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Horizon

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The High Path
« on: July 06, 2018, 07:49:16 PM »
Prologue, Leafchange

   It was among the last few days of Leafchange when Ilie’s clutch began to hatch. The Twocrest Sharptooth had spent the better part of three weeks huddled over the nest, cradling her four eggs tightly to her body. She was their shield against the biting, creeping cold that slid serpent-like over the crags and valleys of her home in the Greystone Peaks— the first signs that the warm colors and whistling breezes of Leafchange would soon give way to the howling, freezing, dark days of the Cold Times. One by one she watched as other Twocrests bore their young, nurturing them, feeding them scraps of scavenged flesh and occasionally a fish from the river a half-day’s walk from the nesting area. The squeaks and blinking, beady black eyes grabbed and twisted at her heart, and as the days grew shorter and the pride leader’s visitations became less and less frequent, she began to lose hope.

   At first, he had been enthusiastic about stopping by, eager to see how her clutch would turn out. Of the pride’s females, Ilie was easily one of the most beautiful; her yellow body, striped with the faintest lines of tan and brown, was sleek, but not unhealthily so. Her teeth were sharp, her eyes bright, and her crests— two orange and red ornaments adorning the top of her head— always shone with a vibrant, optimistic light. She was his favorite, the “pride of her pride,” as he liked to remark, or any pride for that matter. It was a joke that always elicited a chuckle from him, and an obligatory laugh from anyone else in earshot. But as her clutch continued to fail to impress, even her beauty wasn’t enough to distract from the obvious— an infertile female, however visually stunning, was useless to the pride in the long run.

   But on a dark morning, one tinted with the faintest blue of the distant Bright Circle and tinged with the icy touch of coming Cold Times, Ilie’s clutch hatched, and gave birth to an aberration.

   It was the noise that woke her, the subtle cracking and scraping of tiny claws against smooth eggshell rousing her gently from another restless slumber. At first, she was certain she was hearing things. Many times before, she had been tricked by the snap of a branch, or some other similar sound, but this time she could feel it; the four eggs beneath her were shifting, moving, and as she lifted herself off the nest to peer through the murky morning dark, as well as the haze of her own sleepiness, she saw a crack begin to form along the surface of one egg; a dark slit from which two little wet claws quivered, scratching at the shell. Immediately she shifted off the nest, threw back her head, and emitted a loud, triumphant cry, one that was met almost immediately by a series of annoyed grumblings. She didn’t care. Her clutch was finally hatching.

   Turning her attention back to the nest, she softly nuzzled the egg, rolling it upright. Flakes of shell fell away as she did, and it was all she could do to hold back a sneeze. The crack widened, and in the darkness she could see a single yellow orb, a pupil set in the middle of it contracting and dilating as it adjusted to the light. She heard footsteps behind her, and knew with the utmost certainty that Surs, the pride leader, was behind her. She couldn’t wait any longer. As squeaks began to come from the little life inside the shell, she picked away at the infant’s egg, eager to show Surs what they had accomplished. Her claws went to work peeling away soft membrane and hard shell, and once she even felt the delicate touch of young skin beneath her claw. Contact was met with a sharp squeak, and she drew away, reminding herself that it was the duty of the young to break free, not the mother.

   A head emerged soon, and for the first time, she finally saw the face of her progeny. The young Twocrest was beautiful, its slender jaw perfectly shaped, and its dark eyes wide with the curiosity that only comes from seeing the world, and indeed experiencing life itself, for the first time. More egg fell away, and Ilie felt hot breath on her neck. Surs was leaning down beside her, watching the little one intently.

   “It’s going to have your crests,” he whispered excitedly, “look at how colorful it is.”

   He was right. The tail was next to emerge, and as light broke over the horizon, she could see the faint outline of stripes, stripes that would no doubt become well-developed as the infant grew to maturity. The young Twocrest gave a growl, and the shell around it shook, little cracks spreading over its surface as the little dinosaur’s feet pressed against it. Ilie could barely sit still. Soon she would know whether her firstborn was a son or a daughter; a challenger to the pride leader, or a successor to her, and as the final pieces of eggshell fell away, and the sky began to glow with the light of the coming day, she knew right away that her firstborn was a son.

