Of course, Kura wouldn’t recognize the little monsters that boiled up out of the grass as velociraptors. Even after more than eighty years removed from the source material that introduced them to the mainstream, Hollywood insisted on using the name for a strange mash-up of utahraptors and deinonychus. Adding a few feathers and changing their arm position didn’t make up for the fact that they were twice the size of the real thing.
No, the creatures attacking her didn’t come from her mind but more likely from Tink or Melissa who had more accurate information.
The size of turkeys, the raptors had skeletal faces wreathed by blood red feathers that stood up and out as they charged. Their vocalizations were like loon calls which were in turn like women screaming bloody murder. The pack numbered eighteen, and the moved in odd synchronicity, breaking up and regrouping for a pincer attack like a school of predatory fish or starlings.
With on hand firmly on the unicorn’s horn and her other arm wrapped around its neck, Kura used her floating power combined with the faerie’s wild thrashing to swing around until she was on its back. “Listen, if you stop trying to shake me off, I’ll take my hand off your horn and we can get the hell out of here, okay?”
The unicorn bucked, but this time it was to kick away the first raptor to get up the nerve to attack it. “Yes! Yes! Whatever you want. Now let us away from here!” It spoke still using Tammy’s voice without moving its mouth.
Kura released the horn to hold on to its thick neck with both arms. “That is really freaky. Use a different voice.”
“Is that really the priority here, Mankind?” This time it used her voice.
Despite its body design, the unicorn wasn’t the speediest creature. The raptors kept pace, held at bay only by threat of its powerful kicks, biding their time to attack. Kura kicked at one that got too close, her boot doing minimum damage, but made the little creature shy away. “Yes it is! And not my voice either!”
They had broken from the tall grass, back onto the plain where Warrick and the twins had scythed down the grass for their beds. Without the grass, the hill was clearly visible, as were the others including Warrick sitting on the near side of the hill on watch.
“Hey!” She called out, putting her all into it. “Hey! Help! Help!”
Warrick had only been on watch for about forty minutes, watching a herd of triceratops with young out toward what he imagined was the west. Things had been quiet and he hadn’t seen anything to report back to Cyn who was on the other side of the hill.
That was until Kura’s voice rang out from the open grass plain down below.
He glanced back toward where he knew Kura and Tammy were sleeping and saw them right where he’d seen them when he woke up earlier. Exactly where they’d been.
Having grown up with his sister, he’d had to share sleeping space with her often; in the car or in motels on road trips, at their grandma’s where space was at a minimum, among others. As much as he loved his sister, he hated every minute he had to spend around her sleeping because she was all the worst traits of a bed-mate: she was clingy and squirmy and mumbled and snored. It was like sharing a bed with an irate monkey.
So he knew there was no way she’d stayed put for forty minutes.
As soon as he thought that, he was hit with a discomfiting feeling like he was crossing his eyes without actually crossing his eyes. It lasted only a moment before his vision returned to normal. Only what he actually saw was anything but normal.
In place of his sister and her best friend sleeping under a tree, he saw his sister sprawled on the ground asleep next to a what might have been mistaken for a pony at a distance. Upon closer inspection, it might have barely counted as an equine at all. It’s legs were think and trunk-like, ending in wide, fur-covered pads. It’s fur was thick with a pearlescent sheen except for a black tuft at the end of its tail and growing under its chin, a ruff of black fur around its neck that more resembled a lion’s mane than a horse’s and a black snowflake pattern one its forehead from which a sleek, slightly curved horn just over a foot long grew. The last one appeared to be burned into the fur rather than a natural occurrence. Its eyes were faceted like an insect’s but still showed clear intelligence—and surprise as it realized that it had been made.
Then it made the mistake of looking down at Tammy.
Isp cracked like a whip into its side with incredible force, slamming it sidelong into a tree. Osp followed up by harpooning the ground nearby and using the leverage to hurl Warrick at the stunned fey. Even as his armor was forming around his body, Warrick landed a punch to the side of its head with a partially melted gauntlet. The speed-imbued strike hurt him as much as it did it, but the commotion was as good as an alarm.
Tammy was first to wake, finding a demon of writhing metal facing off against a screaming hell-horse. She started screaming and scrambled away. Then she heard shouting from far off—the shouts of her best friend.
Ignoring the closer threat, she grabbed one of the steel arm bands provided to her by the Liedecker Institute and slapped it onto her forearm. Then she rolled to her feet and looked out over the plain to find Kura riding toward them with a pack of evil-looking bird-monsters swarming around them.
Without another thought, she summoned up her power and aimed the arm band. Purple sparks danced along its surface before finally a full-sized bolt of lightning crackled across the plain, grounding itself in the middle of a concentration of the swarm. Four of them fell over twitching as the electricity found ground through them.
Moments later, a blaze of blue psychokinetic energy swept in, knocking aside more of the pursuers as Juniper joined the battle.
“Whoa!” Cyn called out. “We’ve got company! The centaur just… showed up out of nowhere!”
“It’s the unicorns! They used their illusion power to get close to us!” Lisa shouted, wielding her staff to raise a wall against a hail of arrows from the korrigan who were remaining hidden in the grass.
A pair of flailing hooves, more powerful than the diminutive stature of their owner struck Warrick in the chest, knocking him to the ground. Then the unicorn transformed into a fiery demon whose wingspan threw the entire hilltop into twilight.
It’s posturing didn’t last long, however, as a ball of roiling black energy from Lisa slammed it in the knees, staggering the unicorn and making it loose its illusion a second time.
