The sun was just peeking over the horizon when Boomer pulled away from City Hall, and in the short time it took him to drive to the south end of town, it had lit up the surrounding countryside enough that he could clearly see the cut in the land along the southern border. The border cut through the highway about a hundred feet past the turnoff toward the landfill and Kamper’s Korner, opposite the small coastal community of South Davies, which, as far as Boomer could tell, had at least partially come across with them to wherever it was they went.
Boomer had arrived well in advance of the ambulance, which was to be expected. As it stood, of the two ambulances in Dunsmith, one had been on duty at the time of the Blacklight, and unfortunately, outside the range. Other paramedics needed to be woken, not to mention every doctor and nurse in town. Luckily, one of the many things in Boomer’s vast reservoir of knowledge just happened to be occupational first aid. He could fix splints, stitch wounds and even perform tracheotomies. Not that he expected to have to do anything like that, of course. Boomer just wanted to see.
The old man who had stopped by City Hall walked over to Boomer’s car as he pulled in. Boomer rolled down the window as he approached.
“Boy, you ain’t no ambulance,” he said, then took a closer look. “Aren’t you that kid that works the graveyard up at the Gas ‘n Dash?”
Boomer nodded. “Yeah,” he said. He opened the car door and stepped out, taking in a full view of the park. It was a mixture of double-wide mobile homes, trailers, small shacks and sheds, and a large building that housed the park’s laundromat. Time stained each trailer differently. Some newer models looked decades old, while some of the older models looked brand new. Trees shot up from the ground all around the park, and one trailer in particular had an assortment of funny little garden gnomes strewn about in front.
Boomer looked back to the old man and extended his hand. “Boomer,” he said, introducing himself.
The old man eyed Boomer speculatively for a moment, then took his hand and grasped it. “Andy,” he said. “That your real name?”
Boomer shook his head. “Nah,” he said. “My mom called me Cecil. I didn’t like it.”
Andy chuckled. “I don’t blame you.”
“So someone’s hurt?” Boomer asked.
Andy sighed. “You got a strong stomach?” he asked.
Boomer shrugged. “Strong enough,” he said. “Why?”
“All we found is an arm and part of a leg,” he said. He motioned off to a trailer in the distance, half-buried in a thirty foot dirt wall that was starting to crumble apart, sloping down towards the ground level of the park. “Poor bastard must have been right in the path of the cut. Never had a chance.” He shook his head. “His girlfriend was in the trailer when it happened, but she’s fine. At least, she not hurt. She was hysterical when I left. She’s in with Sam Whittaker now.” He poked a thumb towards the gnome-riddled trailer.
Boomer nodded. He knew Sam Whittaker, if only partially. She would often show up at the gas station at night to get her scratch and win tickets checked.
He walked with Andy towards Sam’s trailer, and Andy rapped on the side as they walked through the gnome-field. “Hey, Sam,” he said. “I brought company.”
When Boomer walked inside the small trailer, he saw Sam sitting in front of the bedroom, her head craned back to see them. She looked back and said something to the red-haired woman wrapped in a blanket. Boomer could see that she was shaking.
“Is everything okay?” Boomer asked as Sam approached. “Is she okay?”
“She’s okay,” Sam said. “She’s in shock, but that’s to be expected. She’s been through a lot.” She looked past Andy and Boomer. “Where’s the ambulance?” she asked.
“On the way,” Boomer said. “There’s something severe going down.”
“I could have told you that,” she said, pointing towards the dirt wall across the alley from her trailer. “That isn’t exactly a normal occurrence. How far does it go?”
Boomer scratched his head nervously before answering. “Well,” he began. “We’re not quite sure yet, but there’s an identical ridge up north by the airport.”
“Figures,” Sam said. She looked over her shoulder at Harriet, then shooed Andy and Boomer outside, closing the door quietly behind her. When she was far enough away from the trailer, she regarded the two men severely.
From what little of Sam that Boomer knew, she was a lady who valued her privacy. He’d often seen her around downtown selling her crafts, and she was one of the last remnants of the hippie movement left in Dunsmith.
When asked, Sam would proudly state that she was one of the ‘Fab Five’, one of the two original inhabitants left at Kamper’s Korner from the time before it was Kamper’s Korner. At one time, the place had been known as The Enchanted Forest, a well-known commune on Vancouver Island during the sixties.
