Eleven Years Later
Nameless tightened her ponytail, glancing at herself in the reflection of the lake. She drove her hands through her reflection, shattering it into ripples, digging her hands to the bottom of the lake. She pulled up mud, which slipped away from her fingers. She smeared it across her face, covering her arms, sliding it through her hair, using it to darken the layer of mud she already had spread across her. They high sun would soon bake it into more decent camouflage.
She quickly checked her weapons. Bow lying in the grass beside her, arrows slotted into a quiver over her shoulder. The same kitchen knife she'd run away with eleven years ago in her belt; though the handle had been replaced with bone long ago. Knives from Waterfall City were not built for the gruesome work she frequented these days. She gently ran her fingers over her necklace, strung with sharp teeth and claws; and some not-so-sharp teeth and claws. The stegosaur-leather wrist pads were still holding up, keeping the snap of the string on her bow from damaging her arms too badly. Tooth-blade in her boot. She was set.
There was a crackle in the bushes behind her; immediately, Nameless knocked an arrow and whirled to the noise, but it was only Ire. She lowered the bow, tossed the arrow back into her quiver, and growled at him in the back of her throat. He knew better than to sneak up on her.
His lips pulled back from sharp teeth, his head ducking low and clawed foot up, toe-claw stretching out as though ready to slash her open. He was not backing down from the challenge.
Well, neither was she. Slowly, purposefully, she tugged on the earring in her left ear; one which dangled down dangerously. A hazard in her life to be sure, but worth it for moments like this. A sharp, glistening tooth dangled down from a short length of stego-leather. She saw Ire run his tongue across the gap in between his teeth, and he slowly straightened, conceding that they had no need to escalate this into a full-fledged fight. Not like last time. He eyed the necklace of teeth around her neck meaningfully.
"One day," he grumbled in Saurian, his accent so everyday and commonplace to her now that she had no trouble understanding every word he said, "I will wear your teeth around my neck, Nameless."
She chuckled. "I look forward to seeing that," she answered, also in Saurian, her own accent-which had once been forced, but no longer- flawlessly matching his own. "Anything?"
He shook his large head in irritation, back and forth in a violent movement. "Nothing," he hissed. "The pack is restless."
Nameless rolled her eyes. Every time the 'pack was restless,' a lot of hungry eyes would turn in her direction. A lot of the trophies around her neck came from that restless pack.
"Together or separate?" She questioned, and Ire considered. He was her hunting partner; the two usually hunted together. It was safer for her when he did; though these days she had more than proved herself capable of handling attacks of most kinds; whether from the pack or another carnivore. Ironically, it was the T-Rexes that posed the most threat these days. But the pack stood up for their own, to a degree. It was a strange blend of 'every creature for itself' and 'protect your own'; you never knew which they would display next.
"Separate," he answered. "Today is a hard day for stealth."
He was right on that front. Nameless had spied a rat earlier in the day, but the complete absence of wind to explain away faint noises had given her position away, leaving one more mouth in the pack hungry. Nameless was left eating a vegetarian diet again; something she hated. The pack oftentimes begrudged her their meat, given it was such a precious commodity and she was capable of surviving without it, whereas they were not. But when she did not eat meat, they would eye her disdainfully; it was just another sign that she was not one of them. A vicious circle, but given the fact that she had frequently helped them with their kills, and they would not have those kills if it weren't for her, they learned to accept what she did. And to partially accept that she, too, had a bit of a taste for meat.
"You go south. I'll go north," she answered, and Ire nodded. The two went their separate ways, off to the hunt once more. She gnawed wistfully on a mint leaf as she went, the taste keeping her going.
She found very little that morning. Of course, plant life was usually in abundance, but that wasn't the issue. That took care of only her; and looking out for only yourself was a mentality that could get you killed. Sure, when it came to challenges, you stood up for yourself, made sure no one was stupid enough to try and take you on, and made sure your name was remembered in blood. But when it came to food, it was all about the good of the pack. Occasionally, there would come fights over a carcass, and the juveniles were frequently pushed out of that circle, but when it came down to it, everyone tried to make sure the whole pack was fed.
