|Halfway the main cavern Azonthus turned around as she picked up a scent that couldn't possibly belong to a Utah; then, suddenly, a familiar voice called her name. Surprised, Az whirled on the speaker. "Esk?! How did you get here?" she asked the peach-colored Velociraptor that just ran into the main-cave.
"That's a long story. I came searching for you because the clan needs you." Esk decided she better not immediately say 'Because you are to become the new leader of the clan.' "What I am doing here? You might want to ask that yourself."
"I figure you two know each other…" LiquidFire interrupted the greetings, "But just how did you get in here? I mean, the clans' borders are guarded and so is the entrance of the sanctuary…"
"Well…." Esk started, "There was no one at the border but I did find two fighting males on the way here, but they were easy to bypass." She grinned rather proudly.
"Fighting?" This sounded way too familiar… It actually happened all of the time; some people could be put on guard together a million times and STILL not learn to cooperate. LiquidFire sighed. "I think I better go check outside, but I can't leave you two alone here, it's easy to get lost in the caves. Your friend already knows this." She grinned at Esk.
When nearing the entrance of the sanctuary they heard another raptor roar at something to get out. "Sounds like K'veer," LiquidFire said, "Did you bring anyone else here Esk?"
Esk grinned sheepishly. "I hope you do not have a problem with larger carnivores…" She started.
Liquid Fire rolled her eyes, "No we don't, they only chased us underground but we do NOT have problems with them, now please be specific, I hope we're not getting an invasion of big carnivores?"
"No, no, just one."
As they turned the last corner, they saw what was bothering K'veer. Humans, a male and a female to be exact, were talking in their own language and were obviously in no hurry to leave while K'veer was getting desperate about making them do just that.
"Tamith!" Az exclaimed as she saw her friend. "How on earth did you get here?"
"Az! I'm glad you found us. This nice raptor was just telling us that he would help us look for you, but now we can save him the trouble."
K'veer lifted his head from his hands. In one quick glance, he recognized Esk. "You! How dare you come in here!"
"Uh-oh…" Esk took a half step back.
"She's a friend," LiquidFire explained. "And apparently, she has some news for Azonthus."
"You're the reason for all these intruders!" K'veer lunged to his feet and towards Azonthus, his sword held high.
LiquidFire leapt between the angry Utahraptor and weak Velociraptor. "That's enough, K'veer! Put your sword down and we can figure out just what happened."
Glaring, K'veer did as the healer directed. He pointed his sword at Az's throat, "You get out and take your friends with you." Turning on his heal, he left down another passage.
"I'll make sure they don't get into any trouble," LiquidFire called after him.
Dylan touched Tamiths arm. "What was that all about?" he whispered.
"Something about us being welcome and he's going to go fix dinner for us… I think."
"Sure didn't look like he welcomed that red velociraptor."
"Are you going to introduce everybody?" LiquidFire asked. "It sure seems that you know everyone!"
Az half smiled and introduced everyone but Dylan, whom she had not met before.
Tamith walked up to Az. "Are you OK?" she asked, concerned. Az seemed different to her, more reserved, quiet. The Az she had known would be jumping all over the place with her usual hyper energy, happy to see her friends and welcome them.
Azonthus took a deep breath, "Yes. I'll be fine." She glanced at Esk. "Just why are you here? Is everything all right at Peaceful Falls?"
Esk shifted from foot to foot, as if unsure of how to proceed. "Not exactly. I need to talk to you, alone."
Something in her voice told Azonthus that it was urgent and could not wait. "All right." Az glanced over at her friends; they took then hint and LiquidFire led them to the other end of the cavern, trusting Azonthus and Esk not to wander off.
"It's D'ial," Esk quietly said. "He's dieing and Strongbow is to become an elder."
Azonthus stared at Esk, floored. Her father, become an elder? But that would mean… "No! No, I can't be leader!" She backed up, feeling trapped. She couldn't be leader; the pack didn't know what she had become. They didn't know of what had gone on in Waterfall City. If they did, they certainly wouldn't want her as leader.
"You're needed, Azonthus. Without you, the clan has no leader. Please, come back."
Az was shaking, badly. How could she lead a clan? She had grown soft in her three years away from the Basin. She doubted she could even pass the tests to become leader. Of course, the tests were designed for a male raptor. It was very unusual for a female to lead the clan. In fact, it had only been done once before, more than five centuries ago. Jara the Just had led the Sharpclaw for many years against the advice of the elders. But she had been able to pass the tests. It was clan custom that the new leader fight the old one. And this battle was not a simple sparing match; it was a battle to the death. It was up to the victor whether or not the looser survive. This wouldn't be just any battle for Azonthus. She, a weak and out of practice female, would have to fight her father, a healthy and skilled male who had survived many challenges to his rule.
