|ShadowRunner had left the sanctuary when the light of the new day only barely penetrated the dense forest. He'd only told one person what he was doing, and that was only because he hadn't managed to sneak past the guards of the borders of the territory. He'd told them he was going to look for his sister and asked them not to tell others unless asked for it.
He knew the route she usually took when she had to go to the, ahem, 'civilized' parts of Dinotopia. So now he more or less followed that route, sometimes inquiring information from solitary smaller therapods that couldn't pose any treat to him.
So far he'd found no clue except her total absence in the area, which was a thing to be worried about because MistReaver was one raptor who'd go home as soon as her mission was accomplished.
All right. That's it. Az had been sitting calmly and thinking things through once more. Enough pity party. There are others who care for me; look at what I'm doing to them. Nothing but laying around, feeling sorry for myself. Food is too hard to come by for me to just sit around doing nothing to earn it.
Once again, Az struggled out of the bed. She slowly walked around the room till she was sure of herself again. She knew better this time than to wander around without a guide. Instead, she slowly went through the beginning training exercises she had been taught. The movements came slowly at first, but with use her muscles limbered up once more.
She was fully and totally absorbed in her slow, measured movements that she didn't notice LiquidFire returning. The crimson velociraptor stopped, startled, and stared at the utahraptor as if she had been doing something wrong.
LiquidFire hid her surprise at seeing the Velociraptor doing exercise and smiled "I see you're feeling better now, would you like to walk around through the caves a bit?"
"Uuuuhhhhh..." Az stuttered, still a bit startled by being interrupted in the middle of an exercise. But soon her more adventurous nature popped in and she grinned "Sure."
Well... I have no explanation for this sudden change but it's a good thing for sure. LiquidFire thought as she walked out of the sleeping caves.
"We have to go past a water called the 'Bay of Sleep' its beautiful but its lethal, breathe shallowly and through your nose. The water earned its name by its poisonous gases, but its not really dangerous if you just pass it quickly." LiquidFire explained as they neared a large body of bluish water with a film of silver on it.
After being rowed through the Bay, and having studied the film on the water (LiquidFire said it was organic but wouldn't let Az pick some up) they landed, and tied the boat to the big pillars that gave way to a tunnel.
The tunnel, as well as the edges of the waters, was lit by the blue fire, magnifying the effect the water alone had even more. It wasn't that cold in the caves, but the icy blue made it see cooler then it was.
And it only made the caves more beautiful. Az was looking her eyes out here, forgetting any attempt at conversation just staring other surroundings. How blind have I been not to notice any of this while I was out earlier? She wondered.
That moment the tunnel they were in ended at a body of water, smaller then the Bay of Sleep but sill a large lake with beautiful subterranean falls. "Waterfall City..." Az muttered.
The falls didn't make anywhere near as much sound as the falls of Waterfall City, but still the echoing sound of the streaming water made it hard to understand people if they didn't speak clearly. "Waterfall what?" LiquidFire asked, hopping on one of the stones in the water.
"Waterfall City... Home, no, my past home, no. C'xoila, I must find C'xoila, must talk to him."
"One problem at a time," LiquidFire shushed, "You can't leave just yet, you need a just a bit more strength to be able to hunt again. If this C'xoila of yours is a good friend then he'll understand that."
"But I don't know if he's Ok. I left him in the city! Allosaurs are there, he's terrified of allosaurs." She was beginning to get worked up. Shifting around, it was all she could do to stay on the shore and not turn around and run back to the city.
LiquidFire hopped back to the shore. "I can see that you are a true friend. But you will be of more help to him when you are fully recovered. You are a warrior and should understand the importance of being prepared to face your enemy."
Az hung her head in shame. Even a healer knew more about being a warrior than she. "Then, I shall stay."
LiquidFire thought, "Maybe there's more then one way to find out if your friend is ok... You ever heard of the skybax called Nimbus? She's a friend of ours, she often brings us news from the other parts of Dinotopia."
Az started jumping up and down enthusiastically at the thought of news from the City, "Well, what are we waiting for, where's the skybax?!"
LiquidFire laughed good naturedly, seeing the raptor who'd been so depressed and turned into herself bounce like that did look funny. "Well I do not know where she is at the moment but we could go look for someone who knows."
And with that they started walking to the winding way when LiquidFire realized something. "Hey little raptor, is it a habit of your clan to keep your names secret?"
"No, it is just that I was not worthy of a name. I am Azonthus of the Sharpclaw."
Thistlebud could still detect the scent of Azonthus as she approached the cracked granite temple structure. She pushed past hanging vines and climbed moss covered rocks until she reached the entrance to the temple itself. The Ovinutrix passed under the arch and was awed by the ornate carving of a raptor head that embellished it.
