October 25

Fictober, Prompt 25 – “I could really eat something.”

Warnings: off-screen eating of carrion? Fantasy. With dinosaurs. Because I can.

(I’m a bit late tonight, this one wanted to get away from me.)

As we got closer, it became obvious that the large mound ahead was what remained of a dead frill-horn.

Very obvious. A brief whiff made me gag, cough, and pinch my nose as soon as I could to block out even that bit of stench.

Below me, I could sense White-Eye’s opposite reaction. She lifted her head, deliberately sniffing the air.

I could really eat something, she told me hopefully.

“Okay,” I told her, “but maybe let me down here? I’m going to stay back.”

Obligingly, White-Eye bent her strong legs and lowered herself down, letting me clamber out of the minimal saddle strapped over her hips before rising and making her way towards the carcass with long strides.

I smiled fondly after her, still holding my nose, and retreated upwind. There was a small rise nearby that would give me a good vantage point on the surrounding area, so I made for that and put a simple barrier spell before settling down for a stretch and a rest. Most predators would smell White-Eye on me and were willing to respect her judgment, but there were always a few who didn’t care. More importantly, it would also temporarily stop any of the large plant-eaters, who tended to wander around without paying too much attention to what was happening down around their feet.

For a little while, I watched White-Eye eat (a somewhat terrifying process that was better viewed from a distance), but she seemed content enough, and unbothered by the smaller predators swarming the carcass. Soon, the warm afternoon sun had me yawning; we had walked most of the night and all day today. White-Eye was in no danger, and the barrier would warn me in plenty of time to do something about it if anyone approached me, so I let my eyes drift closed.

The sun hadn’t moved too much when I woke, feeling a familiar tremble in the earth from heavy footfalls. I adjusted the spell to expand and cover White-Eye as well as she lowered herself next to me, and forced myself to shift around, tucking up against her side near a small arm.

You are well? She asked, her voice sleepy as she turned her head to peer at me, the patch of white around one eye contrasting brightly with her mostly-dark hide in the sun.

“Eech,” I said, catching a whiff of her breath, and she turned away again, amusement echoing down along our bond. “Fine, just sleepy.”

I will rest now as well. It is good here in the sun, and your lights will warn us of danger. She didn’t have the best grasp of magic, beyond that entailed by our bond, but I had done my best to adjust some of my spells so that their effects were readily perceptible to her senses as well as mine.

“All right,” I agreed, eyes already shut.

What woke me next was the subtle but alarming sensation that something was probing at my barrier spell. Careful not to move or open my eyes, I waited a moment, sensing something that was poking at the same spot over and over, but in a controlled way. Not with any force, not as if it were trying to break the spell, but more as if it were trying to get my attention quietly, which implied a certain level of intelligence and narrowed down who this visitor might be.

Half-expecting a fellow human in spite of the fact that we were far out between settlements, I was still not surprised to find a big-claw standing there instead, shooting wary glances at White-Eye in between each probe of the barrier.

It backed off quickly, head lowered warily, when she shifted, turning her head so that I could see one large eye was open, watching the big-claw.

There was a long, tense moment before I reached out and put a hand on White-Eye’s neck. She snorted, then relaxed slightly.

The big-claw raised its head hopefully, then bobbed a little in a nervous gesture. White-Eye rumbled, but closed her eyes and lowered her head as a sign that she wouldn’t interfere. I smiled, and stood up to lower the barrier.

The big-claw straightened as I approached, head quirking to first one side, then the other. It was a male, I thought, and not an adult. The adults of his kind were larger than a human, and his head wasn’t yet on a level with mine. He was dusky brown, with some early signs of the starker black and white feathers he would carry on his wings and tail when grown.

Taking a breath, I trusted my instincts and took down my personal shields so that I could reach out towards him with a bare palm up. He hesitated, but then stepped forward and rested his chin in my hand, letting me open a temporary connection between us.

The strong-jaw will not eat me? was his first, anxious question. She is very large. I wouldn’t be much of a meal.

“She just ate,” I assured him, hiding my amusement. “She’s not hungry at all.”

Well… White-Eye thought at me. Then: No. No, not hungry.

I carefully did not grin at that. “It’s safe.”

The big-claw shifted his feet, but then settled, seeming to accept that he could trust me.

“What brings you here?” I asked then. That he had sought me out deliberately was clear, but I had no idea why.

My family, he thought, unease coming over his mind again. We need help. My egg-mother does not agree, even though the wound does not heal. She is stubborn.

I frowned, and sensed a low pain in White-Eye’s mind. We had met a year ago when I found her crouched over the body of her mate, keening her grief. An infected wound had felled him, something strange from a small wound that his body had been unable to fight off.

“What sort of wound is it?” I asked him. “Big or small? When did she get it?”

It is small, and she got it two sun-arcs ago. She pretends that she can still walk without pain, he explained, clearly agitated, his tail feathers standing out and then pulling in smooth again, feet shifting.

White-Eye shifted, raising her head again, which did nothing to help the big-claw settle. I sent a wave of calm along the temporary bond, hoping it would help, and turned to look at White-Eye.

If great lizards had been able to frown, she would have been. It was the same with Grey. We did not know how he was wounded, but it was a short time before the pain was too great for him to move. I do not like this.

“I don’t either,” I agreed softly. To the big-claw I said, “Of course we’ll come. I may not be able to help, but I will try.”

It may affect a smaller one differently, but if it is like with my mate, then she should have another sun-cycle at least, White-Eye put in.

“Is your family far? Where is your territory?”

It is not far, he told me. It is north, and we can be there before the end of this sun-cycle.

The sun was lowering now, so hopefully he was right about that. His kind were fast runners, which White-Eye was not, but her longer legs could eat up distance at a surprising speed even when she walked.

I will have to walk with the strong-jaw, won’t I? he asked then, and this time I couldn’t help but laugh.

“She is White-Eye, and she comes with me. I promise that your family is safe from her, as she should be safe from them.” I emphasized the last part and got his agreement. He could go ahead once we got near with a warning so that no one would be startled. “Well, let’s get started then.”

I let him and our temporary connection go; we could follow him with no trouble until we found his family. White-Eye shifted so that she was ready to rise, and I climbed her leg quickly, settling into the saddle. She rose in one smooth motion, powerful muscles lifting us both easily, and strode after the young big-claw, who darted ahead, eager to get back to his family.

I would do my best to help his mother. There was something strange going on, and I suspected that if White-Eye and I thought about it, we could identify other cases of this illness that we had encountered without realizing it. It bore investigation, even if we were able to save this infected big-claw.

Together, we headed north.

My brain has decided that fantasy dinosaurs are just as good as dragons.

frill-horn – some variety of ceratopsian, like Triceratops or related species

strong-jaw – Tyrannosaurus rex

big-claw – a raptor/dromaeosaurid, in this case, a juvenile male Dakotaraptor

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