   But that didn’t matter.

   It didn’t matter because what she fixated on the most, what made Surs draw back with a sudden hiss of disgust, was the crooked, bent, unmoving arm the young creature held close to its chest.

   “I- it’s- what have-” Surs stammered. Ilie couldn’t bring herself to look at him, instead keeping her eyes locked on the young male now hopping around the nest, examining the three other eggs of his soon-to-be siblings. Aside from the arm, he seemed healthy, but the arm… she couldn’t look away from the deformed facsimile of a limb.

   His incoherent muttering complete, Surs’ voice fell to a low growl.

   “Perhaps the others will be less disappointing.”

   And then he was gone. Two of the other eggs hatched, each birthing a beautiful female and male into the pride. The fourth and final egg never hatched, and soon it fed her children. Surs doted over the two “normal” hatchlings, and claimed that she had nothing to worry about, that the Cold Times would take her little abomination before long, and that even naming him was probably a waste.

   But the Cold Times didn’t take him.

   The next year she named him Wesper, “one who survives.”

Hey everyone! I'm back with something a little different. This is a side project I've been working on for a little while now, and I figured now that I've been confronted by writer's block on "Fields," this might be the right project to get the old gears turning again. As I explained on Fanfiction.net, this doesn't mean "Fields" is gone. Rather, I will be working on it alongside this story. Ideally, once I get this tale underway, it'll be full steam ahead on both of them!

rhombus

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Re: The High Path
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2018, 07:58:05 AM »
This is certainly a promising beginning to a character-focused narrative. The existence of a deformity on an infant is often a trigger for the parents destroying the offspring (even in humans during our hunter-gatherer days) or, at the very least, dedicating more resources to the normal children. I can only imagine how this will effect Wesper as he is either confronted with continued disinterest by his parents or, perhaps, an awkward mixture of parental love mixed in with disappointment.

In any case I look forward to seeing Wesper's saga as the story goes forward.  :)


Go ahead and check out my fanfictions, The Seven Hunters, Songs of the Hunters, and Mender's Tale
Mender's Tale.

Sovereign

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Re: The High Path
« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2018, 09:19:54 AM »
It’s absolutely great to see a new longer story from you! The start of this fic was a simple one but it certainly created an interesting premise for another adventure. Ilie and Surs’ expectation was tangible and as usual, you managed to create a great atmosphere almost immediately. Wesper’s birth was simultaneously an emotional start to this fic but his hand certainly makes sure his future won’t be an easy one. I wonder how this deformation will affect his future endeavors as I’m sure it’ll hold great importance later on. While you still kept all hints about the future course of this fic to yourself, I’m glad to see you back in business with another promising story! :)littlefoot

Horizon

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Re: The High Path
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2018, 09:27:58 PM »
Part I: Warm Times

A Morning Hunt

The flutter of translucent blue wings announced the arrival of morning as a single Brightwing took to the skies. Morning, of course, had already begun long ago, a fact evidenced by the Bright Circle’s position just above the horizon, but the Brightwing hardly cared. To him, morning started when his day began, and his day began the way it always had begun, and would continue to begin until the end of his admittedly short days: fly, feed, return, fly, feed, return. It was a familiar, comfortable cycle, the monotony of which never occurred to the little creature. Truthfully, nothing ever occurred to him, save for the basest of instincts, which was why, as he gained altitude over a tall, grassy ridge, the sight of five teal-colored Domeheads grazing, framed by the bright morning light, stirred nothing within him. The Domeheads had always been there, and just like his cycle, always would be, standing there, occasionally butting their pink and orange-colored bony heads together with terrible cracking noises that echoed through the mountains far beyond the eye’s range.

