He has the same eye injury I do! Az thought to herself. Only, his is worse. I only have a minor blind spot; he's totally blind. Perhaps if I don't attack from that side as he will expect…
Az's body was totally relaxed. Attack now! Suddenly, with no indication of attack, she leapt at Xilon, making sure that he saw her coming in hopes of confusing him.
Xilon raises his head, grinning slight and easily sidestepped the first lunge. She was getting careless and they'd already begun. Noticing her easily land to his side he stiffened slightly. That was too simple. Planned even. Flexing talons he shifted his weight, backing up a few steps awaiting the much smaller raptor's next move
Nodding to herself, Az rushed him again, this time leaping at his head and again making sure he saw her coming
With un-ending patience Xilon again sidestepped the smaller raptor, but took the chance to sweep her feet out from under her as she landed. He didn't know what she was doing but it was a new tactic to him.
Az turned the drop into a roll and came up fighting. She lunged out at his left side and attempted to knock him down.
Xilon quickly backed up, a little more wary of his opponent. At least she was acting like a warrior now. The much larger raptor deftly moved to the side and with one smooth motion had Az's head locked under his left talons, holding her tightly.
"You show promise, young one. But surely you can do better."
Az lay beneath his claws, relaxed and not struggling. "At least you think so. Who knows?" she calmly said. She kicked out at him with her right foot and caught him in the stomach, but did not injure him.
His good eye widened as the smaller raptor's sickle claw came to touch his stomach. With a faint grin he spun, letting the small raptor fall off balance as he came around with a swift kick to her neck.
The velociraptor, off balance, fell to the ground. Xilon hadn't expected his opponent to fall so completely and his kick missed its mark; instead, the momentum carried him off balance and Az struck out at his one leg that was still planted firmly on the ground, knocking it out from under him. She rolled upright and placed her foot on his neck, then waited to see what he would do.
Turning his good eye to face Az he forcefully pushed her off him. The smaller raptor spun, a talon held quivering at Xilon's throat. He deftly knocked her claw aside and the two faced each other, stiff legged, tensed. Suddenly Xilon grinned, relaxing.
"You have me and I have you, little one. Let your guard down. You used your mind as well as your talons. I congratulate you on that. You are ready for leadership. Keep your wits about you and never, ever allow your guard to slip." With this he was gone, K'veer reappeared behind Azonthus, ready to lead her back to the Sanctuary to make her final good-byes.
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 battle field and Az hadn't looked too good. They soon stumbled on Quickstride and Rex in the outsides of the Sanctuary. The last they had both seen from Az had been back on 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 said.
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. It wasn't long until a 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."
Az beamed as she followed K'veer out of the hidden grounds. She was ready! She had been trained and the clan would be safe! Spurred on by the elation of being prepared, it was all she could do not to run back to her clan right away.
When the dense foliage parted, she was quite surprised to see Tamith, Triforce, Dylan, Karua, Quickstride, Rex, and Cyrrus! She stared for a moment before running up to Cyrrus and giving her a big hug. After a brief moment, she ran to each person and gave all of them a hug. "I'm going to be leader!" she exclaimed happily.
"Ok..." Quickstride said, slightly confused. "I thought you already knew that?"
"Yes, but I wasn't ready before."
K'veer regarded everyone and snapped quickly. "We'd best keep it moving. You are guests on clan grounds and you'd best not linger. My warriors will escort you back into the Sanctuary." He said this with a toothy grin and in a tone more a command than a suggestion.
Az grinned back and saluted. "Lead the way boss!"
Two warriors materialized from the forest. They both glared at Azonthus' high-spirited antics and lead the group back to the Sanctuary. Rolling her eyes, Az followed. Once inside, they were guided back to the healers caves. There, Az found Esk, Thistlebud, and many others she knew.
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."
"We'll see," ShadowRunner said.
Within moments they passed through the jungle and entered the plains of the Sanctuary. It was immediately evident what had happened. Though the battle had been days ago, the ground was still red in places from the blood it had been forced to drink. The vegetation was trampled all about and the air still stank of death.
Mist had drifted back into the realm of sleep and was blissfully un-aware of the destruction around her.