Once inside, Thistlebud was able to recognize the faint scent of Azonthus, which still lingered at the entranceway. As her senses became heightened in this new environment, Thistlebud became aware of an even stronger scent and was overwhelmed by it. Raptors! She shook her head, Of course it's the scent of raptors. This is raptor clan territory.
Being here in the temple complex deep within the Rainy Basin made Thistlebud think of her own ancestors who had once resided in Basin territory. The Ovinutrix felt for the chain around her neck, a small cream-colored pebble in the shape of an egg carved with intricate inscriptions, the symbol of the hatchery worker. Her thoughts were pulled in that direction, yet her heart was pulled in the direction of her Oviraptor ancestors as she headed deeper into the temple ruins.
The struthiomimus grinned as the two warriors debated over the best natural weapon to use on an enemy. Thakur favored his deadly killing claws, while ShadowStriker pressed for jaws and teeth.
Cyrrus only half listened to the two as they walked beside her, and focused on the patch of deep gray that appeared to be part of a great stone archway. She watched as it grew in her field of vision. It's a ruin.. she thought to herself. These raptors have made their home in ancient ruins. This area must be easily guarded then. I'll have to keep my wits about me. Cyrrus turned to Thakur, who was now discussing the necessity of torches, and chirped.
"Is this the Sanctuary?"
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Quickstride. "I'm Quickstride Celeriter. I'm not terribly important at the Kylum rookery- just the scribe and historian- but I do work there." She indicated the large furry beast at her side. "This is Rex. He's a dog, which is an animal usually only found in the Outside World. And this is..." she turned to let the Carcharodontosaurus introduce herself.
"I am Tigris. Thank you for helping us."
Highsoar still gave them an expectant look, and Quickstride guessed she wanted to know why a Gallimimus, a dog, and a carnosaur were traveling together in the Rainy Basin. So she told the skybax about the missing Azonthus, and how they were searching for something called the "Sanctuary of the Clans." Quickstride didn't want to intrude further on Highsoar's helpfulness, but having someone looking out from above would be more than a little helpful...
As the trio of travelers went on their way, Highsoar asked if she could speak with the Gallimimus again, perhaps back at the rookery. She walked awkwardly to a nearby clearing where she could get airborne again. She didn't like the confined space but she managed to get airborne with a bit of hard pumping. She watched as the three she'd been watching continued their journey and then searched for that rider and skybax she'd seen early. Perhaps there was a caravan or search party she could tell. There! in the clearing. She descended into the clearing. After exchanging a few words with the other skybax, she learned that his name was Tibet and the rider was Topaz. A flash of recognition went through her mind. 'YYoouu pplllaayyy faarreeewweell ttooo sssuuunnn. (you play farewell to sun). 'I saaawww yyooouuu ccrraassshhhh ffrrrrooomm aaboovveee'(I see you crash from above)'mmmyyyy nnnaaaammeeee Hiiiggghhhsssooaarrr'(my name Highsoar) She started into a kind of raspy cough. She didn't like human speech. "hhuummmann sppeeccchhh dddiffiicccuulltt'(human speech difficult) She knew the girl would be surprised that a skybax was speaking in human tongues. She decided to wait a while, and then go up again to see if there was any sign of a caravan or search party that might be looking for the pair.
They had been walking aimlessly around the tunnels for the last few hours. Karua had found a strange archway that led into a cave system of some sort. Excited, they had all walked in, but after a few minutes, both saurians had backed out. They said that the place smelled too strongly of raptor and that they feared they would be walking straight into a lair or clan of some sort. That had been enough for all of them to want to get out of the place, but then Triforce pointed out that one of the scents was familiar. Barely noticeable but it was there, Tamith's Velociraptor friend Azonthus. That had been enough for Tamith to want to go in further. She remembered how extremely troubled Az had looked when she had last seen her in Waterfall City, plus everything Aravis had told her happened... If Az was here, then she might need someone she knew to talk to. Or maybe she was meddling in none of her business, but she had to find out for sure. So it was decided that she and Dylan would go on because they were the smallest and easiest to hide if worst became worse, and because they could be completely covered in a salve Tamith had that would take away their scents.
So now that their partners had returned to the camp sight, Dylan and her had 48 hours to find out what was going on with Az and get out again before a whole rescue party came for them. Quietly and carefully aware of their surroundings, they made their way deeper into the cave system. A burning torch now and then was the constant remainder that this was for more than what it seemed. It wasn't long until the pair stepped out of the corridor they had been following and into a massive cave. Awestruck, they stared at the stone formations that dominated around the distant ceiling and the few on the strangely flat floor. Torches and glowing mosses provided the light needed to see their surroundings.
