Ryan came to just as the sun was beginning to set over the horizon. Night was beginning to set in, and the curious noises he heard from all around him caused him to open his eyes. His vision was still blurry, but he could clearly see a large fire burning off in front of him, and several small figures tending to it. He could hear rustling around, and strange squawking and barking noises. He tried to move, but found that he was bound to a pole stuck into the ground. He tugged on his bindings experimentally. Nothing. No give. Whoever had tied him up knew what they were doing.
As his vision started to clear, he could see Nalya and Bayne tied to a pole on his left. They were awake and speaking quietly to each other. Terra was tied up to his right, alone, and the sudden movement from directly behind him told him that Cale must be tied up with him.
“Quiet,” Cale said. “They don’t seem to like it when we talk.”
Ryan was about to ask who didn’t like it, but when he looked past Terra, to the burning fire, his question was answered.
They were Featherclaw, there was no doubt about that. But Ryan had seen these creatures before, either in the pages of National Geographic or on the Discovery Channel. He recognized what they were almost instantly. The strange clawed feet. The feathered bodies, and long agile arms. The elongated snout with rows of perfectly shaped, curved teeth.
Raptors. They were raptors.
Albeit smaller and more feathered than Jurassic Park had led him believe, his eyes weren’t fooling him. The Featherclaw, like the T-Rex, were rejects from a prehistoric age.
The only thing was, these raptors didn’t act like a dinosaur should. Unless, of course, dinosaurs could make fire, craft rudimentary huts, and tie people up with complex knots.
“Christ,” he muttered under his breath. “Are they going to eat us?”
“They were cooking up one of those giant birds earlier,” Cale said. “A myrnah, or whatever you call them. If we’re on the menu, they’re saving us for last.”
Suddenly, one of the creatures barked in Ryan and Cale’s direction. Ryan caught Nalya’s eye and saw her mouth the words: be calm. As the creature approached, Ryan was able to get a better look at it. It was a raptor, all right. About four feet tall, with four inch claws on the big toe of each foot. It appeared the have been sharpened. The raptor itself was covered in scars. It wore a sort of belt, or holster, where many strange objects had been fastened, including the strange piece of wood with the metal pin on the end he had seen briefly before losing consciousness after being knocked from his quad. His neck still ached from where they had stuck him with it. The raptor’s face, however, was the strangest of all. The scars that ran the length of its body didn’t stop at the face, and one long scar stretched the length of the creature’s cheek, through its eye. In fact, upon closer inspection he could see that its left eye wasn’t an eye at all. It was prosthetic, made of a shiny metal.
The raptor bent over and started sniffing Ryan, and his clothes.
“What the hell do you want, ugly?” Ryan sneered at the thing.
The raptor ignored him, continued to sniff, then turned and made some more squawking, barking noises. Other raptors came and crowded around him.
“Don’t piss him off,” Cale warned. “We might be able to get out of here still.”
The raptor immediately turned his attention to Cale after he had spoken, and moved his attention to smelling him. The one with the scar let out another bark, and Ryan saw that the other raptors were studying Nalya, Bayne and Terra.
Ryan only watched as the strange cacophony echoed back and forth between the creatures. Whatever was happening, the raptors were excited about it.
The silver-eyed raptor sat back on its haunches in front of Ryan. It looked almost like a roosting chicken.
“You smell different,” it said.
Ryan’s eyes shot open. “Christ, you can talk?”
“Silvereye can speak language of men,” it replied. Of course the thing’s name was Silvereye. What else could it be?
“What do you want?” Ryan asked. “Why did you capture us?”
“Noisy things. Smelly,” Silvereye said. “Thundering through our valley. Why come you here, man?”
“We’re only passing through,” Ryan said. “We’re going to Halen. My… my village. It’s in trouble. We only go in search of help.”
“Help?” Silvereye asked. He cocked his head to one side and regarded Ryan with an intelligent eye. “Help yourselves! Bring your evil to the Quicktooth! With your smelly Ironhorse, you take our meat!”
“No, we have no interest in your meat,” Ryan argued. “We just want to pass through. We mean no harm to the… Quicktooth.”
