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Andrewsarchus

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This will be a long read, though in Microsoft Word it's only nine pages long. Please critique - I want to know what I could have done better.

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The great mammalian beast took satisfaction in the surge of his muscles as he led his only daughter across the barren plain. Each of his thudding, tired footsteps hit the hard ground like a soft drumbeat, echoing the near-constant thunder in the low clouds above. The need for food tinged every thought. They were both hungry, had been for a long time. The adult’s shared awareness was accompanied by the pain of an empty belly and the tortured strain of the younger and weaker family member trying to keep up with him. Still he had no choice but to maintain the grueling pace; it was adapt or die. The hoofed carnivore ignored his daughter’s discomfort. Already they had slowed and another day without food would mean the loss of the only living relation that trailed slowly behind him.
   For the sake of recognition we will call him Long-Jaw Black. Man, not to be born for millions of years, would name his species Andrewsarchus mongoliensis. But men needed labels, and had to speak. The great carnivores of the Eocene had no need for speech, for they touched each other’s minds, and thus had no need for true names.

Deep within the two’s shared memory was the image of a canyon located not far ahead. In the remembrance it was lush with succulent vegetation and small rivers, with herbivores such as Brontothere grazing by the hundreds. It was not really the heavily built wolf-like creature of leopard-colored hide and willpower that remembered the place, but he reveled in the image. The shared memory was one of their best, so clear and strong that Long-Jaw could almost feel his belly fill of warm tender meat. This was a sensation his offspring had never really known in her own lifetime.
   The sky in the memory of the canyon was a bright pastel blue. This was quite different from the gray and brown clouds he had known all of his life. There had been a bright comforting warmth overhead during the day, instead of the soft, crimson glow Long-Jaw Black knew. And the Andrewsarchus he saw resting in the memory were many times the number of those who remained.

Sometimes the memories served, but they could also hurt. Long-Jaw knew times that they had eaten every day and times where there were places at the end of the journey where all his family could be happy. Behind him the Andrewsarchus could hear his offspring’s longing whine. Her cry of need was tinged darker by the male’s knowledge that she could not survive many more days of inadequate food and nose-bleeding cold. The weather patterns the animals of the Eocene epoch relied on were becoming confused; the dry season came too early and lasted too long, the wet season came too late and was so torrential that mudslides and floods were common. The world as the Andrewsarchus knew it was coming to an end. It was time for a new era, for the Oligocene to take the Eocene’s place, for new animals such as the bone-crunching Hyaenodon and the boar-like Entelodont to evolve and fill the niches opened by the extinction the Eocene world. But all Long-Jaw knew was that it was much colder than it used to be.
   Andrewsarchus were usually solitary hunters, but the bizarre weather patterns occurring around the globe had forced them to stray out of their comfort zone. During their travels, Long-Jaw had seen them in packs of three or five, wandering about and fighting each other, each trying to claim the position of pack leader, of first walker. But that had been weeks ago, and the two hadn’t encountered any of their kind since. Long-Jaw and his offspring were among the last of a dying breed. They had also been driven from their usual coastland homes due to the rising of the oceans, and the scrub plains beyond had been abandoned because of the plants inability to cope with the salt water, which in turn drove out the animals Andrewsarchus fed on.

Long-Jaw Black and his daughter entered the canyon late in the afternoon, walking up the small gentle slope that eventually leveled and gave way to a flat, open area, then curved steeply down again. When the two reached the top of the hill, they gazed around with the alert orange eyes of a carnivore that calculated everything it saw. The canyon’s geography had changed drastically from the depiction in the memory. The canyon was now more like a crude scoop in the ground with high, sharp walls rather than miles of wide intertwining dales that always led to something new. Neither of them had the energy to express their disappointment of the apocalyptic destruction that tore apart one of their few remaining hopes. Slowly they cautiously made their way down the steep incline, spreading their broad hoofed paws wide, causing small avalanches on the way down. Once they reached the bottom Long-Jaw rested his head on his offspring’s shoulders for a few seconds in a rare moment of affection before he turned and trotted away, heading towards a slight rise in the ground. The canyon, if it could be called a canyon anymore, was desolate and empty, save for a small thicket of sparse woody bushes. And the weak, starving, frail female Andrewsarchus stared long and hard at them.