"What do you think this place is?" Dylan asked breaking the silence of the moment.
"I have no idea. . ." Tamith replied.
"Thousands of years you say?" Dylan commented as they stared at the rock formations around them.
"Some more, depends on the size of them, that one over there could go into the millions," Tamith replied pointing a particularly big one out. They had been walking around the cave for the last few minutes admiring the grandeur of it all.
K'veer had dashed down the Sea of Cold tunnel and slipped his way on down the Winding Way. That little raptor dare think she could come into the caverns, he'd show her. He realized at the end of the tunnel once coming across another few raptors that the little one hadn't come this way. Growling under his breath he put down his heavy sword and pumped his legs to get back up the steep incline.
Grunting with the effort he finally reached the top and dashed into the main cavern to chose another route when in his hurry he failed to notice two humans and crashed straight into one, sending both him and the intruder sprawling on the cave floor.
Rubbing his head where he had hit the stone floor, Dylan glared up at Tamith wondering why she wasn't helping him up. He noticed she looked extremely pale and has slowly retreating. Following her line of sight, he saw what had hit him.
"Oh no," he said getting up.
K'veer's jaw nearly hit the floor as he gawked at the two humans. First a velociraptor comes barging in, then a pair of humans? What was this, were the dinosaur Olympics taking place in the Sanctuary and someone forgot to tell him. Still in shock K'veer simply stared at the pair of humans.
Dylan instinctively stood in front of Tamith; the two groups stared each other down.
"Good time to put into practice the classes we took with Enit," Tamith said hitting him in the ribs.
"You mean the ones I failed at?"
"Yeah! Do something!"
Taking a deep breath, Dylan said what he remembered best: "Breath deep, seek peace..."
The human mumbled something in some soft and quiet tongue and held out a hand. For a moment K'veer had an irresistible urge to snap at it but stopped himself. That wouldn't solve things. Whatever these two wanted didn't matter, they had to get out now. With a sharp glare at the human male who held out his hand the ten foot tall raptor growled in a guttural tone "Leave as you came and don't turn back."
Dylan stared at the raptor. "Huh? What'd he just say?"
"Um... something about leaving..." Tamith said, " Hold on... Please... we am... innocent?"
K'veer's snarl halted as he heard the human female try and rasp out something in his own tongue. He laughed hard which seemed to scare the pair standing before him. Something about innocence, well of course they were innocent. They had nothing to be guilty for. no, he just wanted them to leave. Stopping his open mouthed laughter he turned back to them.
"I said leave. Leave NOW." This was followed by a menacing step forward.
"He's not buying it Tamith..." Dylan said grabbing her hand and beginning to pull her back."Don't eat us... " he replied, the only other fraise he remembered. "Hold on, I think... Geez! I wish I had that dictionary! Leave... what with leave!"
"I want you out. I want you up that corridor and past the temple. Past our temple, past our grounds. Out." This last word was a near roar. The two people were stumbling backwards and K'veer was backing them up as well. "OOUUTTT!"
"Out! Out! Out! He must mean out! Let's listen to the nice raptor and leave, I like my body the way it is."
"No! Azonthus is here, and she was in trouble when I last saw her! I must speak with her! Azonthus friends... trouble... here... help find."
ARG! Not another of them! This Azonthus, why did everyone want to find her? "I don't know where your Azonthus is but if I did rest assured I'd have thrown her faaaaar past clan borders by now!" The agitated raptor snapped. His eyes narrowed. "I don't know where she is, and you aren't staying around long enough to find out."
The human pair stared at the raptor. "Translation?" Dylan asked.
"He knows where she is... and will let us stay to find her!... I think"
K'veer watched the two humans converse. One said something to the other a big grin spread across her face. Why weren't they leaving??? Sitting down K'veer raised a claw to his face. "This is my claw." He held another finger up. "This is your head." K'veer drew his talon across his finger drawing a faint cut that started to well with blood. "Now will you leave already?"
"What's he doing?" Tamith said out loud wondering why would the raptor hurt himself. She kneeled down and searched her pack for something. "This should stop the blood flow," she said giving a curled up leaf to him.
K'veer rolled his eyes and took the leaf to humor the human. He looked at it, toyed with it for a moment and shredded it to bits with his wickedly hooked claws. "Why won't you leave??" he wailed, burying his head in his claws.
Nallab immediately sent out a search party to search for his foster-daughter. His worried eyes followed the search party as they headed off - IN THE WRONG DIRECTION....