“Lies!” Silvereye exclaimed. “You take and take and take. But no meat for Quicktooth! No meat for the hunt!”
“No, we’re not from this place. We haven’t been taking your meat!” Ryan exclaimed. “Christ, we’re not even from this damned world!”
With that, Silvereye retreated a few feet away. He regarded Ryan with a different look, then leaned over to sniff him again.
“You. You and him and she,” Silvereye said, motioning towards Cale and Terra. “Smell different. Like smoke and flower. Strange smells. Alien.” He backed up and turned to the other raptors, barked at them, then turned back. “Speak more, man! Tell Silvereye more!”
“Like what? What do you want to hear?”
Silvereye moved in close, examining Ryan’s face. Ryan could only stare back.
“Tell Silvereye,” he said. “Where you from, man?”
“Dunsmith,” he said. “We’re not from this place, we came from Earth. Another world.”
“Other world? The sky-ground? Celephi’s Roost?” he motioned towards the planet now rising in the distance.
Ryan shook his head. “No,” he said. “We didn’t come from there. We don’t know how we got here, only that we came over in some kind of a blacklight. It pulled us across. Me, my friends and my entire town.”
Silvereye came in close, and seemed to be smelling Ryan’s breath. It paused.
“You no lie,” it said. It barked at the others, who barked back. They seemed to be getting upset about something. A large raptor then walked over to Silvereye and barked at him at very close quarters. Silvereye merely barked back, an obvious act of defiance. Whoever this second raptor was, he was obviously in charge.
Silvereye turned back to Ryan and regarded him for a moment.
“Sharpscent no believe,” Silvereye said. “He no believe you halo-child.”
Halo-child? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Suddenly, something clicked in Ryan’s head. Something he had seen in Terra’s dream journal. Something that the strange voice in her dream had called her. A child of the halo.
“You mean the blacklight, don’t you? That’s what you mean by the halo?” Ryan asked.
Silvereye nodded in a way that only a raptor could. It seemed like a clumsy movement, something he wasn’t used to. “Yes,” he said. “Halo of darklight. You come to these lands in darklight, yes?”
Ryan nodded vigorously. “Yes. We came in the blacklight. We had no knowledge of this place before then.”
Silvereye again barked at Sharpscent, and the two sat barking at each other for a few moments. Ryan looked over to see Terra starting to wake up. Her mp3 player headphones still hanging from her pocket.
“Sharpscent want proof,” Silvereye said. “He no believe until he sees proof.”
“What, the quads weren’t enough for you?”
“What is kwads?” Silvereye asked.
“The noisy… things. What we were all riding on. You can’t say you’ve ever seen anything like it.”
“No is kwads. Kwads is no proof! Legends say halo-child will speak without speaking,” Silvereye said. “Said they will see without seeing. This can you do?”
Ryan looked at Silvereye as though he was crazy. How could anyone do that? He looked over to see Terra looking around wildly, a desperate and pleading look on her face as she looked at the creatures surrounding her. That’s when it occurred to him.
“The mp3 player,” he said. “It speaks without speaking. Over there, with Terra. The girl right there.” He gestured towards Terra with his chin. “Terra! Your mp3 player, give it to them!”
“What?” Terra asked. “Why?”
Ryan looked at Silvereye. “The black wire– uhh.. the little vine coming from her pocket. It’s attached to something else. It sings!”
Silvereye looked over and spotted the wire. As he approached Terra, he reached down for it, and Terra flinched as he yanked the wire from her pocket, and the mp3 player popped out. Silvereye picked it up and examined it.
“It no sing,” he said.
“There’s a button. It looks like a triangle. You have to press it down,” Ryan explained.
Silvereye located the button on the mp3 player, and did as Ryan said. Almost immediately Ryan could hear the tinny sounds coming out from the earbuds. Silvereye dropped the thing in shock, staring at it wildly. He then barked at the others, who seemed to be as disturbed by this as Silvereye. They danced around as if agitated by the sound, but soon Silvereye picked it up again and held the earbuds close to his ear.
“It sings!” he exclaimed, then barked at the others. They started to look at each other with keen interest. Silvereye ran up to Ryan. “You speak without speaking!” he exclaimed, clearly excited. “But can you see without seeing?”
