An icy wind buffeted the airborne Sky Galley piloted by Javid whose expertise enabled him to maneuver the craft along the strong currents blowing out of the Forbidden Mountains. Mathaira pulled her mammoth fur parka-like cloak more tightly against her chilled body, thankful for the hood that deflected the swirling snow from her head and face. She was grateful to the mammoth that had so willingly shared his shed fur and for the skilled Tentpole weavers who had crafted the outerwear necessary for travel in the more frigid regions of the Island.
Having been delayed in leaving Bonabba as the result of Sui, a Rutiodon female from Volcaneum who had difficulty in expelling her egg, Mathaira knew that many of her friends had probably already arrived in Thermala, having been invited to visit the Blackfeather Village by Quickstride. As a native Dinotopian Mathaira had journeyed into the Forbidden Mountains upon occasion but it was not with great frequency, there being no need to provide hatchery work to the mammalian residents of the Mountain villages. Her previous trips to Thermala, Sky City, and the Tentpole of the Sky as well as other villages within the Forbidden Mountains had been for the purpose of bartering. Mathaira exchanged baskets woven of reeds from Hadro Swamp and carefully protected flowering plants from the Rainy Basin and received in return the intricately woven blankets and beautifully designed cloaks fashioned from the fur shed by the region's mammals. In the past, through bartering with her contacts in the Mountains, she had also been able to obtain ice, snow, and reindeer milk from which she prepared a sweet frozen concoction as a special dessert for her friends in the lower regions of the Island.
Making arrangements with the Sky Galley pilot to exit the craft not in Thermala but at a nearby trading post past the outskirts of the village, Mathaira shouldered the bulky pack which contained several smaller sized reed baskets. As she had departed from Bonabba in too much haste to obtain flowering plants from the Rainy Basin, she was regretful of this fact as she knew how precious such specimens were in the homes of the Mountain inhabitants, having witnessed firsthand the delight and joy upon their faces when receiving such treasures and seeing the tender care which was relished upon the fragile plants.
Mathaira trudged along a vague path, its course so blown over with drifting snow that its direction was almost indiscernible. Fortunately she had traveled this route previously and was able to maintain the proper direction to reach her destination, tamping the snow down with her boots in an effort to guide others who may journey behind her yet be unfamiliar with the trail. As she approached a sprawling building, she perceived light emitting from small windows of The Glacier Ridge Trading Post creating a pearlescent sheen upon the crystalline snow.
Before entering the trading post, she stomped her boots soundly on the small porch so as not to track snow inside. A welcome blast of warmth from the fire blazing within the oversized hearth struck her as she opened the sturdy door. Petar and Natasha, the proprietors of The Glacier Ridge Trading Post glanced up from behind the massive counter, recognizing Mathaira as she eased the ice-encrusted hood of her cloak off of her head. Before the humans had a chance to utter their greetings, Mathaira was struck off balance by a flash of golden fur, amber eyes and gleaming fangs, having to steady herself on a nearby cask to keep from falling as a feline form bounded to greet her. Recovering from the enthusiastic welcome and regaining her footing, Mathaira embraced her mammalian friend fondly, burying her face in the soft fur and drawing warmth from the muscular body.
Mathaira had met Petar, Natasha and Ajzik on her first trip to the Forbidden Mountains many years ago as she sought to barter at the Trading Post. Though she had befriended the humans, it was Ajzik, her name itself meaning "gold," the golden furred Smilodon whom she had joined hearts with. The Sabertooth walked with a limp, her right rear leg having been injured in an avalanche when she was but a cub, her parents having been killed in the same tragedy. Petar, as part of the team clearing the avalanche from the Mountain pass, had discovered the injured cub and brought her back to the Trading Post where Natasha treated her injury and nursed her back to health. In typical Dinotopian fashion, the human couple adopted the Smilodon as their own daughter and she assisted in the running of the Trading Post. Though somewhat wary at first, the Mountain inhabitants gradually accepted Ajzik as one of their own and she was now firmly entrenched in the village.