"Iii ccchhheeccchkkk sseee iff seeee annnyyooonee(I check see if see anyone)," Highsoar said and, with a bit of a struggle, she got airborne. In the distance, in the direction of Waterfall City, she saw a group of humans and saurians but they were going in the wrong direction, into Rex territory. As she neared the group, she could see a group of rexes off in the distance. If the party went that way it wouldn't come back. She aimed downward and flew to the group. She asked one of the dimorphodons if they were looking for Topaz and Tibet. He said they were looking for their gravesite.
"Wwwrrooonnngg wwwaayyy!" she shrieked "Wwroongg waayyy. "Rrreexxxx ttthhaaatt waaayyy. Ttoppaazz, Ttiibeeet nnoott deeeaaadddd. Tthhissss wwaaayyyy." She pulled up a little higher and the caravan turned to follow her. After quite a while they neared the clearing. Highsoar scanned the area, and saw a single rex to the right. "Rrreexxxx! Reeeexxxxx!" she shrieked in alarm. The sentries moved forward and she dove a couple times trying to lead it away. The party dropped some of the crates of fish they had brought along and this seemed to do the trick. Highsoar flew quickly back towards the clearing. Too fast. Like Tibet, (though High didn't know it at the time) she had a torn wing membrane. Hers was small enough though that she only lost control when going too fast or in high winds. She descended toward the clearing, struggling to maintain control. Skidding to the ground, she made a hard landing a short distance from the caravan, near Topaz and Tibet. When the party reached Topaz, Highsoar waited until they started off and then took off again. One of them said they would tell Nallab what she had done and that he might want to speak with her later. She nodded in agreement and then took off, wondering if she might catch up with that Gallimimus again...
As Mathaira watched Cielo and Jose rise towards the sky heavens, she recalled their brief conversation.
When Jose had suggested that Mathaira should journey with them, for a brief moment she had seriously considered joining the small convoy to the Rainy Basin. Deep down she knew that, at least for the time being, her place was here in Bonabba. She had explained this to Jose as he mounted Cielo, "I'm needed here right now. My partner Thistlebud and my friend ShadowStriker have already gone in search of Azonthus. I don't really feel that I could do much more to help them."
Jose had looked eagerly towards the convoy, anxious to undertake his mission, "I understand. Just as you are needed here, Cielo and I are needed in the Basin."
Just before the majestic Cielo soared up to join the group, Mathaira had removed a small object from her pouch and handed it to Jose: a cream colored pebble just a little larger than the one she wore on a thin chain about her neck, intricate symbols etched into its smoothness, the symbol of the hatchery worker. "If you run into trouble during your mission, seek out ShadowStriker of the Clan of Greyback. He is well known throughout the Basin. Give this to him, he knows it as mine and will come to your aid."
The Skybax rider had taken the small pebble and put it into his own pouch, grateful for the small sense of security it represented on such a dangerous mission. His parting words were barely heard as Skybax and rider followed the convoy into the Basin, "Breathe deep, seek peace, fly high."
Not knowing whether her own reply would be heard by the airborne pair, Mathaira voiced into the wind, "Breathe deep, seek peace, my friend."
After bidding farewell, rather reluctantly, to the skybax, Quickstride, Rex, and Tigris set off again. They hadn't far to go, however. They walked for many miles, making good time (seeing as no tyrannosaurs now wanted anything to do with them) and eventually made it through their territory. Or so they had thought.
Which is why it was of great surprise when suddenly they burst from the forest and in front of the gateway of an ancient temple complex. And found a mighty Tyrannosaurus rex standing before it.
It was of greater surprise to see a badly wounded Utahraptor leaning against the tyrannosaur's side.
But it was of the greatest surprise to see a rather familiar Struthiomimus standing there with them.
"Cyrrus?" Quickstride asked in disbelief, as the struthie returned her incredulous stare and the giant carnivores eyed each other suspiciously. "What are you doing here?"
Cyrrus was listening to yet another debate between the two carnivores beside her. But she suddenly looked up at an obviously ornithomimid chirping. Cyrrus blinked. That sounded just like..
"Quickstride?!" She felt her eyes go wide as she automatically bobbed her head in greeting. "What are..." Cyrrus laughed as her question echoed Quickstride's. "We were about to go into the Sanctuary and find Azonthus. What about you?" She craned her neck to look past the Gallimimus and saw some others unfamiliar to her. "Who are your friends?"
"That's Tigris, and this is Rex. I think you met him in Waterfall City." Then what Cyrrus had said before registered. "What? Is this the Sanctuary of the Clans? Is Azonthus really here?"
