Tamer: King of Dinosaurs - Chapter 2

Tamer: King of Dinosaurs - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The moons caught me off guard, but I felt better when I realized they were almost certainly part of a simulation. Clearly, I wasn’t on a beach in Malibu or the Pacific Palisades, but maybe I’d put on a virtual reality helmet or had been dragged to one of the Hollywood movie lots. I’d seen such pranks on the internet. They must have also tricked me with the eyeball gag, since I could see just fine now, and there was no pain coming from my skull, or bruises on my wrists from the straps.

I was still attempting to make sense of the odd moons and my part in all this when I heard a distant roar. It sounded kind of like the deep resonance of a lion mixed with the shriek of a hawk. Or maybe both animals were shouting at the same time. Whatever it was, I’d never heard anything like it.

My radio was still attached to my shoulder. I keyed it, but I didn’t even hear static. Like it was dead.

“Huh, that’s weird,” I said out loud as I looked at the pristine beach and the azure water of the ocean.

I inhaled deeply to think, and tried to ponder where I was, or how I got here.

The smell of the salt water was familiar. And the crash of the waves sounded so natural. A few birds flitted in the distance. Even the warmth of the sun on my skin seemed correct. If this was one of those fancy VR projectors or an expensive movie set, it was close to perfect. I searched my head for evidence of a VR helmet wrapped around my real-life head but felt nothing. Then I realized I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and I let out a surprised gasp. My vision wasn’t terrible, but it was far from perfect, yet I was somehow able to see the distant trees without my lenses. This was one hell of a simulation.

I struggled to remember the last few minutes I’d spent in Old Guss. Had I made it back to park behind the mansion? I remembered telling Lacey that I was going to stay at her party, and then she went to get me swim trunks. I’d walked out to the truck, got in, and then I remembered being strapped down and someone pulling out my eye.

I reached up and waved my hand in front of my face. I could see perfectly, even off into the distance, and my stomach lurched. Had someone fixed my eyes? I thought about the stoned looking professor guy from the History Channel that had all the “Alien” memes. How could they have done such a crazy thing? I felt a little stupid for thinking I’d been abducted, but the breeze blew across my face again and carried zero sound of a distant car engine, or even exhaust fumes.

Yeah. I definitely wasn’t on Earth.

So maybe aliens?

Someone or something grunted loudly from behind me, and I turned with surprise. An enormous bipedal creature was just twenty feet away and methodically marching across the dry sand toward me.

He was huge. Maybe not Incredible Hulk big, but a little taller, a little slimmer, and a whole lot more alien. His arms were above his ugly head like he was readying himself to crush me. He shouted at me in a language I didn’t understand. All I could see was his unnaturally large mouth and the insane rows of razor sharp teeth. He had the black scales of a lizard, the eyes of a snake, and his pointed snout and mean choppers gave a fair impression of a shark. The rest of his giant frame was wrapped in a tight metallic mesh and draped with numerous hoses and compartments. Maybe it was armor?

He left deep footprints in the wet sand as he lumbered over to me. He was designed to be incredibly threatening. I tried to think of him as a lizard only because that was slightly less scary than a walking shark. Either way, the closer he got the more intimidating he became. Every instinct told me he meant to do me harm, but my legs were frozen in place, and my limbs were numb.

Holy shit this guy was scary.

No one could make up such an odd collection of parts and call it an alien except Hollywood. Nope. Fucking Aliens.

“Uhhh, hi.” I would have rolled my eyes at how stupid I was. Here was a giant alien-lizard-Hulk-shark-man stomping across the beach toward me, but instead of running, I just greeted it.

But my strategy worked.

The monster stopped short and cocked his head to the side like a confused puppy. His armor glistened in the bright sunshine as if he’d recently been in the water, and I couldn’t help but focus on the massive claws at the end of each of his even more massive fingers.

“You speak the language of the Draxxile League?” His arms fell to his sides, but this did nothing to relieve my sense of smallness next to him. Even at six feet I only came up to his breastplate.

“It actually sounds like you are speaking English,” I said, and I finally got one of my feet to take a step backward.

His teeth were what convinced me of my error in trying to classify him as a lizard. No lizard had teeth like his. And the eyes weren’t quite like a snake’s from up close either. They weren’t the endless black in quite the same way as a snake’s eyes are. More like smoky dark marble swirls drifting around a large black center disc that seemed to float above the rest. When he glared at me with both eyes, it was like looking into a deep well of fear and death.