“I’ve gotten her to calm down,” Sam said. “But it’s going to take her a little while to recover. I think it’s going to take me a little while to recover.” She gestured to the dirt wall. “Not to mention the weird noises coming from up there.”
“Weird noises?” Boomer asked. “What kind of weird noises?”
“Animal noises,” she said. “Birds and whatnot. The occasional bush rustling. A couple of minutes ago we heard some pretty loud thumping. You could almost feel it.”
“Yeah, like a car stereo with heavy bass. It sounded like running. And I’d rather not think about what could be that big and running, if you get me.”
Suddenly, Andy shushed her and looked up to the dirt wall.
Boomer looked up at him. “What?”
“You hear that?”
Boomer cocked his head to listen. He strained his ears, but realized he wasn’t hearing a thing. He was about to open his mouth to speak again when–
Boomer looked in the direction of the noise. “What the hell?” he asked.
“Shit,” Sam said. “Billy’s up there.”
“What?” Andy asked. “What the hell is he doing up there?”
“He went to go see what the noises were,” she said. Another thump rumbled from the forest, closer than the first.
The three of them stood there, looking up at the dirt wall, unsure of what to do. Suddenly, another noise began to echo down from the unnatural ridge.
Andy looked to Samantha. “Is that…?” he asked.
Sam nodded. “It’s Billy,” she said. “What’s he shouting?”
Boomer strained to hear. It sounded like the man was about fifty feet over the lip of the ridge and yelling frantically. The voice was coming nearer. He also heard the strange thumping moving faster now, rhythmically pounding against the ground.
“–shit! Holy shit!” came Billy’s voice. Boomer watched as the older man appeared on the edge of the ridge and wasted no time in leaping down the steep embankment, still weak and crumbling apart. He slid down several feet, then with a loud grunt fell onto his stomach and slid the rest of the way down to the ground. A loud roar echoed over the park.
Billy wasted no time in springing back up to his feet. He stumbled as he ran toward them, waving his arms wildly.
“Get inside!” he exclaimed. “Get inside!”
“Billy?” Andy asked. “What the hell?”
“Get inside!” Billy repeated, making a beeline for his trailer. “It’s a fucking dinosaur!” He leaped up toward his trailer, and in a great stride bounded through the front door, slamming it shut behind him.
“Did he just say…?” Boomer asked.
“I think we’d better do as he says,” Sam offered, backing up slowly. The thumping was growing closer still.
When Boomer turned around, Andy was already halfway to his trailer. He stood there dumbly until Sam yanked on his shirt, jerking his body towards Andy’s trailer. Finally, Boomer’s legs started to move on their own. They took him to the door of Andy’s trailer in seconds. Andy shut the door behind them and took a spot next to the window, staring up at the ridge.
It appeared a moment later. Boomer first saw the head appear. It was enormous, with an elongated snout and feathers on the ridge of its brow. Boomer had to rub his eyes to make sure he wasn’t seeing things.
The creature walked right up to the lip of the ridge, and then stopped. Boomer’s jaw hung open. The rest of the body was as large as the head, with two powerful, thick legs and two small spindly arms. A mane of coarse feathers hung around its neck and flowed down its back.
“Holy Christ,” he said. “It’s a fucking T-Rex.”
The T-Rex lingered on the edge of the ridge, looking down at the park. It sniffed the air experimentally. It looked down at the remains of Harriet’s trailer. More importantly, at an area outside the trailer, covered in a blue tarp.
“Shit!” Andy exclaimed. “What’s left of Barry is under that tarp, isn’t it?”
Sam nodded. “Yeah, we didn’t want to leave it just laying around,” she said. She looked over at him. “You don’t think that thing can smell it, do you?”
Boomer nodded. “Well, if that thing really is a T-Rex, then it’s no surprise. Those things could scent for miles.”
Suddenly, the dinosaur jerked its head up towards the park entrance. Boomer hadn’t thought much of it until he heard the telltale wail of a siren in the distance.
“The ambulance!” Sam said. “Shit, we’ve got to warn them!”