Beside the Domeheads, the ridge’s flowers were already beginning to spring to life, tightly-clasped buds unfurling as folds of soft white and yellow reached out to the growing light, and it was these the Brightwing sought, falling in an erratic yet graceful manner down towards the softly-waving grass like a bright blue leaf carried by the wind. By instinct alone, he chose his target: a tall, yellow blower standing tall beside a clump of particularly thick grass, and alighted softly within its comfortable petals, settling into his morning meal like the much larger creatures he shared the ridge with.

Unlike the Domeheads, however, the Brightwing was aware of another presence, one just as eager to eat. Only a few wing-lengths away, just inside the wall of waving grass, a row of crooked teeth gleamed in the morning light, and above them, if one were to look carefully enough, a round, yellow eye watched the grazing Domeheads with marked interest. And if one were to examine the concealed creature even further, one would have also recognized the pair of red crests just above the eyes as belonging to a Twocrest, the mountain’s resident predator.

He had no way of warning the Domeheads about the impending threat, and even if the thought was somehow capable of crossing his mind, he likely would never have tried anyway. After all, this too was part of the cycle. Instead, he went on drinking the flower’s sweet nectar, all the while keeping his many eyes trained on the figure sitting nearby.

The eyes behind the grass, previously locked squarely on the Domeheads, wandered momentarily as the Brightwing landed, touching down on the flower so lightly that not even a single drop of dew was disturbed. The claws of his right hand, tucked tightly against his chest, unfurled for a moment. His left hand, a gnarled root of a limb, remained tucked against his side where it had hung in unmoving stasis for all eight years of his life. The Brightwing either couldn’t see or didn’t care that the Twocrest behind him was crouching down, making ready to spring, but it hardly mattered. The moment passed, and the Twocrest directed his attention back to the grazing Domeheads. One Brightwing was not worth giving his position away.

The small herd was completely oblivious. There were five of them all waist-deep and head-down in the grass. Normally Domeheads avoided the tall grass, but these looked to be more inexperienced than most, the oldest no more than a year or so older than himself. That was good. If a fight should arise, most would lack the necessary experience to defend themselves. A second, focused glance told him that none of the Domeheads seemed to be sick or injured. Not so good, but not a dealbreaker either. He’d take a juvenile over a sick, pain-crazed adult any day. Unable to glean any more information from his observations, the Twocrest fell back on his haunches and uttered a quiet, gurgling growl. A moment later, the muted rustle of grass gave way to a larger figure that fell in beside him. The growl was met by the figure’s own as she sat down.

“What did you find, Wesper?” the second Twocrest asked quietly.

“All young ones, no sick or injured, and they don’t suspect a thing,” he answered.

“Good.”

The tone of the female’s voice was cold, even, and to the untrained ear, perhaps thankless, but Wesper knew better. It was because of him that they could maintain such a great distance from the Domeheads while gathering vital information. He’d always had a way with prey, reading them, predicting their actions, watching, gleaning information from even the smallest and most unlikely of sources. It was a running joke among the pluckier males of the pride that perhaps his brain had eaten his arm while he was still in the egg. It was foolish, childish talk, but sometimes even Wesper himself couldn’t help but wonder. He saw things others never cared to look for, and it was for this reason that he was here, perched quietly in the grass alongside his mother. 

Unbeknownst to him, but known all too well to the adult Twocrest beside him, it was also the only reason he was still alive.

Part of her had hoped he would die during that first Cold Time. To lose him would have been a harsh blow— he was her firstborn after all— but it was a blow, she found, she would rather have faced early, before he’d had the chance to grow. When she’d given him the name “Wesper,” she did so grudgingly. Thus his name, “one who survives,” had come to develop an ironic twist to it. His was a name fit for a champion, for a hunter who survived countless encounters; instead, his survival had become something of an annoyance. To make matters worse, his usefulness was not lost on Opho, the pride leader. Despite what she could only imagine was an ongoing dissatisfaction with the way the young Twocrest had turned out, he had since accepted Wesper into the pride. Hunts were easy now with his eyes at their side, and having a few less deaths was good for maintaining a strong morale. Technically, she had no reason to feel anything but pride for her son.

But she couldn’t shake the feeling of impending dread that came with his success. He was an abnormality, a creature that should not have survived for as long as he had. His time would come, and when it did, she wasn’t certain she would be able to face it.