The memory of the time when the canyon had contained enough animals that they could pass the winter in it without hunger faded further with the current reality. In a few more generations the easy life of the canyon would be a vague remembrance and after that forgotten and ignored. Just a little bitterly, Long-Jaw was glad; to know of such comfort, but to never to be able to touch it, was its own kind of hunger. The rumbling ache of his belly was hunger enough…he didn’t need any other kind. Long-Jaw wandered through the dusty landscape slowly, looking for anything that would suffice for a potential meal. This place had been the end of the journey for his ancestors. Here there was supposed to be enough prey to carry them for months, yet now little remained. The instincts that had served his ancestors so well over the eons were failing and Long-Jaw’s mind was reluctant to accept that tomorrow he and his offspring would be forced to move into unknown lands.
   He was already weak and his daughter might even refuse to go on; she would prefer to follow the old paths, even though those meant certain starvation. Even if the two shared some of their memories and feelings, they were also different. While Long-Jaw was submissive to those of authority, such as pack leaders, she was downright terrified of them. The clouds cleared towards sunset, giving Long-Jaw his first glimpse of the stars and the bright white moon in weeks. The sun had shined once almost every twenty afternoons Long-Jaw had been alive. It was, to him, the way things were. Different from the older memories, but to be simply accepted as something he could not change. But through the night it was clear, and Long-Jaw, compliment of the moonlight, was able to locate and kill a couple rodents. Unfortunately, several times during the chases, he had to slam his shoulders into the woody bushes that surrounded him in order to keep pace with his prey. The snappings he felt in his muscles afterwards promised morning pain. Though too small to be even a snack, Long-Jaw swallowed one of the mice whole, and left more for his daughter, who had quickly returned to him after hearing the sounds of a hunt. Now it was late evening, and Long-Jaw Black stood on top of a small rise in the ground, performing his duty as lookout while his offspring prepared for the night. It would be nearly impossible for anything to sneak up on them in this steep-walled valley, though the only thing they had to fear in the world were other Andrewsarchus. However, despite the fact that it was late, neither of them was going to sleep. Long-Jaw turned, walked, and laid down next to his offspring, rested his head on the ground and shut his eyes and thought. This was the time of night when the two joined together in a rare moment of unity to call up the Pattern.

The Pattern was not a thing. Certainly it had no physical presence. It was merely an intricate mental construct, built over the generations of Andrewsarchus. The Pattern was a collection of all that had added to the success of Long-Jaw’s family and ancestors for uncounted millennia, much like a photo album, and he could access the additions his great-great grandfather made many years ago, if he knew the correct path. This collage of historical memories was a complicated weave of all Long-Jaw’s ancestors had done or learned. The mental pathways that were often visited appeared as thick, brightly glowing, interlocking strands, ribbons, to the more imaginative and speculative, and the areas that were visited rarely would fade and become thin ghosts that hinted of almost-remembered revolutions and warmer, much more plentiful days.
The two summoned this vision within themselves each night before sleeping. Sometimes they added their own successes, other times they would simply find comfort in the Pattern. It was their source of pride and knowledge, their resource and their guide, but too often now they’d been forced to turn to the Pattern for aid. Rarely was there a story of success added for later generations to treasure and learn from. Occasionally Long-Jaw had met other Andrewsarchus whose minds were able to touch with his own and the Pattern grew with a flurry of world-shattering ideas and foreign memories. But it had been a long time since that had happened, and Long-Jaw had nothing to add to the construct other then the telling of his mate’s starvation and the grim reality he and his offspring were now facing.

He searched through the historical archives for a memory that would give his offspring renewed hope and confidence in him, something that would persuade her to follow him when they left early morning for unknown lands. There was nothing in this place worth staying for. After a long time of searching, he found the memory. It had been in a time as dream-like as the one with the lush canyon, a time when the climate chaos had just barely begun, but it was the lone memory that he thought would convince her. The memory only consisted of Long-Jaw’s great-great grandfather killing an adult male Brontothere without help, but Long-Jaw Black hoped, in some part of his mind, that his daughter would find that reason enough to go with him; never before had there been such a reckless attack on something so big. Try, try again, and doing the same thing over and over may not yield the same result. So Long-Jaw held the memory out to her and directed her to it. And he knew, through the flicking of her right ear, that she understood, and tomorrow they would go beyond the end of the world.