Then the spears started flying courtesy of the centaur, forcing Juniper to put up a screen of psychokinetic energy. It flickered with every impact, a testament to how low she was running low on stored thermal energy.
“How did they even catch up to us this quick?” Kay demanded, taking cover with Melissa behind a tree.
“That is quite simple,” A deep, solemn voice boomed out over the plane as a cloaked humanoid emerged from behind the centaur’s bulk, It led another creature that was similar to, but not quite a horse. This creature had a supple neck with a head much more narrow than a horse, but a thick body with splayed-out legs with wide hooves and a long, brush-like tail. On its back was a heavy leather saddle or howdah atop with was fastened a cauldron—an iron cauldron strangely enough for the company it was found in. “Where Mankinds fail in discipline, the servitors of the Air and Darkness excel. While you rested, I force marched them to battle.”
Ozimas the frozen one sneered and was about to expound on what he was saying when he felt an impact on his chest. A killing strike would have failed against his icy flesh, but what struck him was instead green goo that immediately began expanding and swelling across his chest. More followed, hitting him in the arms and legs, all expanding into a foam that hindered his movements.
He looked down at it, his unmoving face not betraying what emotion if any he was feeling. Frost began to form on the foam binding his arm in place and with a small flexing motion, he shattered it. Then he looked directly at Tink and raised that same hand. “I was informed that the weapons of Mankind were formidable. Terrible. It seems I was—” His taunt was cut off in a hiss a a projectile broke on his hand, a thick, sticky gel of yellow and gray.
With a briskness that signaled restrained panic, Ozimas tried to rub the stuff off on his cloak but to no avail as wisps of green smoke started to curl up from his hand.
Cyn, who had taken the form of a Hollywood raptor, cocked her head at Tink as she stalked past her. “That pissed him off. What even was that?”
“The long range version of my new faerie mace: iron filings in petroleum jelly. Sticks fast to keep them off balance while not being a high enough dosage to do permanent damage.” Tink showed her the yellow band around that particular magazine.
“Nice. I’m going to go get Kura. Covering fire in case hopefully the Last Unicorn down there gets fresh?”
Tink nodded and switched targets. “On it. Get her back up here safe.”
Razor sharp teeth approximated a smile poorly. “Oh you don’t have to worry about me. I’m a clever girl.” And with that, she bounded down the hillside toward Kura, the unicorn and the remains of the raptor pack. Whooping and roaring, she threw herself among the pack, scattering them with surprise and the sheer presence of a larger predator.
“Kura!” She yelled as the unicorn tried to flee. “Stop living every normal little girl’s fantasy and come live the awesome one! Free dino-ride to safety!”
Kura activate her power to float and kicked off the unicorn’s back. “When we get home, I’m starting a scrapbook from all the amazing stuff we got to do on this trip!” She easily floated high enough for Cyn to run under her, then plopped down on her back, wrapping her arms around her neck. “Onward to glory! Hi-ho Cyn—away!”
As Cyn charged back up the hill, the others were still fighting to defend themselves. Ozimas had finally numbed himself enough to the pain of iron to call upon his mistress’s power, hammering Juniper’s screen by bolts of dark power against it.
“We need something big to get away from these guys,” Lisa said, summoning a wall to relieve the pressure on Juniper.
“Except for the wizard, we’ve got them outgunned in a straight fight, but With him around, what’re the chances we can knock them out or incapacitate them long enough to break off?” Juniper wondered aloud as she took a much-needed breather.
Warrick stepped up. “I think I know how. Remember how the guardian guy said they kept the oracle in an iron cauldron? I’m pretty sure that’s real iron. Like non-magicked, hammered iron. Who wants to see what happens when she gets loose?”
He reached out a hand toward the cauldron and bend his powers against it. The metal responded easily, tearing with a shriek water spilled forth and poured down the back of the fey horse.
Then the scream went up, causing every one: human, faerie, fey and dinosaur to stiffen against the ringing assault of the din. Glowing and formless, something rose from the ruins of the cauldron. It thrashed wildly, then disappeared in a diffusion of light.
Melissa recovered first and uncovered her ears. “That… was not as useful as advertised.”
“Actually,” Warrick was watching Ozimas and his allies, “I think it was.”
The leader of Maeve’s forces turned slow circles, staring up into the sky, down at the puddle of water, and everywhere else like a man treating shark-infested waters. He started speaking rapidly in a Faerie language while making warding symbols in the air.
“He’s… scared,” observed Melissa.
“No, he’s freaking terrified,” said Kay. “Is that a good thing? I mean something the big bad is wetting himself over loose in the Lost world with us?”
Warrick shrugged. “What is is a distraction. If he’s worried about the oracle, he’s not worried about us. And without it, he can’t track us. Let’s get out of here. We make for the pyramid.”
Before any of them could act, the voice of the guardian spoke from above them. “No you will not.”
“Wait,” Warrick looked up, trying to find the speaker, “What?”
“As you yourself have admitted, you had the chance to end the threat of one of Maeve’s frozen ones and chose not to take it. You have the power to torment the Enemy out of existent, but you purposefully made it less lethal. My creators would not approve of this unnecessary mercy. To stand against Maeve is war. There is no mercy in war. I pronounce your trail… failed.”
And then white light washed over them all, making the Lost World fade to nothing before their eyes.
“So begins the next.”
And several thousand miles away, a second team of Descendants hastily assembled to face a different kind of trial of their own.
End Southern Swing Part 1