October 18

Fictober, Prompt 18 – “This was not part of the plan.”

Original fiction, back on my we-need-more-dinosaurs-in-fantasy agenda.

Warnings: none? Implications that a large predator eats meat? Definitely nothing graphic.

“This was not,” I said through gritted teeth, “part of the plan.”

Above and behind me, Shufen’s laugh sounded, though I wouldn’t have thought she could hear me through the sack. “I promised to bring you with us, didn’t I?”

“This was not what I had in mind, and you know it!” I said, louder this time. All I got for the trouble was a snort of air from immediately overhead, a sudden extra swing increasing the nauseating odor of the sack, and another laugh from Shufen. I shifted, trying to ease muscles cramped from being curled up in the same position for so long. It didn’t help.

“Ah, but who will look for you here?” she asked. “As you long as you are good and stay still and quiet, they will simply think that Hong is carrying his leftovers along. You will arrive safely, as promised.”

I could not dispute that her plan would probably achieve this goal, but still muttered lowly about the stink. It was a small heavenly mercy that I could not actually see the large, sharp teeth hooked through the sack above me, for that would have been much harder to contemplate all these long hours. The big predator would not eat me, I knew (he and Shufen were strongly bonded and a good hunting team), but my conscious mind could not always completely overrule the perfectly natural instinct that it was not safe to be so close to one of Hong’s kind.

So, I endured the sack and time crawled in pace with the slight swing of Hong’s every step, and eventually I managed to doze slightly, neither awake nor asleep, but drifting in between. When I pulled back to full awareness with the sensation of being lowered suddenly, I could see that the light had changed, darkening from day into night.

I thumped lightly to the ground and the sack fell open above me, just in time for me to be greeted with a blast of Hong’s not-too-pleasant breath and a close-up view of the same teeth I had been just as happy not to see earlier. He was already pulling back, though, closing his mouth and peering down at me. Then he turned to look back, presumably at Shufen, and rumbled a low sound.

“Thank you, Hong,” she said, and I wasted no time scrambling the rest of the way out of the sack and using a much-needed stretch to cover taking a few paces away.

The amused look Shufen sent me as she leaned forward to pat Hong’s dark-feathered neck, told me that I wasn’t being as subtle as I had intended. She slid down from her perch atop his back, and Hong shook himself, ruffling all his feathers, and then padded off as quietly as such a big animal could, presumably heading for the water that I could hear nearby.

It was evening, the sun not quite fully set, but the stars coming out overhead. I shivered a little, glad that it was early autumn yet and not too cold.

Shufen was already working to get a fire going, so I went to collect some wood and help.

“This is a little early to stop,” she acknowledged as I dragged over a downed branch and began to break it up. “But I thought if we rested early, we could get an early start tomorrow, and if we push just a little, we should make it not long after nightfall.”

“Fine with me,” I said. A long day in the sack wouldn’t be pleasant, but then it would be over with, and that couldn’t happen soon enough for me. Quiet descended for a little while as I prepared the wood and Shufen went for water and returned. Softly, I told her, “Thank you.”

Shufen looked up from rummaging in her pack for food, and blinked at me. “What for?”

“Helping me. You didn’t have to trek all this way.”

“Well, Hong and I were looking for a change of pace anyway,” she said, looking away from me. “It seemed the least we could do.”

She had her own secrets, I knew, but she hadn’t asked after mine, and I was returning the favor. Maybe if everything went smoothly tomorrow, I could tell her a little more after we arrived. Before then…

Well, bad enough that she had helped me, if the wrong people were to find out about it. The less she knew, the better it might be for her and Hong.

The great lizard padded back into the clearing then, startling me as he emerged from the shadow of the trees, his mixed light and dark feathers good camouflage in the low light. He kept a healthy distance from the fire, but lowered himself behind Shufen, curving his head toward her to watch as she softened dried meat in the small pot, throwing in some seasoning.

Tomorrow, I told myself, settling close to the warmth of the fire. Tomorrow we would arrive, and hopefully with my brother’s help we could figure out what to do next.

We ate, and cleaned up, and then settled in to rest for the night. I curled up close to the fire with one of Shufen’s spare blankets, and she wrapped herself in another before curling up against Hong’s warm, feathered side.

Although I’d never had any interest in bonding with any animal companion, much less one of the great lizards, I felt a brief flash of wistful envy looking at them together.

I was asleep before I could think about it more.

Hong is a Yutyrannus huali, which were an early tyrannosauroid species native (as far as we know) to northeastern China in the early Cretaceous. Fossils indicate they were extensively feathered, if only with primitive, “filamentous” feathers. Since it partly inspired this one, I’m going to put in a plug for the Beasts of the Mesozoic Tyrannosaurs Kickstarter, in case anyone isn’t aware of it and might want in on cool dino action figures and/or art. As of today (October 18, 2021), there are a couple days left on that campaign (and you can order directly from Beasts of the Mesozoic later).

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