"So, this is the Sanctuary?" Talon asked, looking around him. "I just hope Azonthus is safe..."
"She would be if she is inside," Shadow replied. "Come, we have to get Mist to FeatherDawn."
Shadow worked with the smaller raptor to carry the makeshift litter into the temple. They were yet to go below ground and ShadowRunner looked around in disgust and shock. What had happened to his clan grounds? And where was everyone...? None of the leaders or other clan members could be seen. Noticing tracks of an ornithomimid, a cerotopsian and a few humans he raised a brow. Obviously someone had come this way. Turning to Talon he found the velociraptor excitedly pushing foreword. Obviously he had seen the tracks too. Upon entering the steep entryway to the Main Cavern they heard sounds coming from the Sea of Cold caverns.
"They're probably with FeatherDawn and the other healers. Come, she must be taken there. Now." With determination in his green eyes ShadowRunner ran forward, half dragging Talon with him. Down the Winding Way he let the velo no time to look around him at the beauty of the subterranean waters. "He rests by the Lake of Dreams. Hurry along..."
Talon brightened at the possibility of meeting other healers. News of FeatherDawn was wide, he was one of the best saurian healers, known through Bonabba, Waterfall City all the way to Canyon City. But he also heard of the raptor's reluctant nature. Perhaps he could learn a thing or two? As eager to see Azonthus as Shadow was to have his sister taken care of, the two hurried down the corridors, stopping at the entrance of a large cavern with multiple underwater falls. A cool breeze flows through these caverns and upon entering an adjoining cavern Shadow and Talon found themselves faced with many others of the group. There was barely enough room within the Healer's cavern and the group spilled into the hallway. Peering over the heads of everyone, Talon caught a glimpse of a red and maroon raptor. Cyrrus started at the sudden appearance of more raptors and Quickstride backed up. Tamith and Dylan grinned over at the new arrivals, Tamith holding a finger to her lips. Within the cavern, a blue feather-crested raptor kneeled beside an Ovinutrix, Thistlebud and between them lay Azonthus...
It had been more than a week since the battle with Herak and Azonthus was once again home. This was her real home, her family. She belonged with her clan.
There had been some dissent in the clan at Azonthus becoming leader, but that had quickly diminished as they learned of her deeds to protect another clan.
Az stood in a circle made by her clan and friends. Facing her were the many raptors she would lead, behind her stood her friends. Without looking, Az knew they were there. C'xoila, her first friend from when she left the Basin, was standing next to Saar, unafraid. Az had noticed the beginning of a strong friendship forming between them what seemed an eternity ago, but could have been no more than four days. Next to Saar stood ShadowStriker and his friend Thistlebud. On the other side of C'xoila were Cyrrus, Quickstride, Rex, Tamith & Triforce, and Dylan & Karua; the best friends anyone could ask for. Only a few raptors from the Sanctuary were there; MistReaver, half healed, had demanded to come and her brother, ShadowRunner, had come to make sure she didn't do any more damage to herself. LiquidFire, despite her many patients, had managed to come but FeatherDawn rarely left his cave much less the Sanctuary. Az had badly wanted K'veer to come, yet he had refused saying that she was trained and didn't need him to make sure she won.
The battle was to take place in the ancient battleground. Giant boulders and made a large protected area. Few plants grew here. This was the site where Jara, the Sharpclaw's first leader, and several other raptors had made a final stand for the raptors of the Basin. Few had survived, but Jara had to found the Sharpclaw. In one rock, the names of those raptors that had fought that battle were carved, and another boulder bore a long list of the clans leaders names.
Drums began a slow 1-2 beat and Ronvel, the clan shaman, began chanting the Song of Our Ancestors. Many in the clan believed that when this was chanted, the ancestors actually came and guided the one they wanted to be leader.
From the dawn of time,
Watch for them!
Protection and Guidance
Feat them not!
Now, Az turned her attention only to her father, who stood before her, her mind fully focused on the battle.
Feeling the heat of battle begin flowing through her veins, Azonthus began circling. She moved in time to the drums beat, never missing a step. Who would make the first move was anyone's guess, but Az knew it would not be her. Some… thing that she didn't have a description for seemed to guide her movements. She felt light and exhilarated. The strange feeling she had seemed to give her more energy that she would normally have.