“You, little man, are not a threat.”

I tried not to take it personally. Compared to his eyes, my own might have conveyed about as much fear and aggression at that moment as a Chihuahua chasing his tail.

“Uh, thanks. I guess.” I managed to take another step back, but he made a snorting sound that I read as disdain.

Some water suddenly blew out from behind his teeth, and I had to jump out of his way as he strode past me. The shark-lizard-man continued his walk as if I wasn’t there, and I turned to watch him stride across the shore while my heart tried to slow to a sprinting pace. I marveled at his slight waddle and noted the raised metal fin hanging off the back of his body.

I watched him long enough to see him angle for a thick grove of palms next to the beach, and then he trundled out of view.

“He’s intense.”

I jumped at the gravelly voice and spun yet again. Another man had snuck up behind me. He held my brown leather hat with one hand and casually brushed sand from it with the other.

He was a little shorter than me, but otherwise had two arms, two legs, and was proportioned like any man on the street. But his face was all wrong. His nose was flatter, his mouth kind of folded in from his cheeks without any lips like a monkey. And his eyes were burnt orange in the irises.

“Found this over there,” the almost human-looking man said while using his whole head to point the way he’d come. “Figured it was part of your uniform.”

I reached for my hat and wondered how I’d been so careless with it.

He handed it to me, and I took a moment to get it in place.

“Thanks,” I said with relief when I finally had it how I liked it. I turned back to find him still studying me. Then he seemed to relax and backed off a step so he wasn’t in my space.

The newcomer made fists with his hands and raised his arms to his chest, almost like he was forming the letter X. However, it soon became evident it was intended to be a military salute. “I’m Sergeant Kelg. First Level Protector of Woland’s World.”

“Oh. Sorry, I’m really confused about everything.” I quickly saluted him just like I’d seen in any number of movies, but he held his several moments longer than I did.

“Agreed, this is a strange destination.” He was dressed in military garb. The black and olive drab uniform had linear and angular camouflage strikes, which kind of looked like stained glass. His black hat seemed out of place. It had brims in the front and the back and would have been more appropriate in a teen skate park. A little silver animal pin gleamed in the sunshine as it hung on the front of that lid.

“Last thing I remember is being at Lacey’s house,” I said. It was obvious this ugly dude didn’t intend to hurt me, but my heart was still racing.

Kelg stood at ease. “Is this world called Lacey’s House?”

“No, sorry. It’s just-- do you know where we are?” I asked. “My home world is called Earth. I don’t remember what happened, but now I’m here.”

“Sir. Whatever this planet is named, have you seen the rest of my phalanx come through? I’m quite certain this isn’t the frozen planet I came from but minutes ago. Although, I will say I was quite warm as part of my recreational brothel rotation.”

“Brothel rotation? You mean like girls?” I asked. What the fuck was going on?

Based on his tone I expected him to wink back at me in mirth, but he seemed to have no sense of humor.

“Yes, as that is the reward for achieving victory. We are given brothel rotation. Therefore, I am disappointed to find myself here with you and him.” He motioned to the divots up the beach made by the feet of the shark man. The weird chuffing sound he made might have been laughter, but it was hard to say for sure.

“Tell me about it, I was about to party with a bunch of women myself.” I sighed and glanced around the beach again. “I was at Lacey’s home. I was moving my truck. Were you in a truck? Did you have a terrible dream about, um, getting your eyes ripped out?”

“I—” Kelg didn’t finish his answer because it was interrupted by a nearby commotion.

To my surprise, the giant eight-foot shark-man chose that moment to return. For such a goliath he was surprisingly stealthy. He held three long wooden spears in his mammoth left hand.

Kelg took it in stride. “You expecting trouble?”

“In twenty-five combat tours I’ve been completely unarmed only once. When we arrived here was not your first directive to find weapons to rectify your inadequacy?”

His shark eyes waited for our reply, but neither of us apparently had thought like he did.

He handed one to the Sergeant and looked him over. “Now you are a threat.”

“I don’t suppose you can make a pulse blaster?” Kelg replied as he took the gift.

“No blaster. We must fight with what the battlefield gives us.”

The teeth marks were evident in the tree bark of the spears, and I was in awe of the strength of the shark man’s jaw. And, I had to admit, the quality of his workmanship was also very good. While I was busy chatting with Kelg and trying not to think about the half-baked History Channel Alien Dude, he was in those trees crafting weapons like some kind of super warrior.

