Canterlot High School, three years ago
“And next up to the bars, Maia Heart Search!”
The roaring speakers elicited a small uproar of cheers from the students across the school gym who’d piled in to support their classmates at the gymnastics competition, both out of kindness to their friends as well as because a freshman named Rainbow Dash whipped them up into an uproar so the Canterlot gymnastics team got a bigger shout than Crystal Prep’s. Having double- and then triple-checked that her locket was securely safe inside her backpack and her backpack was securely safe inside a locked locker, Maia stepped out of the waiting room and onto the mats. She wasn’t an exceptional name at the school, about average looking with freckly dark teal skin and curly dark red hair tied back in a ponytail with a fit build; though a certain friend of hers was one of the top dogs on campus so a not-so-small portion of the crowd was there to support her.
Flashing a toothy grin she briefly glanced over to wave at her classmates as she stepped up to the swing bars. Slapping her chalk-covered hands together and rubbing them, she steadied the butterflies in her stomach and focused on doing her best. And after jumping up to grab onto the first set of bars and using her momentum to immediately swing onto the highest set, the best she was doing. Her classmates were ecstatic and the faculty was beaming, infecting the gymnast with a grin. But late into her routine after building up momentum for the final launch, her eye caught a glimpse of something in the reserved seating that shot through her like a bullet. A pair of empty seats with signs that in her psyched up state of mind she could read plainly.
Reserved for Mr. Paleo Search.
Reserved for Mrs. Gentle Heart.
Maia puzzled. Why weren’t her parents here? The momentary distraction, however, cost her dearly. Her hand slipped off the bars and she flew off the set at high speed going the worst direction possible to land outside the mats. The last thing she’d distinctly remember that day was the loud crack in her leg and an amazing pain.
Three years later
Maia, now dressed in a large jacket, shook herself awake at the sound of the ferry horn. Taking a moment to groan and stretch, she got off her seat and collected up several bulky travel bags after slinging her backpack on. As she made her way off the boat amongst a crowd of children ages nine to thirteen, it was evident time had helped heal some old wounds given the limp in her right leg was barely discernible. She wasn't inhibited much anymore, months in the hospital and a year of physical therapy to readjust to her leg had helped see to that but she wasn’t going back to the competition circuit. Physically she was doing pretty close to optimal within the year, mentally she was still a depressed wreck for two and a half. While missing out at the gymnastics circuit was a bummer, it was finding why her parents hadn’t made it that had caused the biggest drain.
Something had happened to Paleo Search, her father. One day here on the island helping her mother, Gentle Heart, run the camp; the next day he went out on survey and didn’t come back. The searches lasted weeks and each time news came back to the hospital that they’d come back empty handed, Maia had felt herself taking another fall. It was part of the reason she was coming to camp this summer instead of staying with family, her mother thought bringing her to a place that brought so much joy might help keep her from relapsing to how she was before. No good parent wants to see their child wither like she had.
The summer camp itself was pretty nice, if remote given the nature of the island which only had a bi-weekly ferry. A reasonably-sized compound bordering the coast with five camper cabins, utility building, docks for kayaks and the ferry, a larger counselor cabin, mess and crafts hall that could double as a theater, and the administrator's building that also served as the Search family house. Some basic fencing surrounded the camp and docks, with a dirt road leading off to the various activity trails.
Various campers piled past her, eagerly rushing into the campgrounds with the same eagerness their youthful ages of eight to thirteen would suggest. Stepping out of the administrator's office to greet both the crowd and Maia was a kindly woman with a warm smile that caused the teenager's spirit to feel lifted just from seeing it. Dressed in a pair of Capri pants and a blue long sleeve shirt with the campground symbol; she sported a shoulder-length cut of curly brown hair and a similar shade of green skin to her daughter. Maia’s face lit up and she sprinted up into Gentle Heart’s arms, not complaining when her parent gave her a kiss on the forehead that elicited childishly disgusted noises from some of the campers.
“Welcome back, Deary.”, Gentle Heart said with warmth, rubbing at her daughter's back and head.