She studied her opponent carefully, looking for weaknesses. He was half again as big as she was, more muscular, and moved with the ease of a skilled warrior. His muscles moved easily under his red and black skin. His deadly sickle claws tapped the ground as he moved in anticipation of the fight. Something told her that he favored his right foot, though he physically showed no signs of injury.
Lightening fast, the larger raptor struck, his fist aimed at Az's head. Somehow knowing of the blow before it happened, she easily avoided it, ducking, and dashed behind to aim a rather unexpected kick to his tail. The blow hit home, but didn't do any damage. But then again, it hadn't been meant to, Az only wanted him to think she was playing hatchling games.
Strongbow shook his head and backed up a little. He kept trying to come in around Az's left side, the side where she had a small blind spot. Az realized that he had maneuvered her into a corner too late. When he aimed a blow to her stomach, she was unable to get out of the way fast enough. Az thought as she felt his foot connect with her stomach. No warm flow of blood followed his attack; they were not allowed to kill or seriously injure each other. Ok, time for something new. Without any warning, Az tackled Strongbow.
The two raptors rolled around, hitting, biting, scratching, doing all they could to outwit the other. Dirt flew as they fought for victory, the snarling and battle cries of both raptors tore through the still air, and the battle continued on for an eternity. They rolled over again, and Strongbow came out on top. The crushing weight of Strongbow was more than Az could bear. Flipping him off her in a move that K'veer had taught her, she moved in quickly. Strongbow landed on his back, but wasn't fast enough to block the sickle claw that was now pressed to his throat nor the other claw digging into his belly, but neither breaking the skin. They paused for a moment.
Az stood up and roared her victory. The clan had a new leader.
A large celebration had been planned for Azonthus if she won the battle. Now, everyone was happily celebrating the beginning of the reign of a new leader! Many raptor games were being played and, once again, a wonderful feast had been prepared.
Az sat on a boulder near what was now her cave. It had been her fathers' cave, but by right of leadership it was now hers. She smiled happily content to just watch everyone.
Mist had watched the fight, wide eyed and with her heart in her mouth the whole time. ShadowRunner had been equally impressed, and when it was over, he had to try and calm his sister, she'd been so enthusiastic over Azonthus winning. Swept up in the excitement the two utahs found themselves in the midst of a feast. Starving, and wanting to meet a few of these raptors, Shadow disappeared in the midst, joining in with an instrument loaned to him by one of the Sharpclaw.
Mist leaned heavily on her staff. Still weak she watched everyone with a grin, wishing she could join the celebrations but thinking better of it. Catching sight of Azonthus moving off to the side she followed. Smiling to her friend, she eased down on the rock next to her, watching everyone enjoying themselves.
"Very nice show, Azonthus. Won well. Showed courage and honor, and with no bloodshed. Makes this warrior proud. Proud to breathe alongside you." Mist's emerald eyes sparked and she held out her talon in the sign of peace, "Breathe deep, seek peace, clan leader Azonthus."
Smiling, Az returned the gesture. "Breath deep, seek peace, friend. Thank you Mist. I have always been proud to have you for a friend." Watching MistReaver's still-labored breathing dug into Az's heart. "Mist, I never meant for you to get hurt! You tried to help me and nearly died in the process."
Mist shook her head. "Not hurt. Just tired." She puffed proudly, doing her best to hide her pain. She didn't like anyone fussing over her, she'd like to think she could handle everything on her own. "But see? You strong and too." She tapped a talon to the side of Az's head. "And smart. Intelligence over talons every time. What Xilon taught me." She thought of her foster uncle in the clan. He'd trained her well to be a warrior, and was the only family she had aside from her brother. She thought what it would be like to be in Azonthus' position, to fight one for clan leadership and shuddered.
"You have much ahead of you. I'll be sure to stop by while message running. Good luck to you. Will be very important." She nodded and her gaze strayed back to the feasting and dancing. She was acquainted with most of the raptors in Az's clan, and smiled as she watched her brother, the friends that had accompanied Az and the Sharpclaw, all reveling in the victor and their new leader.
