|Nearly a month ago, the Navigator and her crew had left the port of New York City for Africa and India. Captain McGreggor was taking a small group of trappers across the Atlantic and around Africa into the Indian Ocean to collect animals for the New York City Zoo.
It had been a rough trip around Cape Horn, but the Navigator had carried her crew to safety, and to port, for re-supplying, with admirable strength.
Some eight days out of port and well into the Indian Ocean, Rico and Lt. Tates put their latest prank into action.
“Señor Pradelli!” Rico shouted as he ran from the cargo hold to the deck. “Señor Pradelli! We left the trapping equipment back at port!”
Lucas Pradelli, head of the trapping expedition, looked skeptically at the young Mexican. “Is this another of your jokes? I personally supervised the loading of all our gear back in New York and none of it left when we docked in Africa.”
“I’m sorry, señor, but you are no right. I was just down there looking for an extra blanket and it’s all missing! Come, I show you.”
Lucas sighed, but followed the energetic youth to the hold. On his way bellow deck they passed by the sleeping mound of orange and gold that was Namir, his faithful Siberian tiger. Most of the crew feared him so most of the caretaking responsibilities fell upon himself, not that he minded at all. Bringing the tiger had been a requirement for his participation on this trip. Actually, he enjoyed watching everyone run around like madmen when ever the big kitty cat felt in a playful, pouncing mood.
They passed the sleeping giant and descended the stairs to the hold. There, he was surprised to find Rico had spoken the truth. Not one bit of the equipment they would need to trap the great elephants, tigers, lions, or monkeys was to be found. Even the collapsible cages were gone!
Lt. Petar Tates was going through one of the trunks, searching for something.
Trying his best to sound authoritative, Lucas boomed, “Lieutenant! What is the meaning of this?”
The muscular navel officer immediately straightened and saluted. “Sir! I was just looking for an additional blanket for Rico, Sir!” Even though he had retired after the American Civil War, he still acted military. However, his playful nature had not been dimmed by the strict navy training.
“Oh, you’re not in the Navy any more; stop saluting,” Lucas laughed as he walked around, searching for their gear.
Rico saluted and began marching around the hold, looking for the missing goods.
“Rico? What are you doing?” Lucas asked, getting exasperated by the youths antics. Maybe he hadn’t made the best decision in taking the 18 year old on their hunt…
“Looking for the traps Señor,” Rico replied as he kept marching around.
“Aren’t you the one that told me they’re all missing?”
“Then why are you…. Ah, I’m going to speak to Captain McGreggor about this.” As he left, Lucas could have sworn he heard Lt. Tates and Rico laughing.
Captain Mark McGreggor stood at the ships port side with Jebar Sorla, the ships cook and cabin boy, though he was well into his thirties. The broad shouldered Irishman watched the oceans waters with a well practiced eye. Dolphins, a seaman’s omen of good luck, played in the waters surrounding the Navigator. Still, goosebumps appeared on his arms and his stomach tied itself into knots. From all outward appearances, he was calmer than the sea itself.
“Bad storms coming,” the captain calmly said.
“Aye, I feel it too,” Jebar replied. “I’ll tell the passengers to get below decks.”
“Thank you.” Captain McGreggor continued to scrutinize the clear blue skies for any sign of when the storm would break.
Late that night, the first raindrops started. Within moments, a few light raindrops grew into a full scale tropical storm.
The shrieking wind tore at the sails while the angry waves alternately shoved and pulled the Navigator.
Shipmen ran back and forth, tying down barrels that had broken loose and the helmsman had tied himself to the wheel to keep the massive waves that washed the deck from sweeping him away.
Through the blackness, Captain McGreggor could see the white waves breaking over a reefs deadly teeth, and his ship was being driven towards it… “Reef!” he shouted and ran to the steering wheel, desperately trying to help Dekko steer away from the fatal rocks. Despite the combined efforts of both men, the ship was driven into the stony jaws with a sickening splintering of wood that drowned out even the winds howl.
Every man on board rushed to the lifeboats. The trappers fled to the deck as the lower levels quickly began filling with the seas fury.
Shipmen pulled back the tarps covering the lifeboats and found two of them loaded with trapping gear, but balanced with enough space for five men each. The other lifeboat was empty.
Lucas scowled at Rico, “In the boat!” he ordered.
“No me boy a mantor en ese bote!”
Lucas pushed Rico into the boat and climbed in after. The boats were soon in the oceans savage swell. Amazingly, the two boats with trapping gear balanced the best; the extra weight acted as ballast.
“Namir!” Lucas called his tiger. The great cat came bounding over the ships side to land in the boat. Namir curled up miserably in the middle of the already full boat and tried his best to stay near Lucas.
“Pull, men!” Captain McGreggor directed his boat. Everyone manned an oar, desperately trying to avoid the sharp sea stones.
Suddenly, the boat Rico, Lucas, Lt. Tates, and two other shipmen were in was pushed heavily to one side. Again and again, something rammed the small boat, guiding it around the reef.
Rico caught a glimpse of a dolphin just as the boat was rammed again. “Los delfines! They’re helping us!”
“Then follow them and pray the others do the same!” Lt. Tates shouted.
Hours of the tortuous battle for life passed as the crew followed their dolphin guides.
Eventually, the sea claimed a boat, the one unweighted by the trappers gear. A single dolphin lifted one man back to the surface and sped ahead of its companions. Soon, the porpoise and human were lost to sight.
Minutes, hours, days later, who could tell, Namir lifted his striped head from the boats bottom. The great tiger looked around in the darkness, sniffing. Suddenly, he leapt out of the boat and started swimming away.
“Namir!” Lucas cried out. Then, he saw what Namir had smelled, land. “Land! There’s land!”
The exhausted men pulled with renewed vigor and soon felt sand scraping the bottom of their boats. Leaping out, they pulled their water soaked craft above the tide line and hunkered down under some palm groves to wait out the storm.
As the crew waited out the storm a young man, wrapped in a long waterproof cloak watched them from some distance off. He held a long pole of strong pinewood in one hand, and the other was thrust deep into his pockets. As the bedraggled sailors peeped out from under their cover, the man smiled, and hunkered down into the thicket from where he had been observing them.
Though the word was small, it captured the essence of their situation. They had watched the storm blow by and now a thick helplessness prevailed in the soft breeze. Lucas Pradelli felt Namir nuzzle his head affectionately and patted him absentmindedly. The big cat could sense his master’s worries and did what it could to cheer him up. He assessed their situation quickly. Five survivors were there and then, they still had to walk around the shoreline to see if anyone else had lived. Two lifeboats filled with trapping gear and equipment courtesy of Rico & Tate Pranks Inc.
For once their little jokes had come in handy. At least they had camping equipment there. What worried him most now was their location. At sea, Captain McGreggor had been in charge of the common well being, here on land, that was his arena.
“Captain,” Lucas said standing up and brushing the sand off his pants. “Can you say how far off course the storm blew us?”
“It’s hard to say,” his elder replied. “We could be anywhere in a twenty mile radius.”
“Do you have any guess as to where we could be now?” he insisted. They had to be somewhere.
“Polynesia, hopefully not too far from the coast of India.”
“I was afraid of that,” Lucas muttered. “Well, we might as well make the best of it.” He walked over to one of the loaded lifeboat and took out one of the various crates it contained. “Here’s what we’ll do,” he said while fumbling with the lid, “Rico and I will search the coastline for survivors and scan our immediate surroundings.”
“Yo, señor?” the wide-eyed Mexican boy said suddenly snapping to attention.
“Yeah,” Lucas said. “We need to find fresh water and gather some food as well. The rest of you stay here and set up a camp. There should be enough tents for all of us and some to spare. Lieutenant, you still remember how this goes right?”
“Yes, sir!” Petar Tates exclaimed happy to finally get out of the cloud of gloom they had been sunken under.
Lucas threw the lid of the crate on the wet sand, reached in for one of the riffles inside of it and made sure it was loaded before throwing it at the ex-military man who caught it in mid air. He then picked one for himself and threw it across his back.
“Keep your eyes open,” he told Petar. “I’ve heard too many stories of shipwrecked men whose remains have been the only clue of their existence.”
Petar nodded solemnly.
“Canibales!” Rico exclaimed looking up at Lucas. “You don’t think there are any on this island, do you?”
“We can’t be too careful,” he replied to the youth. “But don’t worry, we’re more than prepared for anything this place has to offer.” He turned to the remaining three men. “We’ll be back in a few hours, hopefully with some of our shipmates and provisions.”
With that he turned and motioned for Rico to follow him down the shore. Without having to be asked, the great feline accompanied them sometimes running ahead to stretch his cramp muscles sometimes walking by their side. When they returned Lucas would worry about what to do next.
Cyrrus Swiftflight lifted her head and arms from underwater, pulling a tube of sediment with her. She carefully stoppered and labeled her sample, marking it with a small wax pen, and then moved on.
The blue and yellow Struthiomimus Geologist was studying the different minerals that eroded down from the Forbidden Mountains into the Blackwood Flats rivers and streams.
Her delicate head bobbed up at the sound of human voices. She hadn’t heard other people for a long while. She whistles cheerfully, chirping a friendly "Breathe Deep, Seek Peace," to the strangers.
Out came a young girl carrying a basket full of freshly cut flowers. Accompanying her was a Leaellynasura.
"Hullo there," the girl said, "And what might you be doing here on this fine morning?"
“What are you doing?”
“Taking… a sample.”
“We need to know where this stream comes from. Wouldn’t want to over walk your royal hide for nothing, would we?”
Tamith sighed in exasperation but decided to ignore the teasing. Dylan grinned mischievously and returned to his work. She watched with mild enthusiasm as he filled a small flask with water from the almost dry stream then added a few drops of something in it.
“Uh huh…” he muttered. “I thought so.”
“What?” Tamith asked looking over his shoulder.
“This stream has a high content of calcium, meaning it comes from an underground river,” Dylan said putting a stopper on the small flask and threw it in his knapsack.
“What are you saying?” Tamith asked standing back as he stood up.
“You said the stream ran dry in the forest, right? I guess the only logical explanation is that there must have been some sort of cave-in somewhere on the stream’s path that’s not allowing enough water to get through.”
“But lime dissolves in water,” Tamith pointed out.
“A little of it, yes. It wouldn’t take very long, but a whole ceiling of it could take a while, enough to affect your ecosystem.” He said walking over towards Karua, his Corythosaur partner. He reached into one of the saddlebags and brought out a series of maps that he opened on the ground. “This is our stream right here,” he told Tamith pointing at one of the many scribbled line across the paper, “It’s source is this other river here, that as you can see, it’s pretty big.”
“How does that help us?” Tamith asked kneeling besides him.
“This alone doesn’t help us one bit, since the source is underground there’s not a thing we can do to reach it, however, this does.” He pointed at the area around the river.
“It’s inside a cave,” Tamith observed.
“Yep, that means we can get to it. Part of the main river is accessible, that’s all we need. The current should take care of the rest.”
“What are you planning on doing?”
“Well, Magnolia suspected it might be something like this, so she asked me to pack a few barrels of ulieka just in case,” he said rolling the maps back up.
“That dissolves lime, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, and it’s completely harmless to the water, etc. We just have to drop the liquid into the stream and let nature take it’s course. The river should be flowing again in no time.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Tamith said getting up. She looked around the plains and could still see the remnants of the storm that had passed just the day before. Lucky for them, there were no big trees in this area of Dinotopia so little debris littered the way. The Blackwood Flats had been properly named after the acres upon acres of level ground. This wasn’t her area of expertise, but when the mysterious drying up of a river that fed one of the few woodland system at the southern base of the Forbidden Mountains, she had to make it her business.
Bracken had immediately consulted the Fresh Water Habitat masters, and as usual because she knew him from way back when, she got paired with Dylan to fix up the mess. It wasn’t only because a representative from the Forest was necessary, she thought, but because Dylan usually got distracted along the way and took four times as long on every mission. When she was there, on the other hand, they usually took… well maybe twice or three times the time. He was excellent at what he did, she had to give him that. Magnolia, the Fresh Water human master had to know that as well because she trusted him with many delicate situations.
“OK, here’s what we’ll do,” Dylan said suddenly snapping her back to reality, “The cave system isn’t more than a few hour’s hike away. I’ll go there tonight and drop the dissolvent into the river. Tomorrow, come with me and see what has happened.”
“And what do I do?” she asked just as he climb on Karua’s saddled.
“You and Tri, set up camp,” he replied. “I can take it from here.”
Tamith nodded with a bit of reluctance. “Take Featherlight,” she called up to him. She didn’t like the idea of no communication in case anything happened.
“Got him,” Dylan said and she noticed the little Dimorphodon head poking out of one of the saddlebags. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
Tamith watched him leave for a few moments before turning back to Triforce. “Well, girl, looks like it’ll be just you and me for a while,” she said and giggled at Triforce’s reply. “Yeah, we’ll get a little peace around here. I’ll make use of it and start setting us up. It’ll be a few days before we can return to Bonabba.”
Blue Eyes watched the humans from a distance, his sharp vision eying them curiously. They're wet....their clothes are unfamiliar and their tools seem different. They smell of saltwater....Dolphin backs most likely. Their language seems unfamiliar.." he thought to himself as he slowly circled around the perimeter just within the shadows, a faint clang, clang, clang following each footstep.
Minstelae follows the scent of the little troodont. She had been traveling, and had left the Rainy Basin, her homeland, just to see a little more of what else was out there. She often did this sort of thing, and she was intrigued by the scent of a certain troodont, and thought that she would follow it. However, upon getting closer, she could also sense the smell of humans. She hadn't seen a human or saurian for quite some time, and she figured she might see what was up. She sighed to herself slightly and began to approach the troodont, who seemed to be right on the perimeter of the place where the humans were. She grunted softly to let him know that she's there.
Ava, a young Parasaurolophus, was enjoying a weekend out by herself. She had recently turned eight, the equivalent of a fourteen year old human, and as a birthday present was allowed to go camping by herself. Ava enjoyed being out on her own, where she could practice her music alone and without fear of criticizing ears.
This morning, she was happily munching on a nearby Ginkgo tree. Savoring the taste and humming to herself, she did not notice the pair of amber eyes intently watching her from downwind.
~~~~~“Hey, Tigre, what’d you find now?” Rico asked. He and Lucas had spent a good part of the morning searching for food, and they had not been disappointed. Namir had shown them a river flowing with fresh water and many strange looking fish. There were coconuts aplenty to be had on the beach, and fruit that Lucas insisted was a mango, though Rico had no idea what it was, grew on some rather large trees near the river they had found. Rico had found some edible water plants growing on the lazily flowing rivers banks too.
Now, Namir had started stalking off in the grass, stalking something. Lucas didn’t seem too worried, but Rico was curious as to what the hunter may have found. Maybe they would have fresh deer meat to go with the fish tonight.
~~~~~Ava looked up, disturbed by the sudden silence. The archaeopteryx that had been singing all morning had gone silent, along with all the humming insects of the flats and other birds. Instinct told her to run, but her logical mind told her that there was nothing to fear here. She was far from the Basin and the only carnosaurs that would be here were friendly.
Still… She didn’t like the feeling she was being watched. The young hadrosaur slowly turned in a circle, looking about. No, she was just being a silly child and afraid of the loneliness. But being alone had never bothered her before.
Unexpectedly, she felt sharp claws digging into her flank and she cried out in pain while breaking into a gallop, attempting to rid herself of whatever was clinging to her.
The striped cat fell off, but continued to pursue his prey.
“SABERTOOTH!” Ava cried out, wishing desperately that someone would be near enough to help her. She continued crying out her distress and running, the large cat closing in on her…
Dylan crawled out of the narrow hole that was the opening to the underground cave system. Having dropped the solvent into the stream and being satisfied with the results, he returned to the surface where Karua waited for him.
“Everything’s going as planned,” Dylan told his saurian partner while dusting himself off. “Now we’ll go back and bring Tamith in the morning to see our work. Can you believe we’re on schedule?”
Karua snorted as if saying he couldn’t believed they had managed to pull that one off. Dylan laughed at his friend’s comment.
“We better head back,” he stated. “We have a long walk to camp and wouldn’t want Tamith to worry, you know how she can get.” Karua nodded his agreements and kneeled down for Dylan to climb onto his back. “Well Featherlight,” he said taking the little dimorphodon out of her basket, “looks like you can go ahead and report-”
Karua turned his head around so sharply that he almost knocked Dylan off his perch. The Corynthosaurus rose to him full height, every muscle of his body tense. Dylan furrowed his brow in confusion.
“What is it?” he asked him, but it didn’t take long for him to find out. Somewhere near, he could here the melodious cries for help a hadrosaur. Its words were muffled by the wind, but he could still pick up the message it was screaming.
“Carnivores? Here?” Dylan exclaimed in panic. “So far from the Basin...” Karua had already started running in the general direction of the cries and it wasn’t long before a young Parasaurolophus came into view dashing ahead madly of a blur of gold and black.
“Get behind us!” Dylan cried out as Karua moved to intercept it. The little hadro saw her salvation in her fully-grown cousin and wasted no time complying. Karua bellowed a threat at the golden creature that surprised at the sudden appearance of larger, far more intimidating dinosaur froze in its tracks. It bore its fangs at the trio; every single hair on it’s back standing.
“What in the world is that....” Dylan mused making no effort to hide his surprise. The animal looked like a saber cat, but its coat was deep orange with black stripes running the length of its body. Besides this, the other difference was that it lacked the two over grown fangs that were such a distinctive characteristic on the ancient cat. Karua bellowed another challenge making the animal take a reluctant step back.
“Easy, Karua. I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Dylan said trying to soothe his partner from his obvious rage and indignation.
The human voice startled Dylan. Looking up he saw two men running in their direction. One was shouting in words that seemed vaguely familiar. Both froze in their tracks meters away from where they stood. The big cat retreated slowly, it’s yellow eyes still on them. Dylan turned his attention back to the humans and felt something cold and hard settle in his stomach. Their clothing was foreign, as was their language, but the only thing he cared about at the moment was the staff the older of the two was pointing at them. Something about it, something his great grandfather had described in his childhood, made him freeze with dread. Staffs that breathed fire and thunder. Machines that killed with the snapping of a trigger...
Weapons... he thought. These are dolphinbacks and they brought with them weapons...