Nameless, frustrated with the lack of food, started scaling trees and looking in bushes, searching for the small bumps and dips in the land. She was lucky enough to find a bird's nest; raptors wouldn't pass up a good egg or two, but birds weren't exactly large. This would be little good, save to feed to the younglings. She sighed and tucked the eggs away into her pack, which she'd modified specifically for that purpose. The inside was padded nicely, so they wouldn't smash, unless she fell flat on her back or something else happened to interfere. She also tried waiting in hiding by the nest for an hour and was rewarded with the distressed mother of the eggs coming to search it with frantic chirps. She took the tiny creature down with one arrow, and, grateful for a little success, tucked that away in the game bag as well, separate from the fragile eggs.
As she headed back towards her usual lake for another top-up with mud and a good long drink of water, she heard something crackle to her left. She lifted her head into the air, sniffing carefully. She'd gotten far better at identifying enemies via scent, though her senses would never be as sharp as her counterparts. It helped that T-Rexes reeked.
But the scent following her was definitely raptor. It had that reptilian sharpness to it, with that sickly-sweet scent of decay that came from their breath. These days, she was somewhat discouraged to admit, that smell was exactly like home.
Ire again? She wondered, but then another crackle sounded. No, Ire was not this loud, even on a day that was bad for stealth. This was another of the pack, or worse, a rogue.
She tensed, knocking an arrow quickly, aiming it at the bushes. "Show yourself!" She roared in carnivore-accented Saurian.
"Don't shoot!" Came the quick response, and a small form emerged from the greenery. His grey-black skin showed up a little too well against the background; Nameless groaned in disgust.
"Dammit, Useless!" She snapped. Useless, the raptor in question, tried not to look sheepish. "If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. You're gonna scare away the prey! Now get back to the pack!"
Useless flattened a little, his spine straightening so that his head was semi-bowed and pointed at her, his toe-claw partially raised as his lips pulled back from his teeth. "No," he answered stubbornly.
Nameless growled, taking a step towards him; she thought she saw him duck down a little further in a flinch.
It's a miracle he's not dead yet, she mentally snarled. This boy was such a coward. As if his skin color- that weird, pebbled grey black- wasn't bad enough, giving him little to no camouflage, save in darkly shadowed places or among stones, the boy was a chicken as well.
Ugh. Chicken. So hungry.
Nameless tried to shake the thought from her head without actually moving; she stood a little straighter, fingering the teeth on her neck. "I don't want to challenge you, kid. So get out of my hunting turf before I make you our next batch of game." It was only a matter of time before someone else did it, anyway, but she didn't vocalize this aloud. The boy was only a juvenile; and the raptor equivalent of a teenager. He was bound to be a little rebellious, even if he was stupid to be so.
"I can help," he answered firmly.
"You're a nuisance. You stand out a mile away. If you want to help, you'll learn to pay attention to your strengths and weaknesses. The forest is your weakness. You're clumsy, you make too much noise, and your skin is too light to blend."
He ducked his head even lower. "I. Can. Help."
Nameless rolled her eyes. "On your own head," She answered spitefully, then charged before he had a chance to react. Her blade whipped across his face, sending him reeling back, and while his balance was off, she threw herself into him, knocking him to the ground. Gently, not driving the edge so deep as to actually harm him, but enough to create a shallow cut, she dragged her blade down from the lower end of his throat to the bottom of his stomach as he struggled and kicked. An adult would've been able to knock her off without much problem, but Useless was a juvenile; and a small one at that. She jumped back off him, and he righted himself quickly.
"You're dead, kid," She told him, wiping his blood off of her blade and onto her shirt. "Your claw has now joined these ones," She lifted the necklace off her chest, then let it fall back down again. "Don't challenge anyone you can't win against."
Useless glowered at her with deep black eyes, then turned away. "I want to help," he repeated vehemently.
"And what makes you think that I'm the one you should annoy to get what you want?" She demanded, sliding her knife back into her belt and undoing her ponytail, which had gone askew in their brawl.
He looked away. "I don't know," he mumbled. Nameless frowned.
"Stop mumbling," She growled. "If you've got something to say, you say it out loud for the whole world to hear, understood?"
He kept staring at the ground, then lifted his head to look at her. "That's why," He said. "You're always telling me things, giving me advice. I thought… I thought you might want to help me."