And the thought of returning to life in the Basin certainly wasn't appealing either. Starvation and the constant threat of being attacked by another pack or larger carnosaur always loomed over the harsh, demanding life the Basin required.
It had been years since she had last fought. Could she even survive still? But wait, she was in the Basin now, it was just easy to forget that in these underground caves. These caves were so beautiful, peaceful. They could lull her into a calm half-waking half-dreaming state where she could forget all the pain she had caused. If only she could stay here…
As if sensing the heirs' inner struggle, Esk spoke up. "Azonthus, with out you, the clan will die."
Those sharp words made Azonthus' decision for her. No matter what wrongs had been committed in the past, she had to go on with the future. Her clan needed her and she couldn't let them down, not like she had C'xoila.
Slowly, she nodded. "I will come."
How dare they tell him, once of the best warriors of the clan what to do? Fuming, K'veer stalked down the corridor that led to the Sea of Cold clan tunnels and wound down in a spiral fashion. Ignoring the beauty of the small bodies of water that lined the Winding Way, he suddenly caught an unknown scent. Another creature in the Sanctuary! Nearly roaring with frustration and rage, K'veer sprinted forward and found the back of a largish creature with thin, delicate limbs. She seemed nervous, which her scent relayed and was fidgeting with something in her claws. With no patience left K'veer roughly grabbed her shoulder and the frightened saurian spun around to face the creature that stood behind her.
Thistlebud had been awed by the tunnels but was always fearful one of the inhabitants would find her. And now her fear had been founded. Staring into deep azure eyes that critically eyed her, she found her mouth open with nothing coming out of it. A deep fear, an ancestral fear that allowed her fast moving ancestors to survive by outrunning and outwitting the larger, deadlier raptors filled her. She wanted to run but she stood frozen in place, her large eyes blinking as the raptor glared at her.
K'veer noticed the small pebble around the Oviraptors neck. Looking at it he recognized some of the engraved symbols as those the clans used on the walls of the hatcheries. And she didn't oppose him. In fact she looked frightened. His gaze softened and he took his hand off her shoulder.
"Come with me, I think I know why you are here." Soundlessly he turned and walked up the steep incline, the egg nurse following behind. There was no conversation as K'veer led Thistlebud through the maze of tunnels and caverns back to the Main Cavern, where by now a large group of individuals had gathered. He sighed and shook his head, not noticing that everyone had stopped their chatting to look and him. The Oviraptor gratefully laid eyes on her companions and joined them, and the tired, battle scarred warrior turned to descend back into the depths of the subterranean labyrinth.
After following the Utahraptor through what seemed an endless maze of tunnels and caves, the Ovinutrix was relieved when she glimpsed the flickering torchlight of the Main Cavern from which she had descended earlier. The silence of the warrior who had guided her enabled her to hear the reverberating echo of voices within the enormous cave before their destination was reached. Finding a number of individuals within, she quickly sought the companionship of the group assembled there and brief introductions were made.
Thistlebud watched the ochre-brown raptor descend back into the depths of the tunnels, he seeming one with the caves that he guarded. As the inky blackness absorbed his muscular form, she recalled deep azure eyes initially hostile and critical of her presence within his boundaries. She then wondered at his abrupt change in attitude as his harsh touch was removed and as his gaze softened to almost gentle, if such could be said of the battle-hardened warrior-guard.
This seeming contradiction in the Utah warrior puzzled Thistlebud momentarily, until she realized that such traits were needed if one was to survive the harsh Basin environment. Once the warrior determined that the gentle Ovinutrix was neither a threat nor a challenge to him or his Clan, there was no reason for him to harm her.
Thistlebud then recalled her own conflicting behavior when the raptor had confronted her. She felt the inborn fear and rush of adrenaline which her Oviraptor ancestors must have felt, indeed which they needed, to survive in the Rainy Basin. Yet years of Ovinutrix descendants had distanced her from the necessary action and had frozen her in place, leaving her vulnerable and unable to defend herself if need arose. She wrestled with her thoughts and emotions, for in her heart was the response of an Oviraptor but her body had physically responded as an Ovinutrix .
Azonthus was now resigned to her fate. She would be leader, no matter how much she didn't want to. It was her duty to the clan.