“Good to be home mom!”, Maia snickered, tightening her hold briefly.
Gentle Heart giggled and broke off the hug as she glanced at her watch. The woman rolled her eyes and snickered.
“Three. Two. One.” Gentle Heart noted, tapping at her watch with a punctuated countdown.
“What are yo-”, Maia muttered with narrowed eyes.
A loud shriek called out to the side-
-and a pinkish yellow blur tackled Maia in a full-on glomp that nearly bowled the both of them over. When Maia’s mind stopped spazzing out she could feel a grinning cheek pressing against her’s and a pair of thin arms constricting her around the middle. Before any thoughts of trying to get her affectionate attacker off could sink in, however, she quickly realized who it was. Naturally, she recognized the extremely, almost chokingly strong orange blossom perfume first and gleefully returned Sunflower’s bear hug even before needing to see the hip length orange-blonde hair, sunflower tucked above her ear, and peachy pink skin. The older sister to Babs Seed, cousin to the "Apple Siblings", and heiress to the infamous Orange family, one wouldn’t have thought much for a preppy, stuck up prima donna like “Sunny” to be close to crop like Maia; but actions spoke louder than words. Naturally given ages, there was a bombardment of questions from Sunflower to Maia and back again.
“Took your time MaiMai!”
“Hey, the ferry was slow, cut me a break Sunny!”
“Ooooh loving the longer hair, works wonders. Ten years I’ve been telling you and you finally took my advice!”
“Kinda forgot and it got away from me, ehehe,” Maia mumbled, rubbing at the back of her head.
“Girl time. You. Me. Nails, braids, I got four cases of skirts,-”, Sunflower quipped, stars already in her eyes.
Maia rolled her eyes at her best friend, who had more than enough fashion love for the two of them by herself, shrugging with a bit of deadpan in her voice.
“-You know I wear pants, Sunny,” she grumbled.
Unfettered, Sunflower merely pulled out her phone and cycled through some pictures on it to take inventory.
“Hey, I brought plenty of Capri styles! I hear khaki is in.” Maia chuckled, patting Sunflower on the shoulder and speaking with a coyly raised eyebrow. “Movie night?”
“Movie night, I'll even put up with the geek-a-thon series you always pick.” Sunflower quipped with a nod and smirk.
Gentle Heart smiled and chuckled upon seeing Maia and Sunflower cling to each other with mutual shrieks of glee. It came as a surprise to her the young Miss Orange had volunteered as a counselor for the summer, not thinking her to be the type for this sort of thing. Though seeing her daughter lighting up like this because of her best friend for the first time in what felt like years gave her reason to sigh in gratitude. She walked up and patted her daughter and Sunflower on their shoulders.
“I can see this summer will be off to a good start. I need to get and file the forms from the campers, young mister Wood can show you to the campers introduction. I take it you remember this place well enough, Sweetheart?” She noted.
Maia smiled and nodded. Why shouldn’t she recognize the place she was practically born at? “Like the back of my hand mom.”
“Good, your counselor shirt and vest is in the counselor cabin.” Gentle Heart said with a warm smile before picking up a clipboard from a signpost and walking off to head back to her office.
Sunflower and Maia waved with their free hands and hooked one arm around the other’s shoulders. After a moment of thought, however, Maia puzzled.
“Wait, Woods? Did she mean?-”, her muttering was cut off by a rapidly approaching noise. There were some footsteps behind them and Sunflower smirked while bracing.
“Yeeeeep!”, she bleeped, looking off to the side in a jesting manner and earning a confused glance by Maia.
“AAAAHG!”, the shout heralded a pair of strong arms hooking around Maia and Sunflower’s middles and hoisting the two up into the air. A hearty bellow of laughter called out as the perpetrator, a strongly built young man with pale skin and green dreadlocks spun around with the two still lifted up in his underarms.
Maia jokingly flailed around as Sunflower frantically held her hair down to keep it from fraying.
