his head. ‘Fulsamee, still in his somersault, lost sight of Drith as he finished the roll, and landed squarely on his feet. He turned around just in time to see Drith hit the ground, unconscious.
Though he knew Drith couldn’t hear him, ‘Fulsamee said, “And now... it’s my turn. I win.”
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren
Several days passed in which ‘Fulsamee did little more than exist, engaging in games or practices seldomly. He was weighed down by something that had been gnawing away at the back of his mind for a long time, and now it could not be ignored. His recent stint as Silverclaw’s assistant leader had reanimated a spark, and ‘Fulsamee found it difficult to concentrate on other things when his mind was elsewhere - home. Though he had come to call his place within the Brightclaw pack home, ‘Fulsamee had never really distanced himself from his true home, his birthplace, and the place where he had led his own pack. More and more each day, ‘Fulsamee felt his home calling to him. It became almost like a physical pull,and he was unwilling and unable to break its hold on his mind.
The logical parts of ‘Fulsamee’s mind that remained above the memories and the wish to go home knew that the window through which he had come to this place was likely a one-time affair, and he had been simply unlucky enough to fall in. Although... what were the chances of one raptor and one human stumbling upon such a rare occurrence? His home island was very large, and it seemed unlikely that he could have found the only one such window.
This thought was enough to momentarily snap ‘Fulsamee out of his reverie and get him out in the bright sunshine of the Athletic Field. ‘Fulsamee could not help wondering... what if there were more ? What if he could go back?
He set out looking for the eldest raptor in the pack - Fennark. One his age had seen much of the world, and ‘Fulsamee decided that the wise old raptor would be a good place to start. He found Fennark in V’lain’s kitchens.
“Fennark! Do you have a moment?”
The old raptor turned slowly and said, “I have many moments. One of them I can spare for you, ‘Fulsamee. What do you need?”
‘Fulsamee motioned for Fennark to leave the kitchens, and the two walked towards the Field, talking as they went.
“You were told how ‘Ornamee and I arrived here, correct?”
“Yes. A very strange tale it was.”
“Have you ever heard of similar occurrences?”
Fennark stopped and bowed his head, deep in thought. After several seconds he said, “I have not. But I have heard of saurians and humans alike vanishing without a trace, and of saurians and humans appearing without a trace. It could well be that there are more, portals? than just the one you came through.” He paused again, then said, “You wish to leave the Brightclaw?”
Taken aback by the elder’s insight, ‘Fulsamee carefully replied, “I do not wish to leave any of you behind. Your pack has treated myself and ‘Ornamee better than I could ever have expected, and more importantly, placed in us their trust. But ever does my home call to me... the thoughts of the pack I disappeared from... I do wish to return to them.”
Fennark nodded sympathetically. “I understand. If you truly are ready to leave us, you may search for one of these portals and, if possible, return home. However,” and his voice sharpened, “I require that you think of what you have just said: we have placed our trust in you. Is your desire to return home greater than your duties to the Brightclaw?”
‘Fulsamee was silent.
“I leave you to decide this on your own. It is ultimately your decision to leave or not. If you do decide to leave, though, the Council must know beforehand.”
Fennark turned and walked back the way they had came, leaving ‘Fulsamee to think over what he had just said.
And think he did, about his arrival, how he had been treated then, about his first day of the Field, his battle with Fireclaw, fighting the invaders with Riftor, the wonderful smells of V’lain’s kitchens, Silverclaw and his sword, and of the Dinosaur Olympics. He thought deeply about how kindly he and ‘Ornamee had been treated, taken in almost without question, given food, lodging, and most importantly, the trust of the pack.
Could ‘Fulsamee and ‘Ornamee leave it all behind?
The answer was of course, yes. Their... no. ‘Fulsamee could not force ‘Ornamee to leave with him. ‘Ornamee would have to decide on his own. But ‘Fulsamee knew that his duties to his pack, one that he had led, and lived with almost his entire life far outweighed his duties to a pack he had known existed for a matter of months. There could be no argument. He had to go back, or at least try.
D I V E R G E N T P A T H S
“‘FULSAMEE!” Silverclaw ran up to him from where he had been watching events on the Athletic Field. “I’ve been told that you might be leaving us?”
Dismayed that the news had traveled so fast, ‘Fulsamee replied, “Well, in the short form, yes.” He took the next ten minutes explaining himself.
