|Saar lay on the ground next to the body of Herak. Nobody would ever understand the deep hole that now filled her life. Herak had meant something to that that nobody else ever could. Deep sorrow pulled her into a bottomless pit and despair rushed into her. The allosaur shuddered a long, deep sigh. Saurians could not cry actual tears and Saar would have if she could. Instead, she expressed her deep pain in the way all saurians did; she howled the long, heartbreaking song of mourning that was understood in any language.
After many hours, exhaustion claimed her and she welcomed its dark embrace.
It was dark and raining when Saar awoke again. She huddled closer to the now cold body of her former leader. The mourning allosaur was now beyond crying out, beyond caring for anything. She merely lay there, protecting the body of the once formidable leader.
Saar didn't bother to even look up when she heard approaching footsteps. What did it matter what they did as long as they left Herak alone? Someone neared her and cleared their throat a little. Barely moving her eye, Saar saw that it was Moves-like-the-wind. She vaguely remembered the crimson and yellow raptor from Waterfall City. Something about this raptor triggered a response.
"What are you doing here?" Saar growled, bitterness and hatred in her voice. Yes, she now remembered this raptor; she was the one who had killed Herak!
"I know there is nothing I can do to ease your pain, but I came to tell you how sorry I am. I never meant to kill him, I only wanted to save my friends." Azonthus didn't appear nervous to be near the allosaur; perhaps she welcomed death.
"Sorry? You killed my…leader, and all you can say is sorry?" Saar rose to her formidable height and stared down at the small raptor. "You will never know what you have taken from me. What is there to keep me from destroying you right now?" Anger and rage quickly grasped Saar and filled her with a blood lust similar to what Herak must have felt.
"Nothing." The raptor gazed evenly back at the allosaur. "Nothing except yourself. If you kill me now, it will be in anger and you would later regret it. I know you can be better than Herak."
"Better than Herak? He was more than you will ever be." Saar knew her words to be harsh, but didn't stop herself. She didn't care if she hurt this raptor, she deserved it.
"You're right," the raptor said, "I never will be Herak. I'll never drive a clan from their lands or take over a helpless city. I'll never destroy a life merely for the land that it owned. And if you kill others, that will be your first step to being like him."
Saar could only stand amazed at the raptors words. No, this raptor no longer feared anything…
"The real reason I came," the raptor continued, "was to find out what will happen to your tribe. Who will lead them and where will they go? In Waterfall City, I sensed that you were different than Herak. Is it you who will lead?"
Saar suddenly found the tables turned. This raptor was trying to push responsibility on her! But still… what would happen? She had lead once before, would the allos welcome her back?
"I suppose I would lead," she began. "We would return to our clans grounds and live there I suppose."
"You mean return to stolen land," the raptor stated.
Stolen? Saar had never thought of it that way. She had always considered the C'xsaan lands a prize that had been won through battle. But how did the C'xsaan feel about it? The allos really had taken their home from them. Now what?
"I'll leave you alone," the raptor said. "Apparently you're not who I thought you were." She turned her back and calmly walked back through the rain to the Sanctuary, leaving a very confused allosaur behind.
Saar didn't notice the red raptor depart. She had withdrawn deep inside herself, and no longer sat beside the stilled Allosaur. She was a hatchling again, running ahead of her parents, jumping and leaping, trying to catch the brightly colored beetles that filled the air. Turning back, she saw her parents, and smiled. They leaned against each other as they walked, clearly showing their affection for each other. "Come on!" she chirped, hopping with excitement, "We're almost there!"
C'xoila stalked through the jungle. He had seen the look on Azonthus' face after she had killed Herak, but had known that it was not the right time to talk to her. He had to find her, before she drowned in her own sadness. C'xoila sighed, pushing away another branch. She could be anywhere, he thought to himself, "Maybe by H-h-Herak's body…" making his way towards the former battleground. Herak's body was the only one that had been left where it fell, and soon C'xoila began to hear noises. Breaking into a jog, C'xoila made his way to the clearing, and then stopped to look at the scene. It wasn't Az making the noises; it was Saar. C'xoila had lost most of his fear for the Allosaur, and tiptoed closer. Saar appeared to be sleeping beside the remains of her old tribe leader, but her mouth was moving, and strange mumblings were coming out. "Yes father, I had a good time…" she slurred. Her face had the expression of a happy dreamer, and the mumblings continued, "Mother, father, can we come again?" C'xoila sat beside his friend, just looking at her and listening.