“Gak! Sandal put us down!”, Maia shouted. Another loud chuckle later and Sandalwood did so, speaking in laughter.
“Look who grooved her way back to the island, welcome back M!”
Maia rolled her eyes but still snickered. Sandalwood was still in his typical get up from Canterlot high, just with his typical red shirt swapped out for the tan camp logo bearing one underneath his opened peace-sign vest.
“Shoulda figured you’d pile in first chance you got.” Maia noted with a sideways nod towards the campground.
“Hey, love the woods and watchin’ over kids; so this stuff’s PB and J to me.” Sandalwood said with a smirk, patting the side of his fist to his chest. His eyes perked up at the sound of beeping and he checked his watch with a grin.
“Orientation and intros in ten minutes, show time for the tots you two. Try not to hog the spotlight Sunny,” He chirped, earning a quipping retort from Sunflower.
“I only promise to try.” The Orange noted coyly as Maia roped her arms around her two friend’s shoulders, Sunflower and Sandalwood picking up her dropped backpack with their free hands as the Tres Amigos made their way to the counselor quarters. Maia was smiling so wide it almost hurt when she took it all in. Already any lingering gloominess was starting to lift. There was some stray ill on her mind for sure, but there was too much good to really care. She was back with her mother, had two of her oldest friends in a place she remembered fondly; and was set to be doing something she enjoyed for the season.
Best. Summer. Ever.
Ten Minutes Later
“Helloooooooo campers!” Gentle Heart shouted cheerfully as she walked up on the mess hall’s small stage to the elicited cheers of the young audience. Maia, Sandalwood, and Sunflower stood at the side of the stage, glancing over some note cards as they waited for their cue. “Welcome to Lost Land Isle Summer Camp, where distance and the past don’t mean remote. I’m the camp owner and coordinator Gentle Heart. Some of you might have noticed a bit of a theme around the campground so far, as you can observe on the ceiling~?”
Pip, Button Mash, Featherweight, Apple Crumble, and the other camper children all looked upwards to a flurry of wide-eyed “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” after some high set lights were turned back on; illuminating the rafters of the mess hall to show it had a prehistoric motif. Many beams bore facades to make them look like big dinosaur bones, toy pterosaurs dangled from the rafters, and castings of many shells, teeth, and claws sat perched on the nooks and crannies. The camp logo, which bore the image of a large, three-toed footprint suddenly would make a lot more sense.
Gentle Heart giggled before continuing. “Side effect of my husband. We founded this camp so he and his colleagues could bring the kids and family along for the digs, refurbishing some of the old mining worker camp that used to be here and the camp grew from there. Not as old as the establishment at Camp Everfree, but we like to think we keep a more time-tested aesthetic-”
Sunflower put her hand up to the side of her mouth and leaned towards her friends.
“-plus we didn’t need to find a way to market a giant hand print and wrecked bridge like they did,” She mumbled, whispering to her companions as they zoned out of Mrs. Gentle Heart’s speech momentarily.
“Set to get a closer look at it later when I head there. Man the last year of stuff at Canterlot got weeeeird. First Demon Sunset, then the hospital blowing up, then the Everfree’s landslide.”, Sandalwood muttered after leaning into the conversation, counting the odd events on his fingers with the count going up enough to start needing to use both hands.
“-I thought they said the crater meant it was a meteorite?” Maia chimed with a tilted head, having not been out and about as much as the other two lately.
Sandalwood lifted his palms up and shrugged, “Hey, after seeing that burning blue-fire spitting dude, weird pale guys, and the giant glowy things at the Spring Musical Showcase; I’ll believe anything.”
The trio tuned back into Mrs. Gentle Heart's orientation speech.
“-the mining baron was a supporter of the sciences and let groups come to study the fossils the miner dug up even after the mine closed down. My husband was one of them. Now because the badlands near the mine are off limits due to recent earthquakes-”
A small chorus of deflated grumbled and sighs poured out of some campers.