“In my pack,” Ryan said. “I was wearing it when you caught me. Do you have it?”
Silvereye looked past Ryan and barked out toward some of the other raptors. A moment later, one ran up and handed Ryan’s pack off to him.
“Open it up. Inside there’s a small gray box,” he said. “Turn it on, there’s a very small round button on the top.”
Silvereye did as Ryan said, and fished around in Ryan’s bag. After a few moments, he pulled out the camera.
“Press the button and watch the screen,” Ryan said. “Be careful not to drop it.”
Silvereye did so. His eyes popped open and he took a step back as an image appeared on the small screen. He then barked and squawked at the others, which seemed to work them up in a frenzy.
Suddenly, Sharpscent came up close to Ryan, and raised a menacing claw. He reared back, and then sliced it downwards. Ryan closed his eyes, half-expecting to be struck, but then found the pressure around his wrists loosened. When he opened his eyes, he saw Sharpscent standing there with the remnants of the rope that bound him hanging from his clawed hand. Sharpscent squawked at Ryan, then looked to Silvereye.
“He say Halo-child welcome to Quicktooth. He say sorry for harming halo-child.”
Ryan rubbed his wrists, and quickly took to his feet. The raptors were all a great deal shorter than him, and looked up at him with a mixture of apprehension and awe. He looked over to Terra. “You’ll release my friends, too?”
Silvereye barked again at Sharpscent, who barked at another raptor. Within moments, all five of them were released, and stood up as soon as they had the chance. Now standing, Ryan could see the area more clearly. Off behind him, he saw the quads all parked in a row. He didn’t even want to imagine how the raptors had moved them from where they were captured to their village.
“Not that I’m complaining,” Ryan said. “But why did you release us?”
“You halo-child!” Silvereye said. “You bring time of blood harvest.” Silvereye bounced happily on his haunches.
“Blood harvest?” Terra asked. “Oh God, what’s a blood harvest?”
“A time of much feeding for all featherclaw, mm hmm!” Silvereye bobbed his head up and down. “When all tribes come together! Waited we have, long times!”
“I don’t get it. You knew we would come?”
“Old tales,” Silvereye said. “From before the before. The halo-child shall come. Speaking without a mouth to speak. Seeing without eyes to see. The halo-child shall bring Featherclaw’s union. Will bring all tribes together, and all tribes shall feast upon meat.”
“Whose meat?” Terra asked. “Not ours, I hope.”
“Halo-child not meat! Halo-child is friend to all featherclaw.” Silvereye suddenly looked over to Sharpscent, and barked.
Sharpscent barked back, and Silvereye seemed to smile. “You stay with Quicktooth tonight. You take part in ceremony. The Quicktooth give you honors– you accept?”
Ryan quickly looked to Nalya, who gave a curt nod. “It’s too late to go anywhere else. If they’re going to be friendly, I see no reason why we shouldn’t accept their hospitality.”
Ryan then nodded at Silvereye. “I accept,” he said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I accept.”
Silvereye bounced happily. “Good! Good-good-good,” he said. “We make ceremony. Halo-childs must have names. Names of honor among Featherclaw.”
“We already have names,” Terra protested.
“Not Featherclaw names,” Silvereye replied, as if that explained everything. He turned. “Come, we eat meat now, then we honor halo-childs!” Silvereye gestured towards the fire.
Ryan could see no other option than to join Silvereye and the rest of the Quicktooth.
By the time Ryan and the others had their fill of the tough myrnah meat, Silvereye and Sharpscent were already well on their way to getting things ready for the naming ceremony. Apparently the Featherclaw were a highly superstitious lot, and naming things was their way of offering protection from bad spirits. According to Silvereye, the act of naming among the Featherclaw was a great honor rarely, if ever bestowed upon humans. Silvereye had told them that no human had been named by the Quicktooth in the time since Silvereye had been a member of the tribe.
The rest of the Quicktooth were very cordial and polite to the five humans, offering them more myrnah even though they were stuffed. Ryan had attracted the attention of a young female, who cooed softly when in his presence and rarely diverted her attention away.