Father and mother had gone out for a walk in a neighboring clan's land. They always went on walks together, thought Saar. They loved each other very much. When evening came around, Saar was still waiting for her parents to return. "Where are they!!! Father and mother were gonna tell me a story…" Saar waited till her eyelids were like weights, and she curled up on the ground in front of their cave. "Oh well," she sighed, "Mother and father will be here in the morning." And fell asleep.
As C'xoila watched, Saar's placid features became troubled. "What happened to mother….father….father where's…." Mumbled the Allosaur, her voice getting louder and more scared.
C'xoila reached out and started rocking Saar from side to side, "Wake up Saar! Wake up!" the raptor yelled, and the Allosaur's eyes flew open, not going to C'xoila, but to Herak's dead body. "Father! Father!" she cried out. Saar stared at the Allosaur, mumbling father over and over again, rocking the body with one hand.
"Saar!" yelled C'xoila, breaking the trance. Saar looked startled and finally grasped where she was. Fear coursed through her, now her father's greatest enemy knew her secret! She stared at the deinonych in horror. "You...you... you won't tell, will you?" C'xoila smiled and nodded. "Herek, he is, was, my father."
C'xoila looked down at the ruined leader, a deep wave of sadness and empathy for Saar washing over him.
Saar took a deep breath and continued, "He, he wasn't always evil. Once, he was a good leader, a good father to me and a good mate to my mother." The allosaur stared bleakly at her father and continued, "But one day, there was…an accident. Herek…father, never told me what happened, but he said it was the C'xsann's fault. It happened on C'xsann land, and it was their fault."
C'xoila grew pale. That was the reason why the Allosaurs attacked; because of an accident, an unfortunate accident that could be blamed on no one.
"That is why they attacked your clan. Kindness and love were replaced by madness and hate. But at last it is over. Father can't hurt anyone like he's hurt you or me." Saar paused, as if remembering something, "Which brings me to something very important." Saar stood, shaking the damp off her, then looked down at her friend, "My father's madness, coupled with my people's fear of him stole your clan's lands from you. I wish to put things right. I will restore to you all lands taken from your clan. We will move back to our original territory."
C'xoila stared, open mouthed at this kind act. Totally taken aback, C'xoila responded, "Me, me thank you's very much, Saar. What remains a the C'xsann deeply appreciate what you is doin'." He thought for a moment, "But ta you's own people born in the past 13 years, it be's their land too. Not it be possible, maybe, ta…" C'xoila knew what he was about to say would be difficult, but he truly believed that it could work, "Maybe we's can join our clans."
Now it was Saar's turn to stare, "You, you would be willing to do that?" C'xoila simply nodded. "That would be the best thing to happen to our clans. We have all had too much warring. It is time for peace." C'xoila nodded once more. "But, please, you must lead. I could never do it alone. My people might listen to me, but yours…they would never respect me, at least not at first."
C'xoila gaped. "Lead, but…"
Saar looked at him sadly, "If this is ever to work, you MUST lead with me."
The echoing of Azonthus claws clicking on the stone floor followed her to the surface. Tap, tap, tap. Shiesh, that was annoying! How could the raptors of the sanctuary ever stand that? Az preferred silence. She picked up the pace to a slow jog, but the annoying noise still followed her. Soon, she was running full out.
As her breathing became quick and measured, she burst out of the caves. Not slowing down, she ran through the jungle. Now, running wasn't just to get away from an annoying noise, but to get away from herself. When she ran, Az could forget about the world and just concentrate on where to put her foot, the thrill of the speed, the small breeze blowing past her that she created. Running made the world stop for Azonthus, but she couldn't keep it up forever. Eventually, she had to stop.
Az reached a gully that was too wide for her to jump. Forced to stop, she stood for several moments catching her breath. While she tried to figure out what to do, thoughts of Waterfall City crept into her mind once again.