Meanwhile, Tigris and ShadowStriker eyed each other warily. As the two ornithomimids were obviously friends, they refrained from the display of force that usually accompanied such encounters in the Basin. But to each there was something about the other that made them uneasy. One stared into the eyes of a gigantic and learned Carcharodontosaurus scholar, the other at a skilled and agile Tyrannosaurus warrior. Neither saurian could identify what the problem was; they just knew it was there.
Cyrrus chirped and nodded at Quickstride's statement. "Azonthus is heir to her clan. But she's missing. We're trying to find her..." She turned and gestured to the two saurians behind her. "This is Thakur, he's from the Sanctuary. And this is ShadowStriker. He's very nice. Hehe."
A rumble escaped ShadowStriker's throat and Cyrrus thought she heard him mutter something about Tyrannosaurs are never nice. The struthie laughed.
"But why are you here, Quickstride? Are you looking for Az too? Maybe we could team up." She gap-grinned with her beak and clicked happily.
In spite of the original animosity between the Tyrannosaur warrior and the Utahraptor warrior, the two had developed a genuine respect for one another as a result of their similar backgrounds and training. However, this new presence was another matter entirely! A general feeling of unease pervaded the group as ShadowStriker and Tigris eyed each other intently.
Though ShadowStriker sometimes associated with humans due to his friendship with Mathaira and even traveled to Bonabba in order to visit her, he was still of the Rainy Basin and thus lived according to the unwritten code of the Basin. His existence within its borders was based on a deep survival instinct, a fierce sense of justice, and clan loyalty. Both athletic prowess and bold bravery were important character traits needed by Basin inhabitants in order to carve out a life within this often dangerous territory.
In spite of the gigantic size of the Carcharodontosaurus, the fact this carnosaur had chosen to become a learned scholar was somewhat of a puzzle to ShadowStriker. In an environment where quick judgment of one's opponent was often a life or death decision, Tigris presented a contradiction to ShadowStriker. One burning question ran through the Tyrannosaur warrior's mind regarding the Carcharodontosaurus: Is she the learned scholar that she seems to be or is she a Basin carnosaur like Thakur and myself?
Trying to ignore the growing tension between Tigris and ShadowStriker, Quickstride tried to answer Cyrrus' question, leaving out some of the better parts, like falling down the waterfall and being attacked by three carnivores.
"We've been looking for Az since she fled Waterfall City." She turned to the entrance of the Sanctuary, where at this moment Azonthus was somewhere within. Is our quest ended? thought Quickstride, or has a new chapter of it begun?
After leaving Topaz with the search party, Highsoar scrambled into the air again, her belly a bit sore from that hard landing. Cruising over the Basin, she noticed the trio of travelers she'd helped earlier. Sensing that their earlier farewell had been a bit reluctant, she decided to see if she could join them again. She descended towards a nearby tree, but was a bit frightened of the rex. She landed cautiously on the branch, ready to take flight again if the rex should attack. Memories of her earlier rex run in came back again and she tried to dismiss them, but that jagged edge on the left wing, the one that had caused her to lose control earlier, kept bringing them back. She heard the rex ask "Is that Nimbus?" and responded, stuttering over the Tyrannosaur dialect. "No, Highsoar. Quickstride remembers, don't you? And Tigress?"
Still following the faint scent of Azonthus, Thistlebud's thoughts raced about in her mind: Bonabba's Hatchery, her previous years at the Romano Hatchery, her partner-friend Mathaira with whom she shared a pod house, her longtime saurian partner Maia. She recalled her experiences as a traveling hatchery worker, including the honor of being present at the emerging of the hatchling nicknamed Stubbs and her contribution to aiding Greyback's mate Swiftclaw in the laying and tending of her two eggs from which emerged ShadowStriker and his sister Dawn Treader.
She continued to stroke the egg shaped pebble about her neck, its creamy color mimicking that of an unhatched egg. The intricate inscriptions upon its smooth surface indicating that she was a hatchery worker were detailed enough so that any who looked closely enough could see that those particular etchings revealed that she was an Ovinutrix, egg nurse.
As she traveled deeper into the raptor clan ruins, her heart feelings ran deeper to her Oviraptor ancestors who had also once inhabited Basin territory. Though the two species were unrelated, the clan atmosphere struck a cord in Thistlebud. She not only traveled deeper into the cave system in search of Azonthus, but she also looked deeper into her own identity in search of her place among generations past.
When she emerged into a large cavern, she was awestruck by its size and grandeur. So entranced was she that she stood spellbound, unaware of any that might approach.
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