The giant held out a spear to me. It was a friendly gesture from such a large man, and I felt my legs stop shaking. If this guy wanted to kill me, he would have done it already. Instead, he’d offered me a weapon and acted more like an ally.

I noted that each of the three of us were dressed in uniforms. A touch of guilt bolted through me as mine wasn’t military, but they didn’t need to know that. I was honored they saw me as one of them, so I reached for the weapon.

“Your hands are soft,” the big shark-man said matter-of-factly.

I deflated like a balloon at his insult, but I took the spear before he changed his mind.

“Yeah, sorry,” I said. “I’m not much of a war--”

“I am Prime Defender Heracula of the Imperial Iron Draxxile League, a three-time champion of the Circle of Oblivion, and I am personally entrusted with all ten thousand of Mistress Iridine’s retinue. What is your name and rank?”

“I’m Vic--Holy shit!” I shouted when a human-looking man stumbled out of the dense jungle at the edge of the beach not fifty feet away, screamed, and then ran toward us.

An animal was attached to his arm.

It was a huge feathery bird, or maybe a strange walking lizard about half as tall as the man. Its long row of teeth had sunk deeply into the guy’s flesh, and big spurts of blood shot onto the victim’s otherwise pristine white pants and matching long-sleeved shirt.

The panicked man saw us just as he stumbled and fell to his knees on the sand. His head shot up to project his plea in our direction between the angry growls of his attacker. “Assist me, comrades!”

I was used to dealing with angry animals, so I wanted to do what I could to help the guy, but I’d never seen any pet bird or lizard eat an arm like the one in front of us. I’d dealt with lizards a few times over the years, but usually, it was a pet iguana that someone abandoned in front of my parent’s clinic. And even the biggest birds I’d seen didn’t have teeth like that. The spear suddenly seemed a lot smaller in my hands.

Sergeant Kelg audibly gasped as the man in white had his arm viciously removed. It came right out of his socket as the lizard thrashed itself against its downed prey. It was the most visceral and shocking thing I’d ever witnessed in person. My stomach tested a heave of disgust, but the fear poured back into my blood again, and it drove out any desire to vomit.

“He’s lost. We should find cover,” Kelg reasoned.

The giant huffed and smashed his feet a few times into the sand, like some kind of sumo shark wrestler. “Only my mistress can order a retreat.”

The fallen man had somehow managed to stay on his knees during the feathered monster’s attack, but the loss of his arm and the fountain of blood were too much for him, so he collapsed forward on the sand. The monster realized its prey had stopped fighting when the body started to twitch, so it dropped the limb from its mouth and lunged for the man’s neck. There was more blood, and the creature let out a squawk of apparent jubilation while it fed. The whole grisly attack happened in mere seconds.

“That’s a fucking dinosaur,” I whispered as if saying the creature’s name too loud might accidentally call it to me.

“It is the enemy,” the hulking shark-lizard-man said with a stoic nod. “As my weaker subordinates, you two must advance and hobble it so that I may survive to finish it off. May the stars of the G-Slack Galactic Combine ever shine upon you.”

“I’d prefer being in my Guards’ Armor with a full mag in my Heavy Battle Hauler, but this beast is small,” Kelg said. “The three of us should be able to take it if we stick together.”

“Uhhh. You sure about that?” I asked as I examined the dinosaur.

It stood primarily on its back two feet, like a smaller version of one of those Velociraptors I’d seen in all the dino movies, complete with the giant clawed toes. The front arms were a bit short, though they still had nasty talons. Feathers grew below each arm and connected to its body to create the appearance of small wings. The rest of the dino was also covered in bird-like feathers, right up to the end of its three-foot tail. Those feathers were a strange mix of greens and reds, though I didn’t think the patches of crimson were supposed to be there.

The red was from all the blood.

“Yes, there is only one,” Heracula replied to my question and leveled his spear.

The green feathered raptor looked right at us and chirped a few times. As if heeding the call of their friend, several more of the little dinosaurs shot out from the jungle’s edge and onto the beach. They looked at us like they’d just arrived at the meat market, and they sprinted toward the corpse of the man butchered by the first dino.