Mists little act of "tired" didn't fool Az, but she let her friend think it did. "Good. You know, I don't think I'm really all that smart... I mean, I don't feel any different from any other raptor.
"I'm glad you will stop by. I won't be able to see you much now that I'm leader. You and all the Sanctuary are more than welcome to come visit at any time." Az thought for a moment. She hadn't had any time to make a token of thanks for any of her friends. Instead, she pulled a solid black arrow with deep purple fletching from her quiver. The wood had come from high in the mountains; so high, in fact, that any saurian without some form of protection from the cold would die from exposure. The purple fletching had been dyed from oysters gathered in Deep Lake. The dye was very hard to come by. In moments, Az had scratched Mists name into the shaft. "Here, I want you to have this. A gift from one warrior to another. I know it's not much, but it is something for you to remember me by."
Mist looked wide-eyed at the arrow handed to her. The fletching was beautiful, a deep rich color. Her name, hand carved into the shaft. Taking it gently, she ran her talons over its surface, admiring the quality and craftsmanship. "From one warrior to another.." she quietly repeated. Embedding the arrow's point into the top of her staff, she looked at it, smiling widely. Pulling around the small satchel around her neck Shadow had insisted she bring, filled with herbs and such given to her by FeatherDawn, she dug around and found a small compact. It was bronze, the metalwork around it exquisite, a small ruby sunstone embedded in its surface.
"In my clan in the Sanctuary, Xilon's, we are in charge of the stone, the metals, the masonry. The Sea of Cold holds our water, our most precious resource..." she flicked a talon over a beautiful pearl embedded next to the sunstone. "And the last, the FireSphere, holds the most unique gift to the Sanctuary." Handing the small box to Azonthus, she let her friend open it, within a tiny flicked of blue flame was seen. "It will never die, and won't burn you. Only oldest of the clan know its secret, but it warms like regular fire and can burn without fuel. Would advise not to burn self, but you are clan leader now. Will serve you well." She nodded, turning back to examine the arrow, smiling to herself.
"I...I..." Az was at a loss for words. She had seen what the flames of the FireSphere Clan could do and was amazed that Mist would give her such a gift. The intricate carving on the metallic box and the embedded sunstone and pearl were gorgeous beyond description. "I don't know what to say!" Az kept staring at the beautiful gift.
"Say thank you," Mist joked.
"Thank you! A thousand thank yous!" Az replied. "Hey, there's plenty of fish down there. Want to go get some?"
As the festivities went on, Quickstride, Rex and a few other friends, having congratulated Azonthus and now too tired from their previous adventures to continue participation in the games, sat back and contented themselves watching the raptors celebrate. Quickstride glanced over to where ShadowStriker and Tigris sat together discussing various things and comparing their different viewpoints. Though they were complete opposites on most everything, they respected each other now like Quickstride never thought they ever could have. She then turned to the sky in hopes of seeing Highsoar, the skybax, but she was nowhere to be found. No matter, thought Quickstride, they would meet again soon enough- the skybax had expressed interest in helping Quickstride at the rookery and promised to drop in sometime to discuss it. Shifting her gaze back down to her friends, Quickstride noticed how tired they all seemed. No wonder- many of them had endured the attack on Waterfall City right before this whole mess in the Basin had even begun!
"You know what we all need?" she asked them. "We all need a vacation. Why don't you all come to the mountains with me sometime? I have family in the Forbiddens, and I can take you to Blackfeather village where there are other Gallimimuses like me. It's quiet and isolated and we could have a lot of fun! Whaddaya say?"
Esk had been quite pleased with her new leader. She had known from the beginning that Azonthus would win and knew that the clan was safe with Az.
Esk had been celebrating for some time before deciding to search out the friends she had made on her adventure. She walked up just in time to hear Quickstride say "We all need a vacation. Why don't you all come to the mountains with me sometime? I have family in the Forbiddens, and I can take you to Blackfeather village where there are other Gallimimuses like me. It's quiet and isolated and we could have a lot of fun! Whaddaya say?" and was quite pleased with the idea. The clan didn't need her particularly at the moment...
She happily walked up to Quickstride. "I go. Will be fun!" She stared pointedly at Cyrrus, Tamith, and several others. "You all come too. More saurians more fun!"
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