   Early morning, Long-Jaw rose with a limp. His shoulders still cried out in agony with every front step he took, but he beared it, and they climbed out the canyon the way they had come. The two Andrewsarchus went around the canyon, moving carefully, as there was no memory stored in the Pattern that told them of things beyond the place they had just left behind. They were on their own.

The two continued to wander throughout most of the cold hard day, their pace considerably slowed due to Long-Jaw’s injury and his daughter’s steady starvation and growing weakness. Still, despite the pain the price of food had cost him in these confusing times, he continued to hold out the memory of the lush canyon, in fading hope that he had made a mistake; the Pattern couldn’t lie, it just couldn’t…he could have followed the wrong landmarks. In the end he decided, for better or worse, that that was what had happened. But it was more the youngster’s instinct to follow its parent, and Long-Jaw’s habit to lead, that kept them together rather than emotional attachment. Eventually the two stumbled upon something that gave them slight confidence in their survival. It was the remnants of a pond, surrounded by a cluster of small plants that had somehow managed to cling onto life.
The water was sickingly warm and mostly mud, but at least they were able to quench their thirst. In addition they rolled about in the small pool. The mud was a natural repellent to insects and it cooled their sweaty bodies, matting down their short, course fur and making them appear shaggy and dirty. But the water did not satisfy their hunger, and the two had to reluctantly leave the pond that had saved their lives. The scents on the wind and ground told them that the last animal had passed here a week ago. But as he sniffed more, he realized that it had not been a single animal. It had been a bunch of them. Long-Jaw recognized a scent that made him excited. What had come by here weeks ago was a Brontothere herd, numbering 20 or so. Faint tracks leading north and the smell of dung confirmed it; not every animal was completely suffering in this intense dry season.

Long-Jaw and his daughter peered through the scorching heat at a large wavering gray figure about 30 feet ahead. A female Brontothere stood idly. It was a gargantuan rhinoceros-like creature, with a heart-shaped growth of bone on its thick fleshy nose. The unintelligent animal possessed a squat body shape, and a vacant gaze. The smell of death had attracted the two Andrewsarchus here. Both of their dry mouths were open, pinkish tan tongues lolled out, panting heavily. Long-Jaw was beginning to feel the presence of his offspring’s mind fade; she was growing dangerously weak. Her body was cannibalizing itself, consuming the bone marrow and fat stores, her energy dropping dangerously low.
Long-Jaw began trotting towards the rhino. He raised his black-striped, golden and white hackles in the process and bared his teeth, but did not growl. Couldn’t, for he was mute. The Brontothere bucked her head and charged, missing when the mute Andrewsarchus scrambled aside. He knew that they, due to their mass, couldn’t change direction when they charged. The Brontothere quickly returned to its offspring and dipped its head, urgently nudging at the corpse, trying to get it to stand up. It was impossible to say if she even understood that her calf was dead. Her herd had left her long ago. Throughout the long, increasingly hot day there was a standoff. Long-Jaw continued to probe the mother’s resolve and gradually she began to lose interest in defending her stillborn baby. Each time the Brontothere chased him away, he just came back. And each time she returned to the body a little more slowly. Suddenly, out of the blue, a second Andrewsarchus, one missing half a tail and a left ear, rushed out from the stark underbrush and leapt onto the rhino’s back. The Brontothere, confused and surprised, ran and stumbled about blindly, trying to shake her passenger off. However, the new Andrewsarchus wrapped her jaws around the rhino’s head and punctured the creature’s skull with her massive canine teeth, thus piercing the brain as well. In an instant, the Brontothere was dead, and the female Andrewsarchus leapt off its back as the beast fell to the soil.
Long-Jaw stood, frozen in place, not understanding what just happened. Getting a baby from one of these creatures was hard enough, but killing an adult…? When the female Andrewsarchus noticed Long-Jaw staring at her, she lowered her head and charged, throatily growling at him. The mute bolted, slipped in his panic, and fell face-first onto the desert ground. The instant he fell, the aggressive female stopped chasing him and headed back to the carcass of the Brontothere. Long-Jaw stood up and returned to his offspring.