“Nope. No way. I know when to fight and when to retreat.” The sergeant took a few steps, but in the wrong direction. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

I didn’t want to be the giant’s cannon fodder, but it only took me a few seconds to figure out that these dinosaurs ran way faster than I could. Fighting was our only chance. Running would only turn us into instant prey. I gulped and resolved to at least try to hold my ground alongside the intergalactic shark. I planted my feet, mimicking his earlier moves.

Heracula didn’t budge. “Do not waver. Glory is a gift often bestowed in the final seconds of life.”

There wasn’t much beach between us and the new threat, but the giant next to me must have come to the conclusion I was going to hang with him. He didn’t bother searching for Kelg, but looked down at me and seemed to peer into my soul.

“You choose to join me on the final path. You are not the soft man I thought.” The tangle of teeth bent a little in what I hoped was a smile. “What is your name?”

“Victor,” I answered as I leveled my spear and tried to ignore my brain begging me to run.

Heracula took some exaggerated steps forward. He didn’t turn back to me, but he beckoned me along. “Victor. It is a suitable name for a great warrior. Come Victor, a Prime Defender gains no higher honor than winning a desperate attack. Join me as we slay our foes.”

I was filled with questions in the endless second that followed his instructions. Who were these alien soldiers? Why was I among them? Why were dinosaurs eating that fallen man? And why the hell would someone calling himself Prime Defender want to attack?

The feathery dinos congregated around the downed man in white. Several of them used giant hooked claws on their feet to tear into the guy’s flesh, then they drilled their snouts into the fresh spray of blood. There was nothing anyone could do for him. I think I knew it the moment he stumbled out of the jungle. It was fight or flight for real.

On an alien world.

With an alien ally.

Against fucking dinosaurs.

I followed Heracula for a few insane steps toward the pack of dinos, but we both stopped when one of the new feathered monsters re-oriented on us, sniffed the air, and then ran toward us. We were ready to defend ourselves while the lone dino ran our way, but I think it surprised us both when it jumped almost as high as the big man’s head. He managed to jab his spear with impressive speed and made pretty solid contact with his attacker. The spear went into the exposed belly of the green feathered raptor, but the wood also cracked in two from the impact.

The dino crashed into Heracula and ripped into his flesh with those nasty toe hooks. The big shark-man growled, and the pair fell to the ground locked in mortal combat. As they flailed, the dinosaur’s long tail whipped into me and sent me flying backward. I felt the air leave my lungs when my back smacked against the sand.

I pushed up to my feet, glanced up the beach, and saw two more raptors arrive near the dead man in white. They hovered there a moment as if deciding what to eat, then sprinted over toward Heracula.

“Not fucking good.” I exhaled with fear as the raptors plowed across the sand toward my ally.

The shark-man traded blows with the killing machine as he tried to get to his feet. I really wanted to help him, but by the time I’d grabbed my spear, Heracula had taken a huge gash to the side of his face from one of those hooked claws. He’d dealt his own damage: one of the dino’s arms was severed at the wrist, and the beast was flopping around on the sand while it screeched. Heracula tried to bite the dinosaur on the other arm, but the giant man wasn’t as agile as his opponent, and the injured raptor dashed away with a squawk.

Then the raptor turned and rushed the big warrior again as the two other feathered fuckers arrived to the fight.

“For Mistress Iridine!” the shark-man shouted a second before the raptors leapt onto him.

Heracula managed stay upright and on one knee, but the remainder of his spear was now a harmless stick. He tried to jam the stub of the spear into one of the jumping dinosaurs, but not even the powerful warrior could force it through the creature’s tough feathery skin. The jaws of the dinos never stopped opening and closing, and the hooked claws never stopped ripping. Every piece of exposed flesh was shredded; including those strange hoses. Some were damaged and hissed with purple steam. Others tore open and splashed that purple liquid from side to side. I cringed when one of the dinos planted its jaws right across the giant’s eyes.

I pointed my spear, ready to do my best with it even though I’d never so much as held one before, but there were now three raptor dinosaurs within ten feet of me, and my arms started to shake

The first dinosaur took a pause from ripping into Heracula’s face, and it hung its head low so it could hiss at me. Purple sludge dripped from its fangs and claws. It was blood from the alien shark man, and I knew I was too late to save the guy.

“Fuck me,” I muttered. Time to get out of here.

I was already too scared to move, but that condition was made worse when the hissing bastard took a step my way.