Though of different species, the human female hatchery worker and the young Smilodon had formed an instant friendship, sharing their time together when Mathaira journeyed into the region. Neither speaking the other's language, they devised a means of communication through vocalization, body posture, gestures and, of course, the Footprint Alphabet that was common throughout the Island. Ajzik's years of living with her human parents had given her the ability to understand the nuances of their speech while Mathaira's relationship with ShadowStriker had taught her the rudiments of rumbles and growls, though the Tyrannosaur vocalization emanated deep within the body while the Sabertooth language generated from the throat.
"What are you doing here near Thermala?!" Ajzik excitedly queried Mathaira.
Mathaira answered as she removed her snow-covered cloak and hung it on a peg near the fire to dry, "Well, I brought some reed baskets to trade for blankets to use in the Hatchery. We use them to wrap around some of the more fragile hatchlings who have had difficulty in emerging from their eggshells." As she retrieved the crafted basketry from her large pack, Mathaira continued, "I'm supposed to meet some friends in Thermala. Quickstride, a Gallimimus from Blackfeather Village, invited several of us to visit with her Tribe."
Ajzik nodded her head, "I don't know her well but have seen her in here. She sometimes comes to barter at the Trading Post."
Natasha interjected, "She was in here just a few days ago asking if we had any fur blankets to trade. She said she was expecting some visitors who might not be used to our colder weather here in the Mountains."
"I remember that," Ajzik acknowledged her mother, "We didn't have the blankets yet because the Tentpole weavers were still working on them."
Petar rummaged through his well-stocked shelves, "They just delivered them this morning." He pulled a stack of folded blankets down and suggested to his daughter, "Why don't you go with Mathaira and you can deliver the blankets to Quickstride."
Knowing that many of her friends were not used to the frigid temperatures of the Forbiddens, Mathaira agreed that this was a good plan and anticipated spending time with Ajzik as they journeyed to meet the others.
As the two friends prepared their packs and provisions, Ajzik confided to Mathaira, "I'm nervous about meeting your friends. Sometimes those outside of the Forbidden Mountains seem to be afraid of my species."
Mathaira reassured her friend, "I know they will welcome you."
Staying up long into the night, Mathaira and Ajzik shared their hearts with one another and finally drifted off to sleep, anticipating the arrival of the early morning sun when they would journey into Thermala to meet Mathaira's friends.
Tasha looked behind Lorcireino at the large Wooly Mammoth that stood there, snorting in laughter at Lorcireino's mishap. She watched as Lorci heaved a sigh, embarrassed that someone else had seen her fall into the deep snow. Tasha seized this moment to ask for directions.
"Excuse me," she began, "But we need to find a warm place to stay and we kind of got lost," she spoke to the mammoth.
Two children appeared beside the Wooly Mammoth suddenly, staring up at Lorcireino. Tasha didn't blame them. Hardly anyone on Dinotopian would have seen a Coronaraptor, much less heard of one. The Coronaraptor tended to keep to themselves deep in the coolest and shadiest spots of the Rainy Basin.
"We can take you," one of the children said, apparently a girl by her voice. The girl was covered head to toe in warm clothing, unlike Tasha. "We also have some extra stuff packed on our mammoth if you would like to wear something warmer than what you have on."
Tasha sighed in relief, it was almost like the girl had read her mind. "I would appreciate that very much," Tasha replied. Then she turned to her partner. "Are you alright, Lorci?" Tasha asked, worried that her friend might be a tad cold. Even though her body was built for temperatures such as this, there was a limit too how much cold one saurian could take.
"I will be fine once we reach shelter," Lorcireino replied softly. Tasha glanced at her friend, worried that she might not be telling her quite the truth. Lorcireino seemed much lighter in color than was normal for her. When they'd first met, Lorci had told her that the way to tell if one was too cold, was to look at the skin tone and see if was lighter than normal. Lorci's skin was much lighter than normal.
The other kid, seeming to sense Tasha's distress, offered Lorcireino a warm blanket to cover her body. Lorcireino accepted the offered blanket, her pride not taking over her intelligence like it usually did.
Tasha smiled appreciatively at the two youngsters. "I appreciate your help very much," she replied as the girl handed her some warmer clothing to put over her face and the jacket she had on.