Her mind raced ahead to the trials that would prove her a leader. She would fight her father, not an easy task. Amongst the raptors of her clan, the males were always half again as large as the females. They were also tremendously stronger. How could Azonthus win in her weakened state?
The sound of someone else entering the cavern pulled her from thoughts of the trials. Looking up, she saw K'veer and an Ovinutrix. She was puzzled, hadn't K'veer been trying to get them to leave? Why would he bring the hatchery worker here?
Az watched as the Utahraptor gently pushed the Ovinutrix forward.
"I suppose you are the reason she is here," K'veer growled as he watched Azonthus and then began to storm off angrily.
She cocked her head and stared challengingly at him. "And if I am?"
Az knew the glare and tone of voice were meant to frighten her, but her warrior training wouldn't allow that. She gazed evenly back at him. That's when she realized it, he was the answer to her problem. If only she could somehow get him to train her...
"Then get out and take all these intruders with you."
Azonthus took a step closer to him. "Train me and maybe I will."
His eyes narrowed. What was she getting at? Why would she need training? "No," he said flatly.
Ok this isn't working. Time for a different approach. "Please, I need help and you can give it to me."
Az took a deep breath. "I am to become leader of my clan. If I don't win the battle with my father, the clan will be leaderless." She could sense him relenting slightly. Plowing on before he could object, she tried to make him think she wasn't a hopeless case. "I've already been trained as a warrior. I survived the war between the Sharpclaw and Hunters. All I need to do is learn something new that my father wouldn't know. Please, help me." She stared at him, eyes pleading.
K'veer had turned to return when the scarlet raptor had called out to him. He had turned and with a curt word expected the whole lot of them to leave. LunarFrost would have his hide if he didn't do his job. After a short battle of elegantly disguised threats, the raptor revealed she was heir to the position of Clan Leader in her clan. Would he help her? No.
She then stopped pleading and straightened up and looked him straight in the eyes, as straight as she could at least from a vantage point of a little over three feet from the ground. She addressed him calmly and as an equal. With a little respect growing in him, K'veer eyed the raptor.
"You wish to be my student?"
"Do you understand what this would require of you?" With this Azonthus paused, what did he mean? As if sensing her deliberation, K'veer suddenly jumped and with a sharp lower cut came down with his sickle claw no more than an inch from Azonthus' throat. If he had meant to make contact, he would have split her jugular open before she even had a chance to inhale. She would have died in a matter of minutes.
After coming back to the earth following his brutal but impressive display, his head was low to the ground and he turned to focus on Azonthus. With a stone face he commended her.
"You didn't flinch," he paused and with a cruel laugh continued, "Not that you would have a chance even if you knew what I was doing, but you show spirit." He backed off and looked at the group that had formed a wide arc around him to avoid the unpredictable outbursts he was currently displaying. Azonthus smiled weakly, trying to hide the fact that she was still recovering and the near death experience that she may have been prepared for in her normal condition had drained her of energy. "I will teach you," he continued on. "But be warned, it will be rough, and I make no exceptions." He looked down at her, a fire in his blue eyes shining. A chance to teach another all that he knew, now that was something he'd never expected to see.
Esk stared at Azonthus. She had come inches from death, and had not flinched. Esk knew she would have drawn back several feet from such an attack. Truly, Strongbow had made the right decision in choosing Azonthus to lead.
Why in the world a warrior like that would leave the Basin for a dull life in the city she would never know. True, she had gone through the same battles and war as Azonthus, but she had stayed. She did not desert her clan.
Azonthus could feel herself beginning to shake. She concentrated on keeping her body from showing any visible signs of fatigue, from appearing weak to the Utah warrior. She was weak, but that would change. While Az didn't know how much time she had before she could travel to her clan, she did know that she would not make the journey until K'veer decided she was ready. She was now the trainee, and he the master.
She lowered her head as a sign of respect and submission. "I am yours to train. Teach me as you will." It took everything she had to swallow her pride and take the Vow of the Pupil.
K'veer nodded once, accepting the vow. "Then come with me. Your life will no longer be an easy one." He then turned and strode into the darkness, not looking back to see if Azonthus followed or not, he knew she would; it was expected of her.
Without even a glance at her friends, the crimson raptor followed her new mentor into she knew not what.
Saar sniffed the air again and stalked the direction of the injured Utahraptor she could now smell clearly, while getting nearer she also smelled two other therapods. "Interesting…" She stalked closer quietly, now realizing the species of the other two beings.