“Looks like you’ve got a girlfriend,” Terra quipped. Ryan only bopped her lightly on the head.
“Smartass,” he called.
The young female was never very far from the group. She seemed to be trying to anticipate Ryan’s movements. When he got up to go fetch his guitar, the young raptor had foreseen what he was going for and beat him to the punch, offering the case to him as a servant serving her master.
“Thank you,” Ryan said, smiling at nodding at the raptor. If dinosaurs could blush, she was doing it.
“Longfeather is still young,” Silvereye explained. “Only three months from the shell. She not understand yet. Not understand that man and Featherclaw different. Not understand that men not come from shell.”
Ryan looked down at Longfeather and patted her on the head. She bounced on her haunches happily. “Tell her I say thank you,” he said. Silvereye barked to Longfeather in translation, and she cooed warmly in reply.
Ryan then pulled the guitar out of the case and settled down while Terra rolled her first joint of the day. One that she declared well deserved, and even shot Cale a challenging look. When she clicked the lighter on and lit the end, several tribe members barked in surprise.
“Is magick?” Silvereye asked, then sniffed the air. “With magick you set alight sweetflower?”
“It’s a Bic,” Terra said, showing the dark red plastic lighter to Silvereye. He smelled it first, and then took it from her. He turned it over in his hands until Terra showed him how to use it. Silvereye barked happily, and then clumsily managed to light it.
“You can have that one,” Terra said. “I’ve got more. But it will run out of fluid eventually, and it won’t work after that.”
“This great gift,” Silvereye said. “Quicktooth will treasure it. Will save floo-id for sacred fire.”
“Silvereye?” Nalya asked.
“Yes?” Silvereye replied.
“Where did you learn to speak with men? Where did you learn our language?”
Silvereye only turned the corners of his mouth upward, in a strange caricature of a smile. “Not tellin’,” he said. He then looked at Ryan, who was tuning his guitar. “What this you do?” he asked.
“It’s a guitar,” Ryan said. “An instrument. It plays music.”
“Music, yes. Singing and drums and pipes. But never seen this,” he said. “You can play?”
Ryan nodded, and then started plucking the strings, playing an old Smashing Pumpkins tune, Disarm. The Quicktooth gathered around him, with Longfeather resting her chin on Ryan’s leg, looking up at him. Soon, some of the raptors started to pound on drums, going along with Ryan’s melody, and then the dancing began.
Ryan found the Featherclaw’s dancing to be very bird-like, which made a certain type of sense, since back on earth it was believed by many that dinosaurs had evolved into birds. The interesting thing, however, was that they all seemed to be dancing in unison. Like a choreographed routine, each dancer complemented the others. It was all very uniform, but nonetheless beautiful in its own way. They flowed perfectly in tune with the melody and beat. Ryan spent some time switching from song to song, and the Featherclaw did their best to keep their drumming going with the melody he provided them. He dipped into his repertoire, playing a song by Our Lady Peace, Incubus, then topped it off with an acoustic arrangement of a Tool song. Before long, Ryan grew tired of playing and put his guitar to one side.
Silvereye announced that the ceremony was about to begin. Ryan took a hint from Terra and pulled out his camera, ready to take some snapshots. He made sure to forewarn Silvereye about the flash and explained what it was, lest the raptors scatter in fear and confusion from the light. Eventually the ceremony began. Silvereye took a spot between Ryan and Terra, while Sharpscent stood before the fire and began a series of melodic barks and squawks.
“Sharpscent say we gather to give names of honor to halo-childs,” Silvereye translated.
As Sharpscent continued to speak, Ryan asked Silvereye, “How do you choose the names?”
“Sharpscent will beckon you,” he explained. “You stand. Receive names spoken by the tribe. Sharpscent chooses name from what tribe calls out.” almost on cue, Sharpscent leveled his gaze at Ryan, and beckoned him forward with his claw. Ryan passed his camera to Cale on the way up and instructed him to take a few shots.”