"There is an Inn not too far from here. You both can rest there. Have you ever been here before?" The other kid asked, a little boy.
He must be the girl's brother, Tasha thought.
"I was here twice before, but it was a while ago and I am afraid I do not have a very good memory of places unless I visit them often," Tasha replied, somewhat embarrassed.
Both kids smiled and then beckoned her and Lorcireino to follow them. They didn't have to walk long. A large building rose before them and they walked up to the door. The girl pushed it open and showed them inside. Lorcireino almost tripped on the doorstep, but recovered and she had to duck under the door as she stepped in. Tasha was happy that Lorci had not tripped; not only would it look funny, but a four and a half ton dinosaur was not what you wanted to land on top of you. Especially if it had large sharp claws.
"I thank you again. Is there anything I may do to return the favor?" Tasha bent down so that she was at eye level with the children.
"If we need help with something if we ever come to your town, we'll be sure to find you and ask you," the boy replied, and with that said, the children left Lorcireino and Tasha to get to know the people at the inn and receive some much-needed rest.
"Danger... careful..." something whispered. "Escape, take the feathered to safety..." The raptor turned around, searching for the voices. She could only hear them and her world was misty, dark. It was warm here, but lonely. If only she could see who she heard... Glaring, red light shone through the fog. The air burned and the earth danced its rage. Danger was all around. Screams of the tortured filled the air and there was nothing to be done. Suddenly, a cool, white light penetrated the red heat. The light continued to grow until a young raptor was seen. "Azonthus, time to get up..." she whispered.
"Ungh... not wanna get up..." the sleepy raptor muttered.
"Come on Az, time to get up." A strong, clawed hand poked the bundle under the covers again.
"Ung! I'm up," she muttered again. The poking stopped and Az once again sank into warmth.
"I'm going to dump you on the floor if you don't get up," someone warned.
"Meanie." Az began to work her way to the opening in the warm blankets. It was so warm under there. She poked her nose out from under a blanket and immediately pulled back. "Nuh-uh! S'cold out there!"
Someone grabbed the blankets and began pulling them off Az. Refusing to let go, Az ended up in a heap on the floor, finally out of bed.
"Is this how a clan leader acts?" MistReaver asked, looking down on the smaller raptor.
"It is when they hate cold!" Az replied. She grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around herself. "The floor is cold, the room is cold, and my snout is freezing off!"
MistReaver pointed to the fire in the fireplace. "There's a fire and food. You can take the blanket with you, but I suggest you get up. We have to find Quickstride today."
Sighing, Az stood up and wrapped the blanket around herself better. She made her way over to the table in front of the fire and sniffed at the dried fish. "Well, at least we get fish!" she said happily and ate what was left.
Once Az had eaten, she and MistReaver headed down to the common room of the inn to see if anyone else had arrived. Still in the borrowed blanket instead of her cape, Az searched the room for a familiar face.
The boarding ramp to the sky galley uncoiled like an enormous tongue, and a triceratops in a heavy cloak stepped off, his feet crunching the snow. He looked around him, surveying the area. His breath warmed the cold air, creating smoky wisps of condensed moisture. He began to walk towards the nearby town of Thermala.
He was here to assist in some sort of ritual. A raptor clan had contacted him about it. He knew very little of the ceremony itself, other than that it was a spirit quest, and he knew even less about his role in it. Oh well, he thought, I guess I'll find out soon enough.
Camouflaged against the snow, Anch'ar sat, still, unblinking, hardly breathing. He stared down the side of the hill at the congregation of humans and saurians in the town below. He inhaled deeply, his lungs becoming ice, and savored the scents. Living in the mountains, Anch'ar had lost all need and want for the Code. He had survived in this frost by feasting on the carcasses of those less wary of the travelers that passed through. Most of them were carcasses before he began feasting, dying of frostbite or starvation due to stupidity and being unprepared. Most of them. Some of them he killed. But how else would he live, outcast from the Basin?
He licked his lips in anticipation. He couldn't do anything now. Oh no, not in the town. But they had to move on eventually. So many of these Dinotopians were so naive. An easy banquet.