I stood frozen as if its hostile eyes alone had stopped me. I willed myself to disappear. I hoped to convince it I wasn’t a threat. Attacking it with my spear would be a threat. Running would be a threat. My only chance was to do nothing. It wasn’t cowardice to use the only useful weapon left in the arsenal: my brain. And I prayed the dino, and its friends had enough, uh, meat, to not want to bother with me.

The seconds ticked by, but still, it stared at me. I avoided looking at its eyes, thinking my gaze might antagonize it, because lots of animals took that as a challenge to their dominance.

I took a step back and thanked every god in the universe for restoring my movement. The dino seemed to tense but then relaxed a moment later, so I took another slow step.

It dropped its head, so it was almost touching the trembling shark man’s skull. The terrible wound was not a simulation or Hollywood fakery. It was the real shit. This was really happening.

I was on an alien world with a bunch of dinosaurs.

After a few more steps, the blood-drenched raptor went back to munch on the shark soldier with its two friends.

Sorry Heracula. I only knew you for a moment, but you seemed like a good dude. Hope you found glory.

I kept backtracking until I reached the line of trees. The small flock of feathered dinosaurs almost seemed happy as they clawed around in their new treasures. It sickened me to watch, but I couldn’t look away until I was positive I was out of their field of view.

When I was about a second away from calling it good, someone tapped me on the shoulders.

“Fuck! Dude! Don’t do that!” I gasped as I saw the alien monkey-looking man.

“Sorry. We’ve got to get out of here.” Sergeant Kelg sweated profusely, just like me. The heat was unbearable, yes, but I knew part of my perspiration came from fear of having our faces clawed off at any moment.

“I think you’re right. That armored tank of a guy got one swing with one of these chunky spears, and he was dead.” I motioned to the spears we held in our hands.

Kelg nodded, but then his eyes opened wide with surprise, and I realized he was actually looking behind me. I turned and saw at least two of the feathered dinos trotting toward us.

“Shit. Shit. Shit,” I said with a kick-start to my heart rate once more.

I did okay in sports. I could kick a soccer ball. Somewhat throw a football. Swim a lap or two. But I’d never been a great runner. If I had to pick between going for a long run or drilling holes in my fingernails I’d have plugged in the drill. Running just never appealed to me.

Yet, there’s no greater motivator than death to get one foot moving in front of the other. My flight response was already at redline, so I sprinted at a respectable clip through the shaded sandy area where the beach met the jungle. I imagined those claws and teeth were right behind me the whole way.

I surprised myself by passing the sergeant almost immediately. My legs seemed to work faster than his, and his face was covered with sweat in moments.

“Stay together!” he commanded as I got ten yards or so ahead of him.

I would never even think of leaving a man behind. Same as I would never leave injured animals out in the weather. It just wasn’t in my vocabulary. But he couldn’t know my sense of honor. We ran for a few more minutes, and every so often he would repeat his order as if I’d forget it.

“I’m not going to leave you,” I said while breathing heavily. I tried to look behind us, but I didn’t see our pursuers. I did hear their unusual chirps though, and it was enough to convince me that we couldn’t slow down any.

Maybe we could run for the ocean? Could dinosaurs swim? Did sharks exist in this era? I tried to think it through, but the ocean was a great unknown for me that was probably filled with all sorts of crazy monsters. At least on land, I could see the threats.

The area along the edge of the beach was thinned out by the wind and wave action of the water. I motioned so he would run deeper into the thicker part of the jungle away from the sand. I knew it would be slower going, but I’d seen those dinos move. We’d never outrun them on the open ground if they homed in on us.

“Good idea,” the sergeant replied. He wasn’t nearly as winded as me, and I wondered if he was sandbagging his run.

The jungle increased in density as if someone had planted it in a long wall just off the beach. Vines and ivy exploded all around us, and we became snared in it as if it was a net.

“Maybe they’ll get stuck through here, too,” Kelg wondered aloud.

“I wouldn’t count on it!” It was all I had to offer. It was exhausting squirming through the knots of ivy, but it seemed to thin out after a few minutes.

“Oh, thank the Holy Waters,” Kelg said in a quiet voice. “We’ve got something between them and us.”

Not far beyond the wall of ivy, we entered a sprawling field of flat black rocks like an asphalt parking lot broken apart by age. There were still tall trees and a high canopy around us, but the rocks seemed to resist the weeds and dense undergrowth of the surrounding jungle. We sped up the pace by bounding from rock to rock, and I noticed Kelg pick up a bit of distance on me. He seemed to have legs made more for leaping than running.