“You can move up now.”

The whispered words of her son brought Ilie back to the present, to the task at hand. She squinted through the golden-green strands of grass; sure enough, the Domeheads had turned away. She looked down one more time at her son, staring intently at their soon-to-be prey. Her jaws parted, as if she was about to speak, but they closed just as promptly. Not once did his eyes move.
   
She broke cover.

Wesper watched her go, a surge of pride swelling inside him. Few among the pride were as adept at catching prey as his mother. He’d once watched her pursue a Domehead along a cliffside path narrower than she was, scaling ledges and jumping ravines with a practiced agility that would have put even a smaller Sharptooth to shame. The ridge they were hunting on today was nowhere near as treacherous, but she would exercise perfection nonetheless. She always did.

Wesper relaxed as his mother disappeared into another clump of tall grass closer to the Domeheads. She hadn’t been spotted so far, and at this range, she was nearly within striking distance. But while his body rested, his eyes remained active, flicking from target to target, looking for any sign of alertness. Hunting Domeheads was easy, or so he was told, but that didn’t mean they were harmless. One slip-up could easily result in a broken rib, or worse.

The grass behind Wesper parted suddenly, and the surprised Twocrest nearly jumped from cover as two more Twocrests his age flanked him. On his left side, the female crouched down, keeping a noticeable distance from his gnarled hand. She was slender, her skin pristine and her crests bright. Her teal eyes marked his arm and, after a moment’s consideration, she moved a little farther away, as if the very idea of contact with the limb was repulsive to her. Settled in, she too began to watch the hunt play out. On the right, a young male fell in beside him. Unlike the female, his skin was already crisscrossed with the scars of combat. One pink scar in particular stood out prominently on his face, looping from his nostril almost to his eye. He barely regarded Wesper or his mother, choosing instead to focus on something just ahead of them, a tawny shape moving through the brush.

Recognizing his siblings, Wesper relaxed again. When he and Ilie had left the nest earlier that morning, they’d been asleep, but Dola and Hiph weren’t ones to be left out of a good hunt. It probably hadn’t been hard for them to track the two of them down.

The male, Hiph, tensed beside Wesper, and the young Twocrest allowed his eyes to wander. The shape Hiph was fixated on had turned out to be a large Bellycrawler, working its way slowly down towards the Domeheads.  Hiph was crouched down, the tip of his tail twitching erratically as he watched the creature meander by, and Wesper could almost feel his pent-up energy begging to be released.

“Don’t do it!” he wanted to say, but his mouth remained closed. If he spoke, he might alert the Domeheads, and the hunt would be compromised. Instead he shifted his hip, gently pushing up against Hiph. The male’s jaw parted slightly in a snarl, his eyes never leaving the Bellycrawler.

Hiph, no.

His hands unfurled, revealing eight pointed claws.

Hiph…

He heard an intake of breath beside him as Dola undoubtedly came to the same conclusion he had. But before either of them could say anything, Hiph sprung from the grass, his powerful hop carrying him up and over the grass cover. For a moment he hung in the air, framed by dewdrops and the radiance of the morning light, and then he was gone, plunging headfirst into the grass, leaving only his tail waving in a comically spastic manner above the grass. Wesper would have burst out laughing at the sight, were he not so busy worrying for his own life.

Hiph’s ambush had startled the Domeheads. At the first sight of his tawny body emerging from the grass, all five Domeheads snapped to attention and began to sprint away, leaping deftly down the mountain to the trail that would take them to safety. Ahead of them, Wesper’s mother gave a halfhearted jump out of the grass, but it was useless. The Domeheads were long gone and, shoulders slumped dejectedly, she slunk backwards into cover. Wesper stood completely still; his arms and legs felt as if thousands of tiny teeth had decided to clamp down on him all at once. He could hear Hiph struggling with his catch. The only sound he could hear from Dola was the faint whistle of breath coming from her nostrils and open mouth. He didn’t dare look at her; right now he was certain she was building up to a ferocious spat, and the last place he wanted to be was in her way when that happened.