Lorcireino sighed contentedly. After a long nights rest, she was now fully refreshed and ready to see all of Thermala! She walked around, greeting saurians and humans alike. Most were quite interested in seeing her, for she was nothing like anyone had seen before.
"If this is how Thermala treats all of its guests, I think I'll make a point of coming here often," Lorcireino stated firmly, smiling down at her partner.
Tasha laughed, taking Lorci's statement as a joke. "Come now, you only look different to them, they are just curious. If you came 'round too often, then everyone would know who you were and wouldn't be so curious. You would just be a regular." Tasha smiled, letting Lorcireino know that she was only giving her a hard time.
Lorcireino snorted, a bit of her warm breath frosting out of her nose as she did so and curling in tangled shapes. Lorcireino sighed heavily and then began walking around. A few children ran up to her once she left Tasha's side.
"Where are you from?" one of them asked. Lorcireino turned her eyes pleadingly to her partner, who smiled and relaxed against wall. Seeing that she would get no help from her partner, she turned back to look at the three youngsters hanging around her.
"I...am...from the Rainy Basin," she replied in the Dinotopian language. She looked back over her shoulder at Tasha again, who placed her hand over her mouth and yawned, then waved at Lorci to speak to the children. Her eyes danced and they seemed to say: You're the one who wanted all the attention, and to make a lot of new friends. So go on!
Lorcireino frowned, or she did as far as her saurian mouth would allow.
"You're from the Rainy Basin?" another asked, clearly skeptical. "You don't look like you're from the Rainy Basin."
Lorcireino had the sudden urge to show them all of her teeth, but she refrained from doing so. Tasha would berate her harshly if she did. "Looks can be deceiving." Lorcireino replied and turned around to leave them and saw a small red and yellow raptor who was wrapped in a blanket and a silver raptor coming in. Her eyes widened and she broke into a huge smile.
"Other raptors!" she shouted loudly and ran over to greet the startled raptors. "Hello!" she said, smiling widely. "I was beginning to think that there would be no others around here in Thermala because it is too cold for most species! It is so nice to see others who brave the cold! My name is Lorcireino, but you may call me Lorci. I am a Coronaraptor! Who are you?" She asked, bubbling with joy. She was almost jumping up in excitement, but instead she hopped from one foot to the other trying hard not to look too excited, but failing to do so. This was so amazing! Other raptors here in Thermala!
The triceratops stopped in every little town business and inn and asked the same question. "Have you seen a large gray Utahraptor accompanied by a brightly hued velociraptor?" The answers were all similar, as well. A few answered, "Yes" and others answered "No but I've heard about them." All seemed perplexed by the sudden and unexplained influx of saurians. The triceratops continued, "Do you know where they are staying?" It took a long time until he finally found people who knew.
"Yes," they said, "They're at Myra's Inn on the opposite side of town." The triceratops, happy to know where the dromaesaurs were but not too happy about having to turn around and walk back to the other side of Thermala, briefly expressed his thanks and walked out the door.
Freezing and tired, the triceratops found himself in Myra's Inn. He opened the gigantic door, considerately built for both humans and other creatures, and breathed in the warm, humid air from within. The saurian walked over to the desk, and inquired where he could find the two raptors staying here.
"Ooh, you just missed 'em," she said, "They walked off into town. You might want to go look for them, they can't have gone very far from here." The triceratops winced inside.
"Can I leave a message for them in case I do not find them?" He asked.
The woman replied in the affirmative and he gave her the message: "Please tell them that Stouthorn has arrived and wishes to discuss the business at hand."
Lifting her head from the counter Mist looked around for somewhere to duck behind. The overeager raptor had frightened her, and the solitary raptor found a quick exit through one of the windows, taking her bowstaff with her and in a rush to leave, forgot her cape inside.
The dark charcoal gray raptor with the silver stripes blended with the shadows as she crouched right underneath the overhand of Myra's Inn. Looking around she quietly whispered to herself, her breath condensing into vapor in the freezing air.