Heedless of danger, Long-Jaw’s daughter came forward, dragging her paws and stumbling about on weak wobbly legs. Then from behind the aggressive female came a youngster --- male, Long-Jaw realized. Malnutrition had taken hold of the young male; bones were clearly visible through his scruffy fur. It was clear that the youngster had seen better days; his pelt was desaturated, a muddy brown instead of the luxurious gold, white, black, and chocolate brown that told of a well-nourished individual. At the sight of the new arrival Long-Jaw’s daughter froze. The male trotted forward with the boundless energy of a newborn, made a move to lick his mother’s jaw, but she jerked her head aside and suddenly whirled on him, flipping him on his back with a swift movement of her wide, strongly built head, placing her broad hoofed paws on either side of his torso. She bent her head low, wrapped her jaws around his throat, but did not close them. Long-Jaw watched. The young male froze, and after several moments his mother released him and walked over to the body of the adult Brontothere. She took hold of a leg and began to pull and tug, and when doing so Long-Jaw registered her winces of pain, both the external ones and the mental hot white flashes. The adult female Andrewsarchus had lost a tooth in her attack, and the blood staining her mouth was from the root of a torn out tooth.
Her son scrambled up and ran away from her, towards Long-Jaw, and stopped and stood, looking at his mother and then to Long-Jaw and his daughter, constantly flicking his small ears back and forth in a sign of confusion mixed with interest. Then Long-Jaw noticed a sudden change in him; the younger male ran towards Long-Jaw’s daughter, growling and snapping. But as it turned out, the younger male did not actually attack. He snapped at her flanks and throat, and Long-Jaw’s daughter sluggishly reacted, pulling back and tripping over her own small paws. She fell on her side and did not rise. Then the younger male pranced back to his mother. The large female paused only to stare at Long-Jaw Black for a few moments, curious with a tinge of worry, and then her mental expression hardened and she return to her meal.

The two families of Andrewsarchus did not leave each other. During the night, though separated by at least 50 feet, they all called up the Pattern. Long-Jaw saw the aggressive female’s history, or at least what she allowed him to see. She had been the victim of discrimination several times; she had been born too tall, too strong, too heavy. The one-eared Andrewsarchus was not aggressive by choice; that was her tragedy. And Long-Jaw Black, despite being a mute, thus shunned as well, felt the same way as the others had; he instantly disliked her. It was instinctual; inbred mistrust of anyone who is too different from the norm. He then caught a flicker of something else. The aggressive Andrewsarchus suffered from paranoia and hallucinations, and was more trying to protect herself from others by appearing ridiculously ferocious rather than actually wanting to hurt. However, despite her absolute level of aggressiveness, she was still an animal, and thus had multiple emotions, however faint. She could feel pain, fear, sadness, and regret. But she preferred to feel angry.
Both families of Andrewsarchus gorged themselves that night. The female took possession over the adult Brontothere, and Long-Jaw over the calf. The calf’s meat was putrid, dry and lacking taste and nutrition, but nonetheless Long-Jaw and his offspring slept soundly that night. In the morning, when Long-Jaw woke to find the female leaving, he looked about to find his tentative offspring being snapped at by the younger male. He stared at the baffling interaction more and realized that the younger male, with all his dashing and zipping about, barks and eye darts…was inviting her to play. But his daughter read the actions as hostile and continued to retreat. Suddenly a loud snarl from the one-eared female silenced their play. Her son paused and then quickly bounded to her side. Long-Jaw followed, knowing that four noses were better than one at sniffing out the necessities of life. They seemed to know where they were going. Even though Long-Jaw was sure the female knew he and his offspring were following her, she made no move to chase them away as she had on their first encounter. But then again there was no food to protect.