She snorted in frustration and climbed down into the gully. She didn't want to think about that right now! Still, the thoughts persisted and there was nothing she could do about it. Upon reaching the bottom, she sat down with her back to a tree to try to work things out. She leaned back and closed her eyes.
A small noise caused her to look up and Az saw a figure sitting high up in the same tree she was leaning against.
"C'xoila!" She jumped up, startled. "I, uh... I was just looking for you."
"Me lookin for yous too." C'xoila replied simply. Somersaulting out of the tree, C'xoila landed in front of his friend and sat down so they could see each other face to face. Azonthus could see the look of concern on her friend's face, but also relief of having found her. "Yous okay Azonthus? What happen?" C'xoila had already noticed and was surprised by her newfound reserve and calm. Was this the same raptor he knew before Waterfall City?
"I'm fine, it's just that," she began, but broke off. The terrible aching numbness still hadn't left Azonthus. It filled her so completely that she wondered if she would ever be happy again. Odd that I can be so numb and hurt so much at the same time , she thought without emotion. Everything she did now seemed to matter less and less.
"Zonthus?" C'xoila asked, concern showing clearly in his eyes.
Az looked up, but didn't answer. She had come looking for him, but now that she had found him it didn't seem to matter. She had violated their friendship beyond repair and nothing she could ever say or do would ever make things like they used to be again.
His green eyes caught hers and Azonthus didn't seem to be able to look away, didn't want to. All she could feel was the beating of her heart. At first it seemed weak and dieing but grew stronger and stronger. As Az gazed into the eyes of her once-friend she saw compassion there and, was it really, forgiveness. Yes, she knew he forgave her.
The red raptor stood, feeling herself in a trance. Voices from long ago swirled around her and whispered into her very being. They seemed to be leading her towards something; something only she could find, but didn't know what.
"C'xoila?" she began slowly, "I don't know how you can possibly stand to even look at me, but I don't think that matters any more." She had no idea where she was going with this, but it seemed in the right direction. "My clan needs a new leader and they have chosen me. They don't know what I've become." Despite the pain and the deep hurt that filled her eyes and dug at her heart, her voice remained calm and level. "And if they did, they wouldn't want me."
Finally, she broke eye contact and gazed at the ground, now unable to even look at him. "Herak took your clan from you. I know there is nothing I can do to make up for Waterfall City, but…" she hesitated, "Will you…" The words stuck in her throat and she could hardly believe what she was about to do. She didn't particularly want to lead but, still, it was her clan, her family. "Will you lead my clan?"
No! the voices screamed at her. They filled her with a cold apprehension and dread. Az was on the verge of tears and the numbness threatened to return with its steal-cold grip. This time, if it grasped her again, its grip would be unbreakable.
The response surprised Azonthus. Her friend smiled and chuckled, making her feel a little better despite herself. "No," he answered, still smiling. "Me not lead yous clan. Me have no claim to it."
Relief flooded the troubled velociraptor, yet she was still not sure what to do.
Lead the voices all seemed to come together and whisper the one word.
Lead? How could she? She was a killer! If she led, the entire clan would be in danger.
"Zonthus, yous be good leader. Yous care for others, not jus youself."
"And what makes you think that? I nearly killed you and Fer'dri to save my own worthless life!" her voice hadn't risen in volume, but had quickened in pace.
C'xoila kept on smiling and shook his head. "Yous was willing to die ta keep me safe. Yous try to warn me, but me not listen. Lead yous clan."
"But I… " she was very unsure and confused.
"Yous save Quickstride from Herak," C'xoila's calm attitude cracked for a brief moment; his body shivered visibly to speak the name of his enemy.
"I …" Az was at a loss. What could she say? Words didn't begin to describe how she felt.
Lead whispered within her again, this time stronger.
"Zonthus, yous clan needs yous an yous bein selfish! All yous can think of is how bad yous is and that no one want yous round anymore." C'xoila's smile broke into a large grin, "But that not true! You's honest, an kind, an smart. You is juss' what you's clan needs." C'xoila grin twisted itself into a smirk, as if he was thinking of a private joke Azonthus didn't know.