In the Badlands
In a dramatic shift of terrain from the forests surrounding the camp, the badlands on the far side of the isle were more akin to a rocky, temperate desert. The old mining installation still stood next to the quarry and tunnels alongside a myriad of abandoned digging and hauling vehicles, rusting in some spots and creaking in the howling wind. The creaking of old metal only gained in volume as the earth began to tremble.
“-however, I have an old friend coming in who’s made a discovery near the camp and is looking for some eager young volunteers to help with the dig. Any takers?” Mrs. Gentle Heart said with a grin, correctly anticipating the uproar of cheers and applause she got from the campers. Making a lowering motion with her hands, she managed to settle the crowd back down.
Mrs. Gentle Heart's grin showed through in her voice, “Well, I see we have some eager volunteers! As many Bone-Heads once said, never too early to start. Now, in addition, we have a great variety of activities and learning set up for you all. If we stay on track, I’m sure you’ll all have a wonderful experience!”
The tremor coursed through the badlands, rattling machinery and shifting boulders. One large set of boulders settled on the slopes of the quarry were jostled loose, some cracking open and some rolling away to reveal a cave. There was a flash of light in the cave, followed by two more after a pause.
Something scampered forward at such speed it was a blur, diving through the curtain of falling sand and dust to exit the cave. Scaly feet beat the ground and dust rolled off mottled green-brown feathers as the shape jumped a dozen feet to land on top of a pickup truck roof before leaping even higher onto a short crane. A long tail and curved claws helped keep a balance and grip even as their owner let out a shrieking alarm call after seeing what it saw coming through the collapsing cave after it.
Finishing her speech, Mrs. Gentle Heart nodded to the counselors and let Sandalwood have the microphone. After a quick tap-check to make sure it was still working, eliciting a metallic screech from the equipment that earned a lot of grimacing and an embarrassed back-of-head rub.
Sandalwood cleared his throat and restarted, “Hehe, sorry about that folks, not much of a techie... Well! Heya little dudes and dudettes, names Sandalwood and I’m the lead counselor for your stay here. Now we are out here in these awesome woods to have fun but you gotta remember three basic rules. One, don’t go off alone. Easy to get lost here and there’s like- some critters out there who may not like you tramping on their spots. Rule numb’r dos, if you see something weird or get some trouble; come get me or Mrs. Heart immediately. And lastly, keep your chins up kiddos! You’re here for fun so relaaax. Nothing bad’s gonna happen to ye’ at this old place; we got a plan for everything!”
To clear enough distance the newcomer ran up the incline of the crane and jumped off the edge, landing on the cusp of the quarry wall and managing to claw its way over to the top. Panting hard and only taking a moment to glance back at the source of the screeching behind it, the creature quickly bolted for the cover of the forest; leaving a trail of two-toed tracks in its wake.
Some hours later
Maia stepped into her parent’s house, also known as the administrator's building, still reading through the sticky-tag list she had compiled after another visit to the counselor cabin. She and Sunflower had helped unpack her luggage into the rooms but there was still plenty of spare space with a few things missing given she wasn’t the best packer and had forgotten a lot of things. And seeing as she practically grew up here and could see her old room from the outside, didn’t seem like any harm in getting some of her stuff back that was on the list.
“Mom?” She called out and paused for a few second to await a response, only to get none.
Maia shrugged and headed up the old stairs anyways.
-Sure she wouldn’t mind. My stuff anyways.-
As she reached the top of the stairs, however, a stray sunbeam caught her eye and attention. It was coming from another room down the hall, one Maia recognized well even if she was shorter the last time she’d seen it.
Stealing a moment to glance around the house as well as between the study and her own room across the short hall, Maia made her move towards the former almost as if it was drawing her in like a magnet.
-I’m… sure mom wouldn’t mind this either… Not like I’d break anything.-
After a moment’s hesitation at the door, she bumped the old wood with her finger and nudged the cracked entry open. It might have been only three years but the place already smelled old, and the contents it in didn’t dissuade the notion. Shelves stocked with a mix of old dinosaur models, fossil castings of bones and teeth, actual bones and teeth, tons of notebooks half stuffed with tags and slips to keep a bookmark; and Paleo Search’s old fashion computer sitting below a family photo. It looked as if Gentle Heart hadn’t touched it or let it be touched since her husband died.