The brawl took place in a narrow, flat chasm three days later, and it had been sudden and unexpected. One moment there was peace, the next Long-Jaw found himself on his slender back, head reeling from an impact he hadn’t known had occurred. He saw a figure loom up and block out the scorching sun, felt the hot breath of the one-eared female on his throat. Long-Jaw’s short, blunt tiger-striped tail whipped from side to side, but he found that he couldn’t move. She had him pinned, much in the same manner as she had demonstrated with her son about a week ago. And while Long-Jaw was submissive to aggressive figures, he was not to tyrants. So he did something no other Andrewsarchus before him had done; he clamped down on her snout, light enough to not cause any crippling damage, but firm enough to not allow her to wrench free. She tossed her head about and bucked, and Long-Jaw found that he had underestimated her strength. Her jerky movements caused him to let go. Instantly he was on his feet, only to be rammed into by the female, and knocked to the ground again. If the mute Andrewsarchus had been attentive and attuned to the smells around him, he would have noticed the scent of fear coming from his combatant.
In these famine-struck times tales of Andrewsarchus cannibalizing their young were not uncommon. She was hostile because she was insecure and afraid. She is hostile because that is a monster’s tragedy. There was no standoff, no pause. The ache of Long-Jaw’s shoulders reiterated itself as he rolled just in time to avoid her snapping his elongated snout off.
   This went on and on, with Long-Jaw taking hits or dodging, but not giving any back. The female began to feel arrogant after the first five minutes. The one-eared female walked with long confident strides, almost with a little bounce in her step. She did not understand why he didn’t retaliate. Time passed and the female made an error. She had walked close to Long-Jaw, almost nose-to-nose, and swung her elongated head sideways to stare at him with one green eye, with a calculating cruel look that exuded dark, mocking laughter. Then Long-Jaw made his move. He rotated his head and darted his short muscular neck forward. The female froze, feeling her throat between his meter-long jaws. Long-Jaw slowly closed his mouth around the female’s neck, only until he felt her tense. He felt the quickened pulse of her heartbeat and then slowly withdrew, backed away and collapsed in the shade the high rock walls around him provided. The fight had rapidly diminished his energy and the wounds he had received were deep and painful.

The smell of fear and confidence rapidly diminished from the female and she stared at him, ears flicking. He had won. This mute, injured male had beaten her…rapidly she swung her head to look at her son, who was running around Long-Jaw’s daughter in circles. Long-Jaw’s daughter simply stood idly, occasionally following the young male’s path with such jerky head movements her entire short, compact body moved. The wounds inflected by Long-Jaw on the large female’s meter-long muzzle were not deep, but they required attention nonetheless; an Andrewsarchus’s teeth are made to pierce, grind, tear, shatter, and destroy anything that could be bitten. There were no pretend bites. The female looked back at Long-Jaw, watched his chest rise and fall in slow, tiresome breaths, gazed at the wounds she had imposed upon him, and her ears flicked back in confusion upon realizing that she was frightened of this weak, caring, peaceful male…

The Andrewsarchus pack traveled onwards, over craggily mountaintops until they smelled something that made them all stop dead. The air was full of pollen and seeds. It gave the air a scent that Long-Jaw had never known before; the odor of healthy plants. The numerous wounds the male Andrewsarchus carried from the dominance battle were healing very slowly, inhibited by his own general weakness and lack of nutrients, and after his near defeat Long-Jaw was beginning to realize he would not live much longer. But somehow this realization didn’t sadden him much as they all began to follow the scent, for where there was plants herbivores must accompany them. Their first sign was that of an Apidium, a red and white monkey-like creature that howled shrilly at their appearance and dashed up the rocky outcrops. They never went far from trees, and for a moment the aggressive female considered chasing after the little creature - the Andrewsarchus hadn’t found anything to eat since the Brontothere feast, and that had been two weeks ago. But she reconsidered, or rather forgot; her species were not meant to climb.