The chirping noises refused to go away, and we continued to run across the blacktop until Kelg suddenly stopped ahead of me. He held up his hand and raised two of his fingers in a gesture undoubtedly part of his military training.

“Quick, hide here in this crack.” He dropped his arm right next to him and indicated where I should go.

I hopped over and saw the problem right away.

“There’s only room for one,” I whispered. I could lay down end to end in the crack, and the dinosaur would have to walk right on top of me to see me. I saw where he was going with it.

“Trust me. I have a plan,” he replied.

I didn’t have time to think about it. Kelg was the military tactician. I expected his plan would be better than anything I could devise on the fly.

I slid into the long crack and held my breath while on my front side. I tried to forestall the waves of fear pulsing through my muscles. My heart was trying to break free of my chest so it could run away, and my lungs couldn’t seem to get air fast enough.

The sergeant put his hand over his closed mouth in what had to mean “stay quiet.”

As if I was thinking about shouting.

I nodded, and he ran away from my hidey hole. He didn’t go far. I heard him grunt several times, and I almost popped my head up to see what he was doing. He wasn’t screaming, so I didn’t think the dinos had found him.

I lay in that crack for a few minutes before I heard the chirping of the raptors from somewhere very close. All plans of leaving the nook to see what Kelg was working on vanished from my mind, and I tried to burrow myself into the rock.

Another chirp.

Super close by.

I willed myself to become one with the rock.

And then, impossibly loud, Sergeant Kelg started to laugh.

“I’m sorry, friend. You’ve got a warrior’s heart, if not his skill. I will note your contribution in my mission report.”

In my head, I yelled at him to be quiet, but it was only after I absorbed the words did I realize he was talking to me.

“I’ve never failed a mission. Today my goal is to stay alive. Your death will serve that end. So, if you’ll do me a favor and pop your head up, the creatures can feast upon you, and I can slip away unnoticed as you did with big ugly. My phalanx will hone in on my beacon and rescue me from this jungle world. Until then, all I have to do is find somewhere safe and stay alive.”

A branch or something fell close to my hiding place.

“It’s nothing personal. I wish I could have seen Lacey’s Home. You sincerely seem to miss it, but the code of the First Level Protector demands I survive at all costs.”

Another big piece of wood landed next to me and spun near the crack. If that didn’t get the dino’s attention, nothing would.

“It’s right next to you. Just stick your head up, and we can get this over with.” His chuffing laugh was now toxic to me.

I wanted to tell the snot-nosed mother fucker where he could shove his stick, but I hadn’t been found yet. I gripped my spear, ready for a final battle, and hoped I could get that one hit like Heracula had landed.

“It’s a good thing you can’t climb, you stupid feather lizard. Because I—”

There was a moment of silence.

I heard him say a word that might have been “Big plopper.” Then sergeant Kelg screamed. His voice suggested he was falling, and a moment later I heard a loud impact confirming my belief.

“Help me!” the alien man croaked, and I did peek out the lip of the crevice.

The dinosaurs were right there, just as he’d said. One of them must have climbed to his low perch and pulled him down. I cringed as I heard claws click on the rocks, and then I stifled my fear when I heard teeth tear into the other man’s flesh. It was all eerily similar to the last moments of the other two alien soldiers.

Now they’d gotten three of us.

I peeked my head over the rock and was almost slapped by a dinosaur tail. It only took one quick glance to see Kelg’s body. His fiery orange eyes were lifeless and stared right at me. Heracula would definitely say the asshole sergeant failed to find glory in his last seconds. Kelg’s head rocked from side to side as the hungry predators took bites from the exposed torso of their prize. Blood spattered across the rocks, and the dinosaurs let out noises that sounded like Southern California dove hoots.

They seemed occupied with the corpse of Kelg, but I knew they would find me hiding right next to them as soon as they were done feasting. I thought through my options and decided that my only hope was putting as much distance as I could between myself and the two feathery raptors.

There was nothing to be gained by waiting, so I hopped up out of my hole, tiptoed for a few moments, and then ran for it. The raptors had their back to me, but I had no idea if they’d turn around to give chase. I blazed across the remainder of the fake blacktop area; sure they were going to strike me down at any moment. It felt like an eternity, but a minute later I had returned to the mercifully dense jungle.

Somewhere behind me, the raptors gorged on the other man’s body.

I prayed that they wouldn’t follow me.

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