Maia’s brow furrowed briefly and she flared her nose at the thought of the words “died” and her father being in the same thought. Releasing her anger and replacing it with stubborn perseverance, she let a hand trace over the family photograph which showed her parents and a toddler-aged version of herself at a dig site in the badlands.
-Missing. He just.. went… missing.-
A mix of determination and masked melancholy filtered through her whisper as she looked up at the massive wall map her father had been working on, which showed an overlay of the entirety of the Lost Lands.
“I know you’re out there dad… What exactly were you up to before you vanished?”, she thought aloud with the words spilling out.
Glancing over to Paleo Search’s work desk, her eyes drifted upon one notebook that was less dust covered than the others.
-Probably the newest one…-
Picking it up, she bit her lip as she started to thumb through it. She recognized its messily written pages, her father never was one with stellar handwriting especially when excited, as field notes and shorthand annotations of his mile-a-minute thoughts.
-Might give a clue where you were last. What made you go into the Badlands that last time?-
The last page showed an illustration, but not of a bone or map; rather it showed an animal of some sort. It was covered in something fuzzy, walking on its hind legs with a slightly S-shaped neck and pointy snout or beak. It looked like some kind of emu with a long tail and thicker neck. A single word was noted on a tag stuck to the page, dated to three years ago to the day.
Maia unconsciously mouthed it, as it was written with quotation marks to indicate it was a word or transcribed sound, “...Eee-... no? … Eno?”
She pursed her lips, still confused at what the sketch meant. Her father was most certainly not an artist, that was her mother’s forte. All the other sketches in the book were just simple maps or outlines of fossils, so what was a fairly detailed depiction of some bizarre bird doing in the book? Hoping for some clarity she looked at the following page, which showed a familiar sight circled with a red marker. A picture of her dad standing in the abandoned worker village just a few kilometers up the trail, taken as he was approaching the old general store.
Maia kicked her boot to the old dirt trail and ground to a halt at the end of the half overgrown dirt road. She couldn’t help but grimace slightly at the sight before her. The old miner worker village was a piece of work even if it originally had been built to look the opposite. She could wonder if the reason some of the buildings were now missing walls and the fencing had completely fallen down in some sports was due to the village being built to look nice for the employees rather than built to be sturdy and to last. Rich sometimes did have oversight on issues like that even when he meant well. Once a lodging for workers complete with a diner and general store, it was now effectively a ghost town that had been abandoned overnight in a way that would make for a good ghost story for the campers. Checking her pockets to make sure she had the bear spray and stun light on a quick-draw just in case, Maia nudged the bike’s kickstand into place and started off.
Pulling out the notebook to check the picture, Maia looked between it and the town to find the match while she absentmindedly touched at the locket on her neck. Steeling herself as she worked the necklace between her thumb and fingers, Maia pursed her lips and approached the matching general store building.
The building had fared a bit better than the half dozen worker houses and other smaller buildings, probably due to its size. A few of the windows were busted up, paint was mostly worn off, parts of the roofing and walls were scuffed up, and the door looked like it had partially come unlatched, but otherwise, it didn’t look too bad. She stopped in the exact same spot her father had in the photograph, a window on the outer wall facing the middle of town. The window itself was one of the broken ones, all the glass having long since fallen out, but the view inside was partially obscured by a shelf that had fallen over on the inside. Just as Maia leaned in somewhat to try and get a better look inside, the sound of movement made her freeze like a deer in the headlights.
She could hear it just barely, footsteps on the inside. Footsteps so quiet she couldn’t have possibly heard them if there was so much as a stray breeze making noise. Before she could entertain the worry it was possibly a bear or deer moving through the store, one observation threw all of those options out the window. The footsteps were simple in repetition, pit-pat-pit-pat. Only two legs, like a person.