The entrance to the valley was fairly wide. Though they had to climb a steep slope and navigated a small cave to get there, everyone, even the foul-tempered female, quickened their pace in joyous anticipation. Her playful son was even more energized than usual, running in and out between all of them, as if trying to see how long he could get away with being obnoxious. Once they arrived at the mouth of the valley, they all paused. Several Brontothere munched on the many plants. Creatures such as Eobasileus and Hyoboops grazed as well, and little white and yellow rat-like animals darted to and fro. It was nowhere near as luscious as the memory of the old canyon. This valley was on top of a mountain, but the canyon memory was a part of the past, and the past cannot be re-created. Only reconstructed. This place had been a volcano once, but it had collapsed within itself, and over time the rich volcanic soil became abundant with plant life. The place was so high that a layer of thin mist collected on the valley floor, which grew much thicker higher up on the sharp walls. A light rain was falling, washing the dust from their matted scruffy fur; a welcomed change. There was no central water source, so it was not a paradise, and Long-Jaw realized something that made him want to turn back. He could tell by the scent of the Brontothere that the ones in this valley were the far more aggressive ones then those his father’s fathers had preyed on in the plains, the ones that confronted and killed carnivores such as him on sight. Long-Jaw stamped his right front paw in silent warning, only to look forward and see that it was too late. The large female’s son, who had begun to move forward, stopped and whined, but did not journey further. One of the Brontothere had already seen, heard, and smelled them and was rumbling towards him, snorting. Others were following it, but at a much slower pace.

The sides of the 10-foot-wide path stopped abruptly and went straight down. It leveled out at 60 feet, forming a dry, dusty area where a creek once flowed. That had been the death for many animals here, falling down that uneven slope. The entire chasm used to be a river, and as it began to dry up with the warming weather the waters had receded and deposited a layer of pebbles. Over time larger rocks and plants covered these deposits, and the river undermined them and formed a layer of loose debris. The steep slope that led to the dried river bottom was very unstable, a fact Long-Jaw would have greatly appreciated to have known when the hulking male Brontothere ducked his low-slung head and rammed into him, snapping the delicate spade-shaped growth on his nose and bellowing loudly. The Andrewsarchus let out a cry of agony from the shock, pain, and force of the impact, frantically tried to claw at the massive gray-blue shoulders of his attacker in order to pull himself up, but since he had short hooves instead of claws this could not be done.

The two tumbled down the ravine, head over hooves, each trying to attack the other in spasms of gashing teeth and thrusts of powerful feet. More than once Long-Jaw felt his side and stomach make contact with the steep slope, felt his ribs crack from the impact of rocks and the jarring sickening sensation of rolling endlessly down a ravine. In mid-air suspension the Andrewsarchus dug his several inch-long teeth into the Brontothere’s shoulder and clamped down his powerful jaws with all his might in some false hope that that would steady him. Each time they tumbled Long-Jaw’s grip loosened as more of the Brontothere’s muscle and bone tore away and the Andrewsarchus himself was smashed and battered. At least once, the rhino managed to kick the Andrewsarchus in the chest, furthering the damage of his broken ribs and knocking the wind out of him. With a final impact and explosion of pain, Long-Jaw realized, after blacking out and waking up twice, that they had reached the bottom. The Brontothere, unmoving, laid next to him, shoulder twisted and dislocated so that the pale bone jutted through the skin. Blood poured from Long-Jaw’s mouth and nostrils, foretelling of internal bleeding.
The ledge from which he had been pushed off of was fifty feet up, maybe more, and as he painfully rolled his great orange eyes upward they focused on the aggressive female. She led her son forward and into the valley without a backwards glance or moment of uncertainty. Long-Jaw’s offspring, hesitant as always, flicked her ears back and forth, and then began to follow her, head bowed in a sign of submission. The Brontothere herd let them pass and soon relaxed and returned to foraging. Long-Jaw then saw his offspring pause and come back. She looked over the edge of the ravine and gazed upon the two fallen titans, and as the Andrewsarchus lay there dying, he once again saw the Pattern form. It pleased Long-Jaw Black that his daughter would grow strong again, and survive for at least a little while longer. Even as the last of his life poured away below, he traveled along the golden threads to the memory of the greener times.

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NOTES:
ª I didn’t want the Andrewsarchus featured in the story to become characters, nor to be thought of as people, for animals are what they are, and animals are all they were.

ª Any conflictions you may have come across, such as the ones concerning Finrere’s aggression, were created on purpose. :)

ª Finrere is pronounced fin-rear.

ª There are alternate versions to the story, or at least in outline form, if you want to know more.


action9000

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I couldn't find a non-LBT fanfic board.
You can now! :yes
*moved to The Written Word board*