When Ryan stood before the fire and looked back on the group of humans and raptors, he felt a little uncomfortable. He was used to performing on stage, but now he was the center of attention in some kind of cross-species ritual. The Featherclaw barked and squawked at him, chirping and cooing madly. He looked over to Cale, Bayne and Nalya, who were speaking quietly. Terra was watching the ritual with a keen eye. After a few moments, the Featherclaw chatter fell to silence and Sharpscent grabbed Ryan’s hand. He dragged a claw across the back of Ryan’s hand, causing him to jerk it back in shock and cradle it.
“Is he supposed to do that?” he asked Silvereye.
Silvereye nodded. “It mark of Featherclaw,” he explained. “We speak of your scent to the other tribes, speak of your name. Sharpscent will give you name now.”
Ryan cradled his bleeding hand and leveled his attention on Sharpscent. Sharpscent closed his eyes for a moment, then spread his arms wide and embraced Ryan in a close hug– or at least, what Ryan thought was a hug. He released him, then barked to the crowd.
“Sharpscent say you name is Wildsong,” Silvereye said. “Longfeather suggest name. He say you honored among Quicktooth this night, and soon all Featherclaw know your name.” Silvereye beckoned Ryan back. “Come, sit.”
Sharpscent then looked upon Terra, and beckoned her up.
“He doesn’t have to cut me, does he?” she asked.
“Is honor among Featherclaw,” Silvereye said, not really understanding her question. “Mark of honor on back of hand.”
Terra shrugged and stood up. If she could handle a tattoo or a tongue piercing, she could handle a little cut. The process was repeated, and Sharpscent embraced Terra in his strange raptor-hug, and barked once again to the crowd.
“He name you Bloodflower,” Silvereye exclaimed.
Terra smiled happily while she cradled her hand. The cut would definitely scar, but it wasn’t deep, and the bleeding stopped before too long. When Terra sat down, Sharpscent beckoned Cale up, and before long, he received the name of Sharpsight.
It was then Nalya’s turn, and when Sharpscent cut open her hand, the raptors seemed to work themselves into a bit of a frenzy. Most, if not all, were barking name suggestions to Sharpscent. After a few moments, she too received the raptor’s embrace, and Silvereye told her she had been named Trueblood.
Bayne was the last. He seemed apprehensive about being embraced by the small creature, but in the end, they had named him Proudmane. When the group were all named, and once again sat in front of the bonfire, Sharpscent again addressed the crowd. A couple of raptors in the back took off running towards a fairly large hut near the back, and emerged with a strange bundle of cloth.
“Sharpscent say the time is here,” Silvereye said. “Time to give to you gift of Quicktooth.”
“Gift?” Ryan asked. He waved his hands. “No, no. We don’t need any gifts, we just–”
“Quicktooth honor-bound!” Silvereye exclaimed. “Quicktooth must give back what take from men ages past! Give to you, we will. We must!”
Ryan worked his jaw, obviously searching for something to say, but then he calmed down. When Sharpscent started barking again, Silvereye instructed Ryan to stand and receive.
“Sharpscent give to Wildsong gift of Quicktooth,” Silvereye explained. And then Sharpscent took the strange bundle from the other raptor, turned, sat on his haunches, bowed his head and offered it up to Ryan.
Ryan could do nothing else but take it. It was surprisingly heavy, and he could feel the hardness of whatever it was under the cloth. Slowly, he unwrapped it.
As the cloth started the shed itself from the object, Ryan’s eyes went wider and wider. The first thing he saw was something black and reflective– and sharp. After a moment, he realized what it was.
Obsidian. What was left of sand after it had been heated up by lava. The sharpest substance known to man. As the rest of the cloth shed itself off, he could hear Bayne gasp.
“I cannae believe it,” Bayne said, the awe showing through very clearly in his voice. “It couldn’t be.”
“What? What couldn’t be?” Ryan asked as he examined the sword. The hilt was made of a silver metal, and jewels were encrusted all throughout it, but the four-foot blade was perfectly shaped and exquisitely sharp.
Nalya stood up to take a closer look at the sword. “By the sight of Maer, it is.”
“What? What is?” Ryan asked.
“Lad, I don’t know how this came to be,” Bayne said. “But it’s a bloody miracle. What ye be holding there can be none other. It’s Twilight’s Blade. Obsidian. The sword wielded by Rasshauer