Nameless didn't answer. She turned slightly to the side, so that she wouldn't have to look at him, but also wasn't leaving her back to him. She quickly tied her ponytail back up, making it tighter than strictly necessary. This stupid kid. There was too much intuition in him to make a good carnivore; while intuition on the hunt was a thing high prized, raptors did not like their inner thoughts constantly probed, their feelings announced to the world. Nameless, a raptor by heart if not by blood, was certainly no exception; she found Useless as annoying as everyone else did.
But the problem was, she also wanted to keep him alive. Though he was fairly worthless as a raptor, she couldn't help but think of someone else who had been worthless in the place she was born in. Someone who had run straight into the arms of her 'enemies' so that she could escape what she couldn't be.
Nameless tried not to sigh. Useless wasn't a good raptor. His mother had called it when she named him, saw him not tumbling about with his older brothers and sisters but watching them pensively instead. But he would have fit well with the Dinotopians; the 'civilized' ones, the herbivores. He did not have the option that she'd had, however; he couldn't run to them. They were a bunch of plant-eating, peace-loving creatures. A raptor by name, if not by nature, would still be shunned. The point stood that he couldn't eat vegetation. Ergo, he could not fit among the other Dinotopians. He had no other option but the pack.
She tied her belt tighter around her waist. "You can't help me. You can't help anyone. Now get back home to your mother, or so help me, Useless…" She let the threat trail off into oblivion, then started forwards on lithe feet, dancing forwards on the tips of her toes. She heard more crashing through the undergrowth, heard Useless calling, "Wait! Please, wait!"
"Go back, Useless!" She cried, running on. A pang of sympathy-a relic of her old days- ran through her chest, but she forced herself to ignore it, forced the animal side of her into control. Useless wasn't strong enough to survive. He was inherently weak. There was nothing she could do or say that would help him.
She abandoned him there, running until his cries became fainter, and eventually stopped. She kept up a quick jog for a while, then finally halted, taking a moment to breathe before she once again started listening to the sounds of the jungle. But there wasn't enough daylight left for a long hunt; she sighed to herself and headed back to the pack. Time to accept her losses.
She ran through the forest, out to the more desert-like clearing where she had first met Ire, past that, through the trees on the other side, and kept walking. She followed the river, which lead through the last remainder of the forest, through the stone caves where Useless should have spent his time hunting, and out through to the other side. A raptor lunged towards her, hissing through its teeth as it came, but Nameless simply hissed back, hand falling to her knife as she ducked her head down, her body bent like that of an attacking raptor.
The raptor eyed her disdainfully, but said, "Breathe Deep."
"Hunt Well," She responded, straightening. The raptor jerked its head to the side, moving away from the entrance. It was, apparently, his shift; he'd been on guard. Nameless walked past the guard and through the bushes it had emerged from, finding herself instantly at the 'camp'.
The raptors were busy preparing for the coming night. Nameless set aside her bow in its usual space, then scanned the crowd for the three who would stand out the most; up walkers, with their skin paler then anyone else's. Basically, humans. There were two nearby; she went towards them, waving. Age waved back.
"Nameless!" He cried excitedly, running up towards her. His Saurian was still a bit sketchy. Ruth, much smaller then he was, ran a little slower, but caught up to them soon enough. Her tiny hand wrapped around Age's pant leg as he hugged Nameless.
Nameless grinned and hugged him back, ignoring the curious looks of the other raptors. She clapped him on the back, then stepped away and knelt down beside Ruth. "Breathe Deep, kiddo." She said quickly. Ruth shied away from her, her hand curling into a fist. Nameless grinned; a child after her own heart. A little shier than Nameless was, though. "Where's your mom?"
Age frowned. The wrinkles under his eyes showed more clearly then ever, though he answered her very flippantly. "Oh, answering another challenge," he responded, moving his daughter's hand off of his leg and into his own. "You know how it gets around this time of year. Anything to put a little more meat on the table, right?" He winked roguishly, but she could see his worry. Nameless, however, was not concerned. Tavi, Ruth's mother and Age's wife, had taken care of Nameless when she'd first arrived, long before Ruth was even born. She'd taught her what it was like to be a human among the raptors, the protocol she'd learned. Everything that Nameless knew was thanks to Tavi; and no matter how old she was getting, Nameless knew that she still had some tricks up her sleeve.