C'xoila was the first to smell the new scent; it pinned him to the ground as he stared at the bushes, eyes wide in shock.
Cerule took on a defensive position.
MistReaver grabbed her staff and tried to get up but her knees gave way under her.
They would never be able to get out of there fast enough… They wouldn't be able win a fight either, MistReaver was injured, C'xoila was in shock and Cerule couldn't take on the big allo alone.
"Oh great, THANK you K'veer, let me handle this ALONE." LiquidFire sarcastically yelled after the departing warrior. She was now standing among strangers and the only one she could communicate with was the peach Velociraptor.
"What will he do with her?" the Velociraptor asked.
"Honestly? Well he'll start by testing her strength I think. Point is, she's still very weak… But that's a story she better tell you herself." LiquidFire looked at the small group, especially at the humans then back at Esk, "You do not happen to speak human language do you?"
Esk shook her head, "But Thistlebud speaks several languages."
"Well, my plan is this, we all go outside to find the rest of your groups then you guys stay there and I'll ask the clan leaders what's supposed to happen with you all…"
Upon hearing her name mentioned by Esk, Thistlebud edged toward the side of the enormous cavern attempting to blend in as inconspicuously as possible. However, this did nothing to dispel the feeling that the Velociraptor and the Utahraptor were watching her, particularly the intense green eyes of the one called LiquidFire. Thistlebud determinedly returned the gaze of the flame-patterned raptor but was unable to hold it, looking instead toward one of the walls depicting a scene showing raptors pitted against larger therapods. This made her think of ShadowStriker and she wondered what type of reception he would encounter when confronted by the Sanctuary Clan.
Again, two opposing natures warred within herself: the gentle compassionate nature of the Ovinutrix and the bold assertiveness of the Oviraptor. These natures began to merge as she realized that her gentle personality was likely to be more encouraging to the humans than the dominating personalities of the raptors, yet she needed the boldness of her ancestors in order to approach the intimidating Utah and offer to translate.
Hesitantly at first and then becoming more sure of herself as she approached the area where Esk and LiquidFire conferred, Thistlebud looked first into the eyes of the Velociraptor, who gave an almost imperceptible nod, and then into the deep green eyes of the Utah, speaking in the language of the raptors, "I can translate between you and the humans." This time Thistlebud held the intense gaze of the Utah, and awaited her reply.
Esk heaved a sigh. She had just found Azonthus, now she would have to leave again, without her leader. If that was the way it was to be, then it would be that way. Azonthus had better re-learn the warriors skills quickly, or the clan would be vulnerable to attack. If a Hunter tried to take control, Azonthus would return to nothing, no matter how well trained she was. All Hunters desired the destruction of Sharpclaw, and without a leader the clan would be easy pray.
"This had better not take long. Or I will have to take her there trained or not."
C'xoila propped himself up on his staff. The Allosaur was close now, less then two hundred feet from the cave entrance and there was no escape possible. Being a cave for dinos as large as Cerule, the Allosaur could easily stick its front half in and make a quick afternoon snack of them. Shivering and feeling lightheaded, C'xoila pushed a button on the grip of his staff. A short arm with a circular end rotated out from the larger circular head of the staff, and long curved blades, much like raptor claws themselves grew from the round parts. Cerule, eyes wide, gave C'xoila a small head-bob of approval. They could hear the Allosaur moving around outside the cave, grunting in frustration as it slipped over the jumbled rocks outside the cave's entrance. C'xoila's right sickle talon tapped nervously against the stone floor of the cave, making what seemed to be an impossibly loud sound. There was no doubt that the Allosaur knew they were there, the sounds of the creature were getting louder and louder, and unless the Allo had absolutely no sense of smell whatsoever, they were dead meat.
Saar was intrigued by what she smelled. The Deinonychus scent was like that of the the yellow and white Deinonychus, Fer'dri, that she helped the red raptor capture in Waterfall City. She paused mid-stride, wondering exactly what happened to the Velociraptor, Moves-Like-The-Wind? "Probably whatever almost happened to Herak happen to her." Saar thought, "Herak survived, that little raptor did not." Thinking about this, Saar sighed, "I was beginning to like her." Shaking her head, Saar moved again towards the cave, taking a deep breath as she did so. "Yes, perhaps that small deinonychus's kin... Or better yet, his brother, the one that Herak hates so much." Saar grinned, "Perhaps if I capture this deinonychus, if he really is the 'C'xoila', it will get me back into the tribe." But which did she want more: to get back into the tribe, or to be rid of Herak forever?
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