“Hold on,” Andy said, then opened the closet next to the door and started to rummage through it. Boomer took a moment to regard the interior of the trailer. He’d been so distracted by the appearance of the dinosaur that he hadn’t noticed the foil covering the walls, nor the rows of plants and lights inside the trailer.
“Jesus,” Boomer said.
“What, you never seen a grow op before?” Andy asked, then pulled a rifle from the closet and shoved it into Boomer’s hands. Boomer only stared at it.
“You expect me to use this?” he asked.
“No, I expect you to model it for me,” Andy said. He pulled another gun out of the closet and slid open the window. Boomer whipped his head back to regard the T-Rex. The ambulance was drawing nearer, the sound growing louder, and the T-Rex was starting to shift his balance. Boomer pointed it out.
“Wait,” he said. “Look, he’s not sure what to make of it.”
Andy looked up at the dinosaur. It was staring in the direction of the ambulance, which, by his reckoning, would just be entering the park. Soon, the creature would see it and make the decision of fight or flight.
“I’ve got an idea,” Sam said. She ran off into Andy’s kitchen and banged around in the dark for a few moments. A moment later she emerged, carrying two large skillets. She bolted for the door and threw it open before Andy or Boomer had time to react.
“Christ! Sam, what the hell are you doing?” Andy exclaimed, but she ignored him.
The second she got outside, she started yelling and banging the skillets together, making all sorts of racket. The T-Rex suddenly looked down toward her, obviously unsure of the presence of the small, noisy lady.
“Hey, you ugly bastard!” she exclaimed. “Yeah, down here! Boo! I’m scary! Fear the old broad with the frying pans!”
The T-Rex grunted and shifted its balance over to the other foot.
“I think it’s working,” Boomer said. He put the rifle down and ran outside, then started to yell and scream at the dinosaur.
“Go back to the Cretaceous, you ugly son of a bitch!” he exclaimed.
Finally, the roving lights of the sirens began to light up the still-dark areas of the park, and Boomer saw a glint of light reflect from the dinosaur’s eye. It suddenly roared, whipping its head back and forth. As the ambulance finally came into view, the creature turned and started to stalk off into the forest at an increased pace.
The ambulance shut off its sirens and a paramedic stepped out of the vehicle, regarding Boomer and Sam curiously. A moment later, Andy and Billy appeared from their respective trailers.
“Someone hurt?” the paramedic asked, bleary eyed.
“Boy,” Andy said, walking up to the paramedic. “You got a radio?”
The paramedic nodded.
“Then get ready to call in one of the strangest reports of your life,” Andy said.
Nalya and her men had been traveling for hours, making their way through the forest ridges above Stone’s Mouth. Their path had been blocked several times by fallen trees or rocky outcroppings that proved much too difficult to climb. After an hour or so of stumbling through the bush, they came across a worn-down pathway through the woods up the side of the Aegel mountains. She assumed the path was used by the local villagers, perhaps a route to a favored fishing spot.
The sun was now beginning to rise over the top of the strange new mountain that took the place where the Aegel coast once stood, and the pathway flowed towards it, winding up the side of the mountain.
“Ach,” Bayne grumbled. “We been marching all mornin’, Lass. I don’t much see the purpose in running ourselves ragged.” He yawned and stretched in the morning light. “I could do with another wink or two.”
“I’m sure you could,” Nalya said. She was clearly tired as well, but ever since she had witnessed the light earlier that morning, she’d been moving with purpose.
“I have to agree with Bayne,” Keltz offered. “I’m sure whatever stands up there would still be there whether we sleep or not. What’s the hurry?”
“It’s hard to explain,” Nalya said. She turned back towards Keltz. “It’s something my uncle told me.”
“Your uncle?” Bayne asked. “Sephalon? The Blue Seer?”
Nalya only nodded and continued to walk as her men trailed behind her. They were clearly tired as well. Some were more vocal about it than others, but they were soldiers, and if there was anything they were used to, it was being run ragged. Finally, they rounded a corner in the path and Nalya signaled for her men to stop.
Ahead of them on the path, a lone figure stood, staring out over the edge of the pathway which had literally just dropped out into space beyond. They could see the tops of trees poking up at the end of the path, but little else.
“You there!” Keltz exclaimed. He caught the figure’s attention, who immediately stiffened and turned to face them.