There was a squeak, a crack, one final, desperate shuffle, and then the grass in front of the two dinosaurs was still again. A moment later, Hiph emerged, the limp form of the deceased Bellycrawler dangling from his triumphantly-grinning jaws.

“Are you insane?!” Dola hissed, darting forward and snapping at him. The slightly larger male hopped back, keeping himself and his catch well out of range.

“I got it, didn’t I? Look at the size of this thing!” As if to prove his point, he stood up taller, presenting his bloodied kill to the group. Its glazed eyes seemed to stare at Wesper as it swung gently from his brother’s mouth. Wesper stared back.

“Look at the size of those Domeheads you just scared away!” Dola retorted, making another failed swipe.

“There will be others. They share the mountain with us, don’t they?”

Dola was shaking in place. Were they not siblings, Wesper imagined Hiph would be dead already.

“Besides, I think I did pretty well. Never even saw me coming.”

“Well, if you were as good at being quiet as you were at hunting, we might all have something to eat this morning,” Wesper muttered, then fell silent again. In most situations, he found it unnecessary to say anything, but in rare cases like this, sometimes a strategically-placed point had its place.

“Yeah,” Dola nodded.

“Fine talk coming from someone who can’t even hunt,” Hiph retorted with a smirk, waving the Bellycrawler teasingly in front of Wesper. “You could learn a thing or two from me. Maybe eventually you’d get to do something other than just watching prey all the time.”

Despite her justifiable anger, this was met with a snort of amusement from Dola. The comment didn’t bother Wesper. He was used to such talk. He’d been hearing it as long as he could remember from almost everyone in the pride. Nowadays such barbed words rolled off him like rain off a stone, and if it helped mend the growing tension between the two of his younger siblings, any price was worth it.

A rustle nearby froze the three siblings in place. In the heat of their argument, they’d all forgotten that they were not the only ones on top of the ridge. Hiph began to look frantically around, swinging the Bellycrawler wildly as he looked for a place to store it. Dola couldn’t resist a hungry snap at it as the tail swung past her face. Having no better alternative, Hiph flung the carcass over his shoulder where it thudded to the ground out of sight. A moment later, Ilie burst through the grass, her teeth bared as she bore down menacingly on Hiph.

“You idiot!” she snarled, ,whirling around and bringing her tail crashing down atop the young Twocrest’s head. “How many times have I told you to stay put during a hunt? Must I remind you every day until the day you die?”

“No, mother,” came the muttered response from Hiph, his head hung humbly low. Ilie glared down at her son a moment longer, letting the severity of her disappointment weigh on the little Twocrest, before sighing.

“Find your own food today, little ones,” she growled, turning away from the ridge, “and let this be another lesson.”

And then she was gone, breaking away from the young Twocrests at a brisk, silent jog, no doubt looking to share a meal with someone else. The children would have no such luck. Other adults in the pride tended to save meat for their families and, albeit grudgingly, other adults of importance. As Ilie was one of the pride leader’s chosen mates, she qualified as important enough to partake in this privilege. Dola, Hiph, and Wesper did not.

“Nice going, brainless,” Dola snarled, but Hiph either didn’t hear or didn’t care, and the female found herself talking to his rapidly disappearing tail just before he once more emerged from the brush, humbled but still somewhat triumphantly bearing his catch.

“Lucky you hid that,” Wesper pointed out, “if she knew you’d rather hunt a Bellycrawler than catch a Domehead, she’d be eating you right now.”

“Only if she could catch me,” Hiph replied, stomping down on the dead Bellycrawler’s tail with his foot and holding it in place. Wesper watched as he began to gnaw on his prize, every rasp of his jaw on the creature’s tough scales seeming to make Dola seethe even more furiously.
   Wesper’s stomach growled at the sight of it. He didn’t stand a chance of catching prey on his own; he’d been relying on his mother to bring them food today, and he was hardly the hunter that Hiph was, even if he didn’t care to admit it. It wouldn’t be the first time he went a day without food. Even so, this hardly made the prospect of starving for a day any easier. He had to eat something, and as he watched Hiph dig into the juicy flesh beneath the Bellycrawler’s scales, a plan began to take shape.