Maia swallowed a lump in her throat and said a single word as she tried to lean in a bit closer to try and see who was inside, “... Hello?”
The footsteps stopped and suddenly there was a fantastic crash.
A few moments earlier
Its legs were tired of running even though it knew it was safe. More distance the better even if it wouldn’t be followed near the buildings they avoided. Relief came when they found a door intact, clicking contently as they managed to open it and get inside. No people around but it was good shelter and most importantly, safe especially since it was getting dark soon. They’d just managed to slow their breathing back down and begin to pace around their new surroundings when the air shifted. They smelled something. Breathing scents into a long, pointy snout they could tell something new had definitely just come by. It smelled like something familiar. They started towards it with cautious steps backward, the strength of the scent in the air indicating it was coming from a window behind them.
Just as they were about to turn around; however the sudden noise of a human voice caught them by surprise, “Hello?”
In the brief confusion a footstep was misjudged and landed inside an old paint can, causing a slip. During the sudden twist of motion, their tail smashed into one of the tables and sent it crashing to the ground along with all of its contents and the unfortunate slipper. The sudden crash and commotion was answered by a human screaming. By the time balance was restored and a pair of reflective eyes looked out the window, Maia was already sprinting to her bike and heading out of the camp. The creature chirped, tilting its head to the side like an owl before pivoting it down towards the window frame at something shiny that had snagged on the seam. A snapped necklace chain connected to an opened locket with a picture inside of it.
The bird like noise called out in tandem with the motion of a tilted head, “...Rhawk?”
Night came fast, faster than Maia could get back to camp but only just barely. She could see the lights to the camp less than three hundred meters away just as dusk was breaking. She was in such a flurry of mind she almost didn’t hear the sound echoing out across the forest.
A very distant human voice called out like a whisper, “My’ha.”
She hit the brakes and stopped, breathing hard as she looked around half expecting it to be a stray camper. Then the sound came again, this time a bit less distant and less distorted but the nature of the forest still caused it to bounce around and make it hard to tell which way it was coming from. “Mi’ha.”
Maia felt her pulse increase as did her fervor to look around. The voice was masculine, deep, familiar; familial. It sounded just like-
Maia's lips quivered at the recognition as she blurted out a single word response, “Dad?!”
There was a rustling in the shrubs due east of her slightly further back on the dirt road by about five meters. Something was approaching slowly, pushing through the ferns that layered the ground. The moon might have been partially out but the dense canopy of pine trees along with a span of forest fog above made it hard to see well, but she could detect something. Someone stepped out onto the trail behind her, standing on two legs. Maia froze as the figure, who was about five and a half feet tall though it looked hunched over, seemed to stare at her. The winds shifted, blowing away the fog as well as sifting new smells into the air. Instantly Maia’s eyes widened with shock at both what she could see and didn’t see, shaking all over.
The figure standing less than five meters away wasn’t much more than an outline, but the reflective red eye shine, like an owl or alligator, blinked at her to show the newcomer was most definitely not human before its chirping sounds could show such. It barked a simple, two-syllable utterance that roughly sounded like, “Eee-no ee-no!”
Moving, the figure pitched up slightly, turning its head to the side and pivoting up and down slightly like it was smelling at something to the east. Whatever it was doing its demeanor quickly shifted from relaxed to loud after it turned back towards her, taking a step forward and sharply barking a string of hisses and chirps like a hawk would, “Risssss paaaahwk! Ka-cuu ka-cuu!!”
The wind also brought a smell, one that instantly filled Maia with fear without her knowing why. People tend to forget humans still have instincts, latent traits coded into one’s genes that proved beneficial enough at a time to be kept and not overwritten. And right now whatever she was smelling was causing Maia’s instincts to scream at her to get out of there now!