“I see.” Silverclaw did not look at all pleased. “It is entirely your decision to leave or not, and although I am sure it is useless to try and persuade you to stay at this point, I would like to say that you will be greatly missed, ‘Fulsamee. In your admittedly short stay with the Brightclaw you have contributed much, made many friends, and few enemies. It is an accomplishment difficult to repeat. Having said that, and as much as I would prefer you remained with us, I think I know where your heart lies. You are going back, you will find a way back, and no one will stop you. Do not tell me you had not already made this decision. You know you had. You know where you must return to.” Silverclaw paused. “I would like to give you this, in reminder of the Brightclaw, and so that our spirit may travel with you wherever you might be.”
Silverclaw held out a shining shard of bluish white sunstone. It had a small metal binding from which it hung on a polished chain.
‘Fulsamee accepted the sunstone piece, and hung it around his neck, a reminder of where he had been and the raptors he had met.
Silverclaw said, “If you wish to leave quietly and without ceremony, then do so, and your absence will be explained.”
At this point ‘Fulsamee could manage only “Thank you.” Silverclaw nodded, and silently walked back out onto the Field.
‘Fulsamee contemplated what he had just been told, then remembered that he still had to find ‘Ornamee and offer him the chance to return.
Several minutes of searching found ‘Ornamee competing in a sparring match against a raptor his size. ‘Fulsamee found a spot in the circle of spectators, and watched the remainder of the event. The two rolled and tumbled, vying for control of the other, and suddenly, that control was won. The young raptor, who ‘Fulsamee did not know, found himself flat out on the ground, unable to rise. The match was called, and ‘Fulsamee caught ‘Ornamee’s eye as the small crowd dissipated.
“What’s up, ‘Fulsamee?”
“Walk with me.”
Having distanced himself and ‘Ornamee from the hearing of others, ‘Fulsamee explained himself for the third time that day, finishing with, “I can not and will not force you to accompany me. That is a decision you must make.”
‘Ornamee thought, sighed, and said, “I will remain.”
‘Fulsamee nodded. ‘Ornamee did not have the weight of leadership on his shoulders, and he had made many good friends in the Brightclaw.
“Then I wish you the best of luck here. I leave soon, so this may be the last time I see you.”
“I wish you the same.”
‘Fulsamee turned and headed out for the forest path that had led him to the Brightclaw, in reality not long ago, but it seemed like ages. He crossed the Field, turned onto a smaller path, went past the nests at the hill’s top, and down to the path. From here ‘Fulsamee was not entirely sure where to start looking. However, the place the first portal had been seemed like a good place to start, so it was there he went.
‘Fulsamee searched the area thoroughly for any sign of a discontinuity in the air that would reveal a portal to him, but found none. So he walked deeper into the forest. And deeper. And deeper still, finding nothing. ‘Fulsamee was beginning to think it was a useless venture when his eyes caught faintest glimmer of a wet leaf. Not unusual in a forest, but for that the Brightclaw’s part of the Rainy Basin had failed to live up to its name and had been dry and sunny for nearly a week. He walked towards the wet leaf, and saw that there were many more like it... but that these leaves existed only within a small, oval shape in the air - a portal.
‘Fulsamee smiled. He had found a way home. Just as he was about to reach forward and enter the portal, he heard someone, or something, come crashing through the underbrush. ‘Fulsamee looked around, trying to find the source of the noise, when suddenly a mix of dark red and blue came barreling out of a clump of shrubs and directly into ‘Fulsamee. The impact threw both him and his attacker into the portal.
S L I G H T L Y R E M O V E D
‘Fulsamee tumbled in the black space within the portal, feeling his extremities dissolving and being flung away, dust on a blazing wind. The wind wore away his tail, his legs, his body, and finally his head disintegrated, rushing homeward.
Several seconds passed, though to the disassembled ‘Fulsamee, they could have been an eternity. But finally he felt himself coming back together, bit by bit, until he was dumped out of the portal, landing heavily on his side. He did not get the chance to stand, however, as the red-blue blur came tumbling out of the portal even as it closed forever and landed on him.
“Fireclaw! What are you doing here!?”
Fireclaw stood and allowed ‘Fulsamee to do the same, then said, “I wanted to come with you.”
“So why did you knock me through?”
“Because I knew you would not have let me come here.” Fireclaw sniffed the air, learning its secrets.
‘Fulsamee was left without words for a full minute. Finally he pulled together his thoughts and said, “Did you tell anyone you were leaving?”
“Yes. Silverclaw knows, and he approved.”
‘Fulsamee sighed. “And you did not ask me.”
Fireclaw hung his head, ashamed of what he had done.
‘Fulsamee continued, “But it matters not. You are here now, and although I don’t mind you traveling with me, I will not help you find another portal home, if one exists.”
Fireclaw brightened up. “That’s fine. I had intended on coming with you anyway.”