Nalya watched in surprise as she realized that the figure that stood before them was a lone girl, fresh-faced and young, perhaps no older than nineteen. Dirt and mud caked her shoulder-length hair and thick robes. Whoever the girl was, she’d been living in the wild for some time.
The girl looked suddenly frightened to see she was not alone, and stood silently watching them. The look on her face spoke that she wasn’t sure whether or not she should flee, but she was cornered either way.
“Stay there!” she exclaimed. “Don’t come any closer!”
Nalya simply put her hands up. “Please,” she said. “We bear you no ill will. We’ve merely come to investigate–”
“The light?” the girl’s eyes lit up. “You’ve come to see what it brought?”
“She’s not alone,” Bayne warned quietly. His eyes were trained on the forest immediately to the girl’s left. “Someone’s lurking about in the bushes there.”
Nalya took a step forward. “My name is Nalya,” she said. “I’m a Captain of Halen.”
“Halen?” the girl asked. “This far south?” She put her hands on her hips. “Why?”
Nalya kept darting her eyes to the woods, trying to scan for movement, but she saw nothing. Only a loose pile of large stones. She looked back to the girl. “We’re not here to hurt you or any other Freeman,” she said.
“I’m no Freeman,” the girl replied. “My name’s Arie.” Suddenly, her eyes lit up again. “You’re here to deal with Vector?”
“Arie,” Nalya said, smiling. She wanted to show the girl she meant her no harm. “Yes, we’re to report on Vector’s actions within the Disputed Lands.”
“I saw them,” she said, nodding. “Yesterday morning, I saw what they did to those villagers. I saw them dragging them away. I couldn’t do anything. I hid in the bushes when they passed.”
“You say you’re not a Freeman,” Nalya said.
Arie shook her head. “I’m from Shavi,” she explained.
“Shavi?” Bayne asked. “What’s a girl from Shavi doing in these lands?”
Arie quickly took a defensive posture. “What’s a ratty old Raszan doing with Halish soldiers?”
“Ratty old– why you little–”
“Bayne!” Nalya barked. She turned back to Arie. “I’ve told you my name,” she said. “You’ve told me your name, but you still haven’t introduced us to your friend.”
Arie’s eyes widened in surprise. She faced the pile of boulders next to her and sighed. She stood in silence for a moment, and then spoke. “Tam,” she said.
“Tam?” Nalya asked.
Arie nodded. “He’s my brother. He won’t hurt you. He hates violence.” She turned to face the pile of rocks. “It’s okay, Tam. They won’t hurt us.”
Nalya watched as the pile of boulders started to shift. At first she thought that Tam had been hiding behind or beneath them and had to move the boulders around in order to come out, but after a moment, Nalya realized that wasn’t the case.
The loose pile of boulders began to shape and reform themselves, arranging themselves in a body-shaped pattern. As Tam began to stand, Nalya had to crane her neck to look up at his twelve-foot form.
“He’s a blasted Elemental!” Bayne exclaimed. He took a defensive step backwards.
“You’re a Magi?” Nalya asked.
Arie nodded. “Geomagi,” she said.
Nalya furrowed her brow. If Arie was a Geomagi from Shavi, and Tam was her brother, then that could only mean one thing. Tam had been held to trial in the court of Shavi and found wanting of his innocence. The crime must have been severe to have placed his soul into the care of a summoner, who removed it from his body and placed it into a Soulstone. Tam stood above them, looking down. From the way he stood, Nalya knew that Tam would be ready to leap into action at any threat to his sister.
“Hello Tam,” Nalya said.
“Hello,” he replied. “You mean us no harm?” he asked.
Nalya shook her head. “Only if you will extend the same courtesy to us,” she said. “I think we both came here for the same reason.” She pointed at the treetops beyond the two. “What lies over there?”
Arie beckoned Nalya over. “Perhaps you should come see for yourselves.” She turned and looked down past the edge of the pathway.
Nalya, Bayne and Keltz took her offer. As they drew towards the edge of the pathway, a forest of a different sort sprung up beneath them. The trees were of a dull shade of green, almost as if the color had been bleached out of them. They bore a resemblance to the trees on either side of the path, but were clearly of a different species. The ground was about fifteen feet below them.