The figure made a motion towards her and approached. Seizing her only defense, Maia drew up the stun light and flicked it on. The powerful flood light rapidly flashed on and off, briefly offering a glimpse of the creature in full illumination. It looked like a bird and not at the same time, like an emu and hawk mash-up that had been stretched out with some body parts to the point its proportions made it resemble something else. The principle color was a mottled green with rusty red trimmings and a “raccoon-mask” over the eyes. Said colors were mostly displayed by an array of feathers that ranged from defined, broad feathers on the arms to downy-fuzz on parts of the belly and chest. When it recoiled and squawked to cover its eyes from the light, she could see three fingered hands sticking out from under its wings as the crest of longer feathers sticking out of its head fanned upwards in surprise. Had she not been so startled she might have noticed something shiny dangling from one of its fingers but she was paying too much attention to the recurved claws on said digits to care.
Having momentarily blinded the creature, she took her escape. Maia jumped on her bike again and pedaled so fast she felt like her legs were about to explode when she got through the front gate to the campground fencing, jumped off, and slammed it shut to lock it behind her. She wouldn’t say it aloud even after she calmed down hours later, a fact helped by the detail that the strange bird hadn’t chased her any distance, but her mind stayed transfixed on the glimpses she’d gotten in the flashes of light as well as the sounds the beast made.
The oddly-proportioned body covered in a mix of feathers and scales, a bird with teeth instead of a beak, the transcribed noise it made when she first heard it…
She dug out the notebook and flipped back to the second to last page she’d been on. And in the light of the camp night lights, she saw the creature again on the page of the book. She’d seen an unknown species… A species her father documented right before he went missing.
-This summer camp just got a lot stranger…-
“Risssss paaaahwk! Ka-cuu ka-cuu!!”
It called out to the Human-That-Smelled-Familiar, trying to take another step forward before being flashed in the face with a magnificent burst of light. It instinctively closed and shielded its eyes from the momentary flash to spare them further blindness. Had the human also smelled them and was trying to defend herself? Maybe, but as the blindness cleared and the sounds of the fleeing human trailed away, the creature turned back to the east in hopes of a sign they had been subject to the momentary blindness like he had.
Unfortunately, the repetition of the slightly distorted voices coming from the foliage said otherwise, “Ma’ia.” “M’aia!”
He hissed as his vision returned, fanning up his tail fan, wings, and crest like a cat would arch its back to make himself look bigger. It was them, probably drawn out by the chance to off a rival species while also giving a chance to have a go at a lone human away from the settlements they avoided. Powerful legs and skilled timing helped avoid the explosion of motion that lunged out at him, fang filled jaws snapping shut where he’d been a half second earlier. Screeching in surprise and jumping onto a tree, recurved claws including a scythe shaped one the inner toe helped give a purchase and along with the clawed hands; allowing him to half run half shimmy his way up high. Another set of feet with sickle-shaped talons on the inner toes started up after him in pursuit. Knowing his new perch would only offer a moment of reprieve, he jumped off and landed on the trunk of a neighboring tree and clung to it. The landing was followed by a woody crack from the old tree, the pine’s trunk just barely supporting his weight. He quickly took in his surroundings.
The tree trunk was going to give at one more impact. One pursuer was about to jump after him from the first tree, the other was clawing their way up the cracking tree. And said tree was leaning over the dirt road which was right next to the river flowing away from the campgrounds.
He squawked and barked, almost like he was intentionally trying to egg the both of them on. The one on the other tree took the bait and snarled, flashing a row of serrated teeth as it braced to pounce. Just as it did, he jumped away from the tree and avoided the other climbing after him. The combined weight of the pair high up, as well as the force of impact from the leaping one landing against the trunk, was too much for the old pine to handle. The trunk roared with a loud snap and split a meter above the base, sending both it and its unwilling occupants careening into the river.
Panting hard after the exertion, Eno as he had been labeled once, watched the tree and the pursuers float rapidly downstream. The current was strong even if they’d get free of it and the river eventually, so he’d bought himself enough time for safety to head back to the ghost town in time. Snorting and kicking some dirt behind himself towards the river, the feathered saurian started back into the forest to find some food to forage from. Plenty of meat and ferns out here, for however unfamiliar this world was.