"What is it?" she asked quietly, sitting down again.
C'xoila chuckled, "Is juss' that even if me thought it-a been right for me ta be you's clan's leader, me can't!" the chuckle turned to a laugh and Azonthus tilted her head to look at her friend, all not being clear. "Me, me is sittin' here because me have a slight problem a me own. As it said, great minds think alike!"
Azonthus smiled for the first time, an almost imperceptible, cautious smile, but one none the less. In the same soft voice as before, Azonthus asked, "What is bothering you my, my f-friend?"
C'xoila smiled at the word friend, and continued, "Me could not possibly lead you's clan, because me already has one to lead!"
Azonthus was confused for a moment, already has a clan to lead?
C'xoila continued, "Saar wants me ta lead with her, ta make our new clan great, not by conquest, but by intelligence an good will."
Azonthus let a small smile grow on her face, and responded in her now reserved style, "C'xoila, that is a great honor, one that you deserve. Congratulations!" She was quite happy for her friend. When she said he deserved it, she meant it.
C'xoila smiled, but Azonthus saw it was an un-sure smile and recognized it as one she herself had used many times in the past few months. "What's wrong?" she asked, looking up at the Deinonychus.
C'xoila's grin turned sickly, "Me is not sure me can lead. Me not know how ta lead!" C'xoila's wan smile fell, being replaced by a thoughtful, worried look. "Me is a machinist, an engineer, an artificer Az. You's know that. Me is not a leader, me is more at home in a workshop, not leadin' a clan!"
Azonthus looked down and let out a small chuckle. Turning her head back up to meet her friend's eyes, she replied, "C'xoila, how can you say that? You are more apt to lead then me! I did ask you to lead the Sharpclaw, after all."
C'xoila's sickly grin returned and he shook his head.
"I am serious! You are all those things you've said of me! Honest, kind, smart. You are all the things I have ceased to be. Hardly honest to you, kind by capturing your brother, smart by allying with Herak. No, you are a leader, not me." Azonthus' voice did not waver, revealing a deep inner calm, and an equally deep conviction in what she was saying.
C'xoila shook his head, the smile he wore growing strong and true, "No, you is not a liar or a villain or dumb! You's think you's all these things, but is not true!!!" Azonthus looked down, then back up at her friend, "It just not true. You's saying what you's think is true, me know you believe it because me know you's not would lie to me." C'xoila's grin grew healthier, "Honesty. You care 'bout you's clan, an since you's not trust you's self, you wanted ta find someone ya could trust. That be's kindness." Azonthus looked down again, but C'xoila continued, "It also be's intelligence. After all, ya choose me ta be the leader!"
Azonthus looked up, her own grin small, but solid. A small trace of her old self peeked through as she joked, "Well, maybe not that smart. You could really wreck havoc with my clan!"
They both laughed a little and continued to joke around for a few more minutes before heading back to the Sanctuary.
Talon helped drag the litter he and ShadowStriker had built to carry MistReaver in into the Sanctuaries grounds. The velociraptor knew he wasn't doing much of the work, but he was helping.
"We're almost there," Shadow said.
Mist, who had been sleeping peacefully during the bumpy ride, finally woke a little. "Home?" she mumbled.
"I suppose," Talon answered. "I just hope Az is there. If not, I don't know what I'll do."
"Don't worry, she is there," Shadow replied. "I found her and took her to the healer. From the condition she was in, she's probably just managed to be enough trouble for FeatherDawn."
"Hm. If I know Az, she's trouble from the moment she can talk."
K'veer crouched beneath one of the trees, surveying his blood stained clan grounds. The dead had been taken to the banks, the wounded were within the sanctuary, or the mortally injured in the airy temple. Turning to the sound of laughter he found the small red one he taught and a lean, but large feathered deinonych walking out of the Sanctuary. The little red velociraptor was laughing and her violet eyes sparkled in the setting sun of twilight. He recalled when she's first arrived, near death, starved and mentally beyond repair. It had taken a lot out of the healers to bring her back, old Xandu even had taught her a lesson or two. And now look at her- with the return of friends she seemed to blossom, to thrive. It was time for his pupil to take her place as Clan leader.