“It’s strange,” Arie said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I was sleeping when I heard the Earthsong screaming. It woke me up and I could see the light. I knew I had to come and see for myself what it was, but I didn’t expect this.” She gestured to the ground below.
“We have to climb down,” Nalya said.
“Now, Lass,” Bayne said. “Let’s just think about this but a moment.”
“I have, Bayne,” she said. She looked at him. “You have the rope?”
Bayne only looked back at her. Finally, he deflated. “Aye,” he said, then started to unfurl the rope that hung at his side.
Nalya looked back at her men. “You men stay here and guard the path,” she said.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” Keltz asked.
Nalya simply nodded and stepped out of the way. “We must go down and explore this place,” she said. “I believe it’s important.”
“Aye, but it had better be,” Bayne grumbled as he hooked a length of rope around a tree branch and began to tie it off.
“Tam?” Arie asked.
“Yes?” Tam replied.
“Would you mind?”
Tam sighed heavily. “I suppose,” he said. A moment later, he hopped down from the edge of the strange cliff-face, landing on the ground below with a sudden crash, causing the boulders that made up his body to spill in every direction. After a moment, however, his body began to reform, and he stood up. He reached his arms up to the edge and Arie climbed down into them. A moment later she was lowered to the ground.
Nalya, Keltz and Bayne lowered themselves down the rope soon afterward.
“Can you feel anything from the earth?” Nalya asked Arie.
Arie shook her head. “No,” she said. “My power’s all tied up in keeping Tam awake. I can’t hear the Earthsong right now.”
“Aye, but this is a strange thing,” Bayne said, pointing to a nearby tree. Nalya looked over to the tree. A brightly-colored strip of ribbon had been nailed to the tree, of an unnatural shade of pink. The bark itself seemed to have been painted with a large red X. Nalya traced her fingers over the tree.
“It is strange,” she said. She dropped her hand to her side and turned to the others. “But this means that this land is inhabited. I think we should go forward.”
“I don’t know, Lady,” Keltz said. “What if they’re hostile?”
Nalya gestured towards Tam. “I think we are more than capable of handling it.”
The five of them walked through the heavy copse of forest, at times getting Tam to lift fallen trees from their paths or knocking over a standing one. After a few minutes of traveling through the bush, Nalya could see daylight coming through the trees. A clearing.
Nalya took point and burst out of the cover of the trees. She had only a moment to register the fact that the landscape had changed considerably in the clearing. Gone was the grass and forest floor she’d expected. In its place was a long, wide road covered with gravel.
“Lady! Watch out!” Keltz suddenly exclaimed. Nalya whipped her head around and gasped, frozen in place. The road was being used by something. A great red beast with a single glass eye bore down on her at immense speed. She could only stare as the creature suddenly honked loudly at her, then turned away and began to spin uncontrollably, throwing dirt and gravel in every direction. Nalya fell to the ground as it passed her, and Keltz quickly tended to her while Bayne drew his sword and Tam jumped out from the bushes, standing between Nalya and the beast.
But when a man climbed out of the beast and began to yell angrily, Nalya realized that the beast was not a beast, but something else entirely.
It was easy for a person to get lost in the hills behind Dunsmith if they weren’t used to them, but Ryan had felt quite at home there, even if it had been nearly two years since he last attended any bush or pit parties. Back when Ryan still drank, some of his favorite spots had been up in the logging roads, and over the years he’d gotten to know them quite well. Whether camping, hiking or just partying, those roads were as familiar to him as his living room.
Ryan and Terra had been driving for nearly half an hour, going through the logging roads before they had come across the first unnatural blockade, which just happened to be a six-foot wall of dirt and stone. Terra had insisted they get out to touch it, as if by touching it she could confirm for herself that what they were experiencing was real. Still, chatter had been sparse between the two of them. They had been much more focused on the ridge that spanned the distance beyond.
Ryan had met Terra when he was only twelve years old. She had been eleven, a grade beneath him, but when Ryan had been held back in the eighth grade, the two had nearly all their classes together. By the time Ryan was fifteen, the two had become close friends, and the friendship carried on into adulthood. The two had been there for each other during some of the best and worst times in their lives. Once, for a short while, they had even dated, but a mutual decision between the two had led to them deciding they were better as friends.