“I noticed.” ‘Fulsamee dropped his aggravated air and smiled. “I will rejoin my pack and you will be taken in much like I was taken in to your home pack.”
“Thank you. But..” Fireclaw looked around. “Where are they?”
‘Fulsamee also looked around, and said, “I have no idea. First we need to figure out where on the island we are, then I can find them.”
Looking around, ‘Fulsamee saw that he was in the middle of a rather densely wooded area. Small chitterings and calls echoed through the tall trees. The worst part of the place was that ‘Fulsamee could think of a dozen other forests like it - and therefore useless as far as figuring out where they were. So ‘Fulsamee picked a random direction and headed that way. Sooner or later, he would find something unique.
Unfortunately for the two raptors, the first unique something they ran into was a very large and very angry Tyrannosaur.
“Fireclaw? Ready... RUN!!”
And they ran, around trees, through the underbrush, over puddles and streams and finally right to the edge of a cliff. ‘Fulsamee and Fireclaw skidded to a stop inches from a long drop. ‘Fulsamee looked around, the Tyrannosaur was right behind them and jumping down was not a good idea.
Fireclaw said, “Look! Follow me!” and dashed off twenty feet further along the edge, then hopped into a tall tree that had grown right near the cliff. ‘Fulsamee followed, trying very hard not to find out exactly how high up off the ground he was. A roar from the cliff announced the arrival of their pursuer, but the dinosaur decided they were either too small or too fast, and not worth the trouble. It turned and stomped back into the forest, leaving the two raptors standing on the thick branches of their tree, hearts pounding at their very near escape.
“One thing I forgot to mention, Fireclaw: on this island, no one wants to talk - if they’re bigger than you, they probably would like to make a meal of you.”
“Great. Nothing at all like Dinotopia here, is it?”
“Nope. The only ones who won’t try to take a chunk out of you are the other raptors, but even then, there are a few packs that I’ve never gotten along with.”
“So we’re looking for raptors, one specific pack of raptors, on an island that wants us dead?”
“More or less.”
Fireclaw simply shook his head.
“Well, not getting far in this tree, are we? See a way down?”
Fireclaw looked around, and said, “Other than a straight drop... Ha. Follow me again.”
So ‘Fulsamee did, and he did his best to keep behind Fireclaw, who was jumping from tree to tree to tree. Each jump brought him closer to the ground, and a few times, he turned and hopped back on a tree he’d been in already, but on a lower branch. Closer and closer they got, until Fireclaw paused on one branch, and not seeing him stop, ‘Fulsamee followed, landing on the same branch. This particular branch was not sturdy enough to hold two raptors, and with a loud crack, they were sent tumbling to the ground.
Fortunately, it was only a ten-foot drop, and neither was hurt.
“Good job Fireclaw.”
“Thank you. Now where are we going?”
‘Fulsamee looked around, and said nothing. In the distance, ‘Fulsamee could make out the sharp angles and shining metal of a human building. A familiar human building.
Without another word, ‘Fulsamee ran for the structure.
“’Fulsamee! Where-” Fireclaw gave up and chased after him.
S P E C T E R
‘Fulsamee knew the place - it was his home. Dull gray metal, some parts overgrown with moss and creeping vines, the human building had once performed some obscure task, but it had been ‘Fulsamee’s home right up until his stay with the Brightclaw.
As ‘Fulsamee ran, a strange scent drifted across the air. It smelled of stale air - odd, considering he was in an open field. The smell faded quickly and ‘Fulsamee continued, thoughts of his pack driving him forward like nothing else could. He was now under the looming shadow of the building.
‘Fulsamee came under the first of three huge steel arches, the entrance to the building. Then the second, the third, and as he entered the cleared out area that stood directly before the doors to the building, a single raptor stepped out form around the corner. He was absorbed in thought and did not see him, and he could not stop in time, plowing right into the first, which he managed to recognize as his friend and ‘Ornamee’s partner-in-crime, ‘Firnomee.
‘Fulsamee crashed into ‘Firnomee, and the force of his impact sent them both skidding several feet on their sides. ‘Fulsamee picked himself up, and offered ‘Firnomee a claw up, and it was then that his friend recognized him.
“‘Fulsamee?” ‘Firnomee dropped his claw. “I thought you were dead.” He smiled wide. “It’s good to see you again, old boy!” ‘Firnomee was just a year younger than ‘Fulsamee, but he still managed to jump to his feet. As he did so, clouds obscured the sun, and a fog rolled in on a sudden, high wind. “You see this?”, said ‘Firnomee, gesturing to the fog, “This is some very strange weather we’ve been having lately, and, well..... Some even stranger ocurrences.”