Stepping out from beneath the foliage the large muscled utahraptor looked warily at C'xoila, turning a silted eye to Azonthus. "It is time young one, for your true ending of this. It is time for your final test. Are you ready, young one?" His silted golden eyes shone from within his battle scarred face, a slight raptor smile playing at his mouth.
Azonthus shifted about nervously at his words. Yes, she could feel it; she was ready. The velociraptor glanced up at C'xoila then back to K'veer. She nodded once and left her friends side. "I am ready."
K'veer motioned for her to follow him. Wordlessly, Az followed.
Nodding in satisfaction K'veer made sure no one was following them, and lead Azonthus through a long, barely visible path through the jungle. After an immeasurable amount of time he disappeared in the foliage. Azonthus tensed and slowly peered through the ferns, finding herself at the entrance of a large temple, ruined, much like the main one at the Sanctuary.
Eyes wide Azonthus looked before her to find a dark gray raptor with silver stripes in the middle of the Temple ground. He turned his head to look at her, and Az finding this odd noticed the eye he turned away had distinct slashes through it, and was milky. This raptor was half blind... He grinned as he saw her, his deep rumbling voice carried to her...
"Welcome, my small cousin. I have been told you are next in line for Leadership. You have my congratulations young one, for I too know the leadership trials. I am known as Xilon Windsong, leader of the Clan of Xilon. Come young one, and be tested. And remember- your wits are often of more assistance than your talons. En guard-" With this he sank back into a fighting stance, sickle claws tensed, his good eye alert. Azonthus had no choice...
Tamith felt the light drizzling rain splash her face. Ever since the duties to the dead had been attended to, she and the rest of her companions had sat down in the middle of the jungle and remained quiet. She cuddled closer to Triforce to get what little body heat she could from her ceratopsian partner. Looking across the little miniature clearing she was sitting in, Dylan was toying with the string of his bow. He had a far away look on his face meaning he was lost in thought. But his expression was also concerned, something deeper than it seemed. Not that she blamed him. They had both just participated in a battle for their friends and she had seen how close both Azonthus and Quickstride had come to perishing. The thought sent a chill down her back. She had been too far away to do anything about it.
"So what's next. . .?" Dylan asked breaking her trail of thought.
Looking up, Tamith saw that the question had been as much for himself as to her. Their eyes met for a moment and he smiled warmly reading from her eyes what she was thinking.
"Let's go find your friends."
* * *
Cyrrus had been more than a little lost when they found her. That she wasn't limping and the absence of bandages told Tamith that Cyrrus was all right physically. That was good considering the battle they had just walked out of.
"Why don't you come with us?" Tamith asked. "I don't think some of the raptors here would appreciate you wandering around."
Cyrrus laughed. "Yeah, moody little guys aren't they?"
She quickly accepted and the now slightly larger group began looking for Azonthus. All were concerned about her; the last they had seen of the raptor was on the battlefield and Az hadn't looked too good. They soon stumbled on Quickstride and Rex in the outside of the Sanctuary. The last they had both seen from Az had been back in the battle and she had been rather shaken up.
"Let's look around, we might also find ShadowStriker out here because I don't think he's inside," Quickstride suggested.
Tamith remembered the young Tyrannosaur from one of the convoys through the Rainy Basin she had been serving. That had been a mess. But somehow they had managed.
"And we'll avoid our raptorian hosts that, for some reason, I don't think really welcome us," Dylan added.
"Wonder why that could be?" Tamith said grinning. She remembered the funny incident with one of the guards earlier. It hadn't been her fault they didn't speak the same language.
Dylan slid off Karua's back and began to lead the way around the ruins. Cyrrus walked along side Triforce and chatted softly with Tamith. Quickstride looked thoughtful. A rumble from Karua made them halt. Dylan listened to him attentively then smiled mischievously.
"Got something," he said turning to them. "Follow me; Karua can smell our raptor friend." It wasn't long until they reached a clearing and heard multiple raptorian voices coming from it.
"Thinks that's Az?" Quickstride asked.
"And company," Tamith added, "Only one way to find out."
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