“Stills?” Ryan’s radio suddenly crackled. “Stills, respond.” It was Boone’s voice.
“Yeah,” he said, picking up the radio. “We’re here.”
“Good,” Boone replied. “You sitting down?”
“I’m driving,” Ryan replied. “It’d be kind of hard to do if I was standing up.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Boone replied. “Smartass. Look, we’ve had a situation down at the south end. Could be bullshit, but I want you to keep your eyes peeled and your heads up.”
“It’s still sketchy right now, but the word is that Andy Johnson and your buddy Boomer faced off against a Goddamn dinosaur.”
Ryan jerked his head back in surprise. Had he heard that right? He looked at Terra, who was giving him the same look of confusion that was plainly worn on Ryan’s face.
“Yeah,” Ryan replied. “Yeah, sorry. I just got confused there for a second. I thought you said dinosaur.”
“Yeah, ain’t that a shit-kicker?” Boone replied.
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Ryan asked.
“Unfortunately,” he said. “So stay frosty up there. You even catch a whiff of dino dung, I want you two back in town right away, read me?”
“Yeah,” Ryan replied. “Deal.” He put the radio back down on the dashboard.
“He can’t be serious,” Terra remarked.
“With everything else that’s happened?” he asked. “I’m not counting out dinosaurs just yet. Or aliens for that matter.”
“It’s really weird,” Terra said. “It reminds me of this dream I was having just before I woke up this morning.”
“A dream?” Ryan asked. He looked over at her.
Terra simply shook her head. “It’s hard to explain. Probably nothing, but I wrote it all down. It’s in my notebook. I’ll show you later, you might think it’s cool.” She stared out at the road in front of them. “So, you think we went back in time?” she asked.
“I don’t think that would explain the planet,” he said, then peered out his window to try to locate it in the sky. The sun was fully exposed now, and the sky was turning blue. The strange planet still hung in the sky, but it was quickly disappearing over the horizon. “But you never—”
“Ryan, look out!” Terra exclaimed. Ryan whipped his head back to the road. In front of him, some woman had just jumped out of the bushes in front of him. Ryan laid into the horn, then jerked the wheel, trying to swerve. The truck’s wheels, however, were not meant for off-roading and they quickly lost their grip, sending the truck spinning wildly.
The truck finally came to a stop. Ryan and Terra sat there silently for a moment, breathing heavily.
“You okay?” he asked Terra.
Terra nodded. “I think so. Who was–”
Ryan violently pushed open the door of the truck and climbed out, turning back towards the woman who had nearly caused them to crash.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing just jumping into the middle of the fucking road?!” he exclaimed. “Couldn’t you see me coming? Don’t you have enough fucking sense to– to–” He paused and actually took a moment to look. It hadn’t just been a single woman to emerge from the bush, but four people.
There was a gray-haired older man standing next to her, dressed in a thick leather vest and loose-fitting pants. In his hands, he pointed a short sword at them, menacingly. Another man was wearing an armored vest while he knelt next to the blond woman he’d nearly hit. She was wearing a matching vest, with a large colored mantle riding on her shoulders. She looked up at Ryan in confusion. Another woman stood nearby, dressed in dirty old robes, with her hair and face caked in dirt.
Suddenly, Ryan became aware of a fifth presence as a pile of boulders nearby shifted, stood, and looked down at him.
“Jesus,” Ryan said. He began to inch his way back to the truck.
“Wait!” the blond woman exclaimed.
Ryan continued to back up slowly until his back met with the side of his truck. His eyes never left the standing pile of rocks. It stood at least twelve feet and the boulders had been arranged into a distinct man-shape. On its chest was a smaller stone, a distinctive symbol carved into it. He hadn’t even noticed that Terra had got out of the truck behind him and was staring at precisely the same thing he was.
“Please, he won’t harm you,” the blond woman said again.
Ryan ventured a look over at her. “What the hell is that?” he asked.
“It’s okay. It’s just my brother,” the girl in the rags said. She seemed a little shaken up. But then, so was Ryan.
“It’s your brother?” Terra asked.
“Please, he’s just an Elemental. He won’t harm you unless you give him reason to,” she said again.
The pile of boulders waved.
Ryan would have fainted had be not been so wound up. He turned back to the newcomers. “Who the hell are you people?”