Suddenly, Wesper sprang to attention, his eyes darting back and forth and his tail as still as a tree branch. Recognizing that their brother had spotted something they hadn’t, both Hiph and Dola followed suit, nervously glancing around. There was real concern in the Twocrest’s gaze, the likes of which was usually reserved for an impending disaster.

“What is it? Is Mom coming back?” Hiph whispered, to which he received only a hash “shh!” in response. Slowly, Wesper’s eyes tracked right, following the curve of the ridge ahead; out of the corner of his eye, he could see Dola and Hiph following him, trying to pick up on what he had spotted.

And then, in a sudden flash of movement that made both of his siblings jump in surprise, Wesper darted forward, tugging the Bellycrawler free from Hiph’s loosened grip. Realizing he had been tricked, Hiph snapped at his brother, but it was far too late. With a muffled “pop,” the tail of the dead Bellycrawler separated from its body, and Wesper bounded off triumphantly into the brush, leaving Hiph with a limp, largely tasteless tail between his claws. He heard someone exhale sharply and looked up in time to see Dola covering up an infuriatingly condescending smile.

“You going after him?”

It was a barbed question. Both of them knew it was pointless by now; Wesper would see them coming long before they could spot him, and his bad claw did nothing to hurt his speed. He was long gone, and so was the Bellycrawler.

Noting Hiph’s perturbed scowl, Dola couldn’t resist one more jibe before stalking off into the brush.

“Some hunter you are. I never would have fallen for that.”

“At least I have food,” Hiph snarled back, but Dola wasn’t listening. She too was gone, leaving Hiph alone with what remained of his prize. Defeated, he gulped the bitter, chewy tail down and rested on his haunches, already beginning to think of how such a maneuver could prove useful to him in his own experience.

He had to admit it had been a pretty good trick.
« Last Edit: July 31, 2018, 11:15:17 PM by Horizon »

Sovereign

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Re: The High Path
« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2018, 02:54:56 PM »
This chapter was a nice way to begin Wesper’s character development and describe his relationship with his family. The elaboration of his mother’s contempt at her son as well as the as the younger twocrest’s skills in scouting were portrayed really well as was the dialogue between the three siblings. It’s great to see that at least they don’t hold Wesper’s deformation against him but accept him completely as one of them. Hiph’s brave “hunt” and the following argument with his sister was rather fun to read and it’ll be intriguing to see what Wesper found in the end. what Even then, this chapter was again rather slow and it’s difficult to say much about which way the plot will take from now on. In any case, you’ve made it clear that great (or tragic) things await these three siblings.

rhombus

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Re: The High Path
« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2018, 09:11:14 PM »
This chapter certainly did not disappoint in showing how Wesper has adapted to his environment.  It is hard not to feel for the poor dinosaur as he is greeted with contempt by his mother and harsh ridicule by one of his siblings and (as implied by the exposition) from most everyone in his pride.  Though it does seem, unless I am reading too much into it, that Wesper's sister does have some affection for the little survivor.  Stomping a bit on his brother's ego probably did quite a bit to earn her approval on this day.  As for the rest of the chapter, the description of the scenery by using what would eventually be prey for the younglings was an inspired choice that tied in the beginning of the chapter with the ending.  Likewise the showing of the hunt from the perspective of Wesper was nicely done, and it showed that unlike one of his siblings, that Wesper does have self-control.  In the situation Wesper finds himself he will certainly need that self-control going into the future.  Silence is both the weapon of the strong and the refuge of the weak.

Horizon

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Re: The High Path
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2019, 12:46:03 PM »
A quick note to my readers: due to my desire to adapt the elements of this story into my own work separate from the Land Before Time franchise, I am shutting this story down. For those interested in reading the separate adaptation, I can try to find a way to get my initial drafts out. However, I cannot guarantee I will post them here. Thanks for sticking with me, everyone.