‘Fulsamee looked around. The fog had become thicker and hid everything beyond a few feet in any direction. “What ocurrences?”
“About a week after you vanished, we began hearing of attacks on different packs and species.”
‘Fulsamee snorted. “That’s nothing new.”
“I know. It wouldn’t normally be anything we would care about - except that the attackers were, are... some new creature. Something we haven’t seen before.”
This news troubled ‘Fulsamee, as he had made a point of maintaining just short of perfect information on every group of dinosaurs on the island. His surveillance system had been unparalled. What had he missed?
As if he knew what ‘Fulsamee was thinking, ‘Firnomee said, “I don’t think it is by any fault of yours that we don’t know about these creatures. They have just started appearing, but we have had very few chances to observe them. The summary of what information I have runs like this: The attack pattern seems to be more or less random, not targeted at any specific species or pack, but seemly at the entire island’s population. During an attack, a small number of these creatures assault the targeted group of dinosaurs, killing most. However not all the bodies are ever accounted for, not even skeletal remains, which seems odd.”
‘Fulsamee thought about this. “Abduction?”
‘Firnomee nodded. “That’s what I think. Why and where to no one has any idea. The last, and worst, bit of information I have for you is that we have been attacked twice. We’ve lost three raptors, and two have gone missing. You want names?”
‘Fulsamee bowed his head. “No. We have how many left?”
“I trust the dead have been properly honored.”
“Good. Then we’ll need to figure out a solution to this problem, but first I need to introduce you to someone.”
Then ‘Fulsamee turned to the young, blue-striped raptor who had been patiently waiting to be noticed. “This is Fireclaw. He comes from the faraway island of Dinotopia, and it would be my pleasure to introduce him into our pack.”
‘Firnomee nodded, then looked back at ‘Fulsamee. “Hard worker?”
Taken slightly aback, ‘Fulsamee managed a quick response. “Very much so.”
“Level headed, but not the quietest raptor I’ve ever met. Friendly and a fair competitor.”
“That’s one of them, fast runner, agile...” ‘Fulsamee squinted at Fireclaw, trying to prize forth another favorable detail. “Very good at sparring.”
“Wonderful.” ‘Firnomee clasped his hands together. “It is my pleasure, then, as Secondary Pack Leader, to introduce you into our pack as Dena Fireclaw.
Fireclaw looked surprised for a moment, but said, “Thank you.” He turned to ‘Fulsamee. “No test, initiation ritual, anything like that?”
‘Firnomee answered for ‘Fulsamee, “If we had the time to properly introduce you into the pack, we would. But this is a time of great danger, and we cannot spare the hours and perhaps days such an event would require.”
Fireclaw opened his mouth to answer, and suddenly a harsh scream rang out across the clearing.
‘Firnomee’s eyes widened, and he said, “Quickly! Come with me!”
Before ‘Fulsamee could protest the raptor had dashed off and he and Fireclaw had no choice but to follow. ‘Firnomee led them into the building, down a flight of stairs, through a hallway, and finally into a medium-sized room with rows of dark panels attached to the walls. Once both were inside, ‘Firnomee slammed the heavy door behind them and twisted a small mechanism. Something mechanical hissed and clicked into place.
“I apologize for the hasty retreat but there is not much time. You’re about to get your chance to-”
He broke off in mid-sentence as heavy footfalls sounded somewhere nearby. A small clear panel set in the door allowed him to peek outside and see what was causing all the racket. Looking around, ‘Firnomee saw nothing... nothing...
Something huge crashed to the floor nearby, and the building shook.
‘Firnomee swore and tried harder to see what was outside. The footfalls stopped suddenly. A large, pale blue eye set in a dark colored head sized to match lowered to peer in from the hallway. It is was looking directly at ‘Firnomee. He froze, not daring to breathe. A sharp snort came from the creature outside, and then the massive head withdrew. ‘Firnomee sighed and turned back to face ‘Fulsamee and Fireclaw.
The heavy steel door was blasted off its hinges into the room, slamming into ‘Firnomee. Door and raptor flew across the room, crashing into ‘Fulsamee and leaving Fireclaw to watch as a raptor, or something that looked like a raptor, ducked into the room. It was easily twice his size, and looked extremely solid. The creature observed the door it had destroyed and the raptors knocked senseless under it, then turned its gaze on Fireclaw. Fireclaw shuddered involuntarily under the eyes of the huge beast.
Quick as a flash, the creature lunged forward and Fireclaw found himself in its iron grip, and was unceremoniously dragged from the room. His head struck the doorframe on the way out, and he too fell unconscious.
Any kind of benign success was never worth having - much much better to fail magnificently. -malcom mclaren