"I'm sure she'll win," Nameless said, fingering the earring in her left ear casually. Catching sight of someone else she wished to talk with, she gave them a quick goodbye and went off. 'Humans' among the raptor pack tended to stick with their own group. It was safer that way. But Nameless and Tavi both were always challenging that dynamic, always going against the flow. It was in their nature. And, eventually, the raptors accepted that.
A raptor with sleek black-and-brown pebbled skin, and a slightly thinner head than average walked nearby, and Nameless ran up next to her. "Breathe Deep," She greeted her casually.
The raptor looked to her, slightly startled, but answered, "Hunt Well."
Nameless only lightly disguised the bite in her words. "I saw your son in the forest today." The anger in her tone explained very clearly which son she was talking about.
Useless' mother, Bleak, made the raptor equivalent of sighing through her nose. "In your territory?" She questioned.
Bleak turned away. "And you did not kill him?" She demanded, a little harshly. "You are still too soft on the boy."
Nameless bristled; 'soft' was not an accusation that was thrown lightly. She ducked a little, pulling her blade from her belt ever-so-slightly. "I do not blame the child. He was left at home in the care of his mother. You were supposed to watch him, to keep him here. You failed."
Bleak gave a little snarl, whirling in the dirt so that she stood in front of Nameless, head ducked down. It was inevitable; there were fights everywhere across the pack, every day. Many of the raptors looked out of the corner of their eye; this could escalate into a brawl very quickly. "I am no failure, human!" Bleak roared at her, the echoing, near-mechanical sounds of her words resounding clear across the camp. All eyes turned to them now, hungrily.
"You failed to keep your son in check," Nameless responded, her voice not so loud but filled with the same malice. "You failed in your responsibilities." Her fingers ran across the teeth on her neck. "And I have no time for you."
She turned her back to the raptor; the ultimate insult. It meant that you were not even worth watching, that you were no threat. Turning your back to someone was the equivalent of saying that they were no danger to you; and that in itself was a very dangerous thing to do. Bleak snarled, ducking even lower to charge, though Nameless obviously couldn't see it. The other raptors watched the human's bold move in amazement. She had never once been brave enough to do such a thing.
Bleak charged; Nameless closed her eyes. She could hear the sounds of Bleak's footsteps hitting the earth, could hear her claws striking the ground. A fight was always inevitable; if you got into one fight each day, you knew you were doing all right. That was something Tavi had taught her.
Something else Tavi had taught her; how to fight once the inevitable battle came.
Bleak's screeching voice sounded closer; Nameless whirled, her knife out and slashing across the raptor's face. It cut across her eye, making her stumble backwards, screaming aloud in pain as Nameless jumped lithely to the side. The raptor clawed viciously at her injured face while all of the others looked on hungrily.
"Concede," she ordered in a rather bored tone. Bleak glared spitefully from her good eye, the other dripping red and currently blinded. But the cut had not scratched the eye itself; Bleak would be left with a little memory of the day, but no scars, no true blindness.
"Never," she hissed, and the sound strained onwards, building in volume, until it became a battle cry. Nameless tightened her grip on her knife. She again waited until her opponent struck first, reaching out with her toe-claw to slash at her stomach; the preferred kill movement for a raptor.
But preferred meant predictable. Nameless watched the claw come towards her, then moved aside quickly, grabbing the raptor's ankle and driving her knife deep into it. Bleak screeched again, but Nameless wasn't done. Bending down for a split-second to retrieve the tooth-blade from her boot, she quickly went to Bleak's back, pouncing atop it with easy grace. Bleak screeched and fell to the ground on her stomach, unable to keep her balance with the extra weight and useless foot.
"Concede!" Nameless ordered, bringing her blade to the creature's throat.
"Never!" repeated Bleak, and she rolled onto her back in an attempt to shake Nameless off. It worked. Nameless quickly released the raptor and broke off, waiting for Bleak to right herself. The raptor snarled and launched itself towards her a third time; Nameless waited until her claw rained down on her, blocking it with her arm. The stego-leather arm padding protected her from everything but a shallow cut as it cracked beneath the strain. Nameless hid a sigh; stegosauruses were hard to kill. It could be months before she could make a new one.