"Mmm...Mist cold, find...," She closed her eyes and opened them again, nodding to herself as she easily leapt to the roof of the Inn. A few humans with a large camel and a dire wolf watched the raptor disappear into the shadows. She didn't mean to scare anyone and wanted to be able to move quickly. Racing along the rooftops, leaping from roof to roof she balked, closing her eyes again, letting what Xandu had taught her seep into her mind. The cold air chilled her to the bone, making it harder for her to move but cleared her mind.
"Close Reaver, keep moving..." Leaping from a roof having vaulted the space with her staff, she landed hard in a dark alley, slipping on the ice and huffing from exhaustion and a growing chill in her limbs. Emerald eyes peered out into the main street, bustling with activity as MistReaver found the large, tri-horned form she wanted. Not revealing herself, but allowing her eyes to shine from the alley's darkness she rasped out.
"Wise one," she whistled, noticing a few distressed looks from passing people and mammals at the unfamiliar sound of a raptor cry. "What would you want of me?"
The mountain wind whipped at all things and left frostbite instead of lashes. But Anch'ar sat in thought, defiant of the cruel cold. He sat, completely still, in reflection. There was little else to do, sometimes. He remembered his life as a chick. He used to wander off into the mountains, making his mother worry endlessly. It always held an allure for him. The adults warned him that he could die of frost and that only mammals could survive there, but Anch'ar felt otherwise. It felt more natural for him to be in the tundra than in the jungle. According to legend, his species -- the Cryolophosaurs -- had once lived in the brutal ice and snow, but were driven violently into the Basin by less enlightened humans than those that existed now. But the others of his kind wouldn't listen, and told him he was odd, and that he should just be happy where he was. An outcast since he was a hatchling.
His mind wandered to his youth as snow began to fall. He remembered spending more and more time in the mountains. He would return to the Basin, of course. That was his home, but the mountains...they were something else entirely. Something new, something exciting. The more others shunned him, the more time he spent in snow and sleet.
His mind toured his adulthood. He was regarded as a crazy hermit. Perhaps he was crazy. It was unimportant to him. He began spending days, weeks, months away from the heat of the jungle. The life in the mountains offered him nothing but loneliness. That loneliness turned into strife. Amid the frost, his anger towards those in the Basin burned hot. And yet, he never left the mountains for long. He was compelled to return, always. The hope that there was a reason behind this compulsion glowed bright in his mind, but often flickered and at times, almost died. I just hope, he thought, That the answer is revealed to me before I have to make my final journey, the one to the World Beneath. I grow old and time grows short.
Tasha was still leaning against the wall when Lorcireino suddenly rushed up to two unsuspecting raptors greeting them enthusiastically. She laughed and shook her head, then laughed even harder when the two frightened raptors fled the room.
Lorcireino looked over at Tasha, her eyes wide. "What happened?" She asked, her mouth hanging slightly open.
"I think you overdid yourself Lorci. Next time you see them, if you ever do," She said in a lower amused tone, "then greet them more quietly and not so enthusiastic-like." Tasha smiled at her partner's stubbornness.
"But they ran out on me!" She said and huffed, another breath of air twisting into curls and rising.
"What do you expect? If some strange raptor came racing up to you and started talking and hopping, wouldn't you run too?"
Lorcireino didn't reply to that, only turned and walked out the door in the search of the two raptors. Tasha shook her head and smiled again, but then frowned. Sometimes she worried about Lorcireino. She seemed to get too friendly sometimes. Especially when she hadn't seen saurians for a while. Tasha sighed. I suppose I can only hope she decides to calm down, otherwise she'll be scaring everyone off.
Lorcireino trudged through the snow. Perhaps she had been a little too excited to greet the two raptors, but she would never admit that to Tasha. She sighed, keeping her head up high. to see over the people, perhaps she would be able to spot the taller raptor she had greeted.
She sighed and turned around. It was slightly cold up here in Thermala; colder than she liked, anyway. She shivered. Perhaps she should wear a thin layer of something when she went outside into Thermala. At least she wouldn't be too hot or too cold with something covering her.
She hoped she would be able to speak to the two raptors again. She really had made a bad first impression, but then she smiled, then started laughing hard. The looks on the two raptors faces when they had left had been funny! She would always remember this day, and the faces of the two raptors.
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