But all that mattered now was the challenge at hand. Bleak was using her injured foot to strike, the knife blade still jammed in deep. It was easier than standing on the injured appendage, but also very stupid. Nameless gripped the knife and twisted it, giving up her other knife in turn, but she was rewarded by a fresh screech of pain. She released Bleak's foot, and the raptor fell to the ground, writhing about in pain, claws flailing, jaws opening and snapping closed. She howled as, again casual, Nameless retrieved her second blade. The raptors were eyeing her eagerly; she had won the challenge; whatever happened next was decided by her, whether Bleak lived or died. No one else had any say in it.
Nameless placed the blade back in her boot, sighed in an apathetic way, then walked next to her thrashing opponent. Carefully, she bent over next to raptor's wounded ankle; though Bleak tried desperately to kick out against her, Nameless pinned down her other foot with her knee, and held the injured one tightly in her arms until, looking almost frightened, Bleak held still, watching her.
Nameless gripped the knife handle firmly, then yanked it out with a single pull. Again, Bleak screamed, but Nameless ignored this as she wiped the blood off her blade and onto the grass. She looked at her audience. She knew what they wanted, and was tempted to give it to them. Bleak had never liked her, and in all honesty, she hadn't really liked Bleak, either. Also, to do anything less may be considered weak, if she didn't make her mark some other way.
She crossed over to the helpless raptor's jaws, which were still snapping at nothing. Nameless slammed her fist into the lower jaw, a heavy blow which sent the raptor's head backwards. The other raptors glanced to each other, then to the gruesome string of trophies on her neck. They thought they knew what was coming.
Nameless pried open the raptor's jaws; Bleak looked almost too frightened to resist. She grabbed one of the creature's teeth, long and sharp, a brutal weapon in capable hands. Her eyes locked with the raptor's for a long second, and Bleak deflated; perhaps it was all that kept her from the fine line of life and death.
But Nameless just smiled. "Don't think yourself so great," She snapped. She released the raptor's jaws, pulled out her knife, and slashed it along the creature's shoulder. Bleak screeched; this one would scar. But then, that had been the point. The other raptors looked almost disappointed, but they quickly dispersed as Bleak pulled herself up, limping back to her shelter. There was no harsh remark from her; Nameless had won. There was nothing else to say.
"I'll take that as a compliment," a voice said behind her; Nameless turned around and grinned. It was Ire, of course. She tugged his tooth, dangling on her earring.
"Well, you were my greatest opponent at the time," She admitted. "But I'd hate to see you try for a rematch. You'd be slaughtered."
Ire did not respond; but then, Ire rarely did. He came up next to her, watching Bleak's progression away from them.
"Another day, another challenge." He seemed mildly proud as he spoke the words. Then again, it had been he who had discovered that she was unlike any other Dinotopian; he who had found her, he who had brought her back when everyone else questioned how such a pathetic human would ever survive. Very few humans survived in the carnivore world, but a few were born for the lifestyle. Born to be this way. Some of these people ran away, others found out after surviving a carnivore attack; but very few actually survived 'initiation'. Which, basically meant that there were few survivors among a pack of hungry raptors. You had to be faster then them. Smarter. You had to prove your worth.
It had been hard for Nameless, at first. A little girl without much strength, without much speed. But exceptions were always made for the little ones, even if fewer exceptions were made for the human little ones. And if anyone threatened her, she was smart enough to call for help from someone who did not wish her dead yet, not too proud as to try and fight it out herself. It was a delicate balance, but through dumb luck and her love of this life, she had succeeded in finding it.
And now she was older; more used to this sort of life. She was a clever fighter, even if she would never be as fast or as strong as the others. And she was one of the best hunters they had.
"Did you find anything?" Nameless asked, turning to her hunting partner. Ire shook his head.
"No," he answered. "You?"
"A bird and her nest. Nothing else," Nameless sighed. She looked into the wind, her eyes glazing. "I'm worried," She admitted.
Ire studied her. "I will go on a nighttime hunt, should you ask."
She smiled lightly at him. "I'm sure you would. But no. You need your sleep." A frown crossed her face as a bumbling, grey figure almost fell into the camp. Glares turned to it from all directions, and it tried to look angry. But it was like a puppy trying to make itself look dangerous; all it ended up being was a fluffy nuisance.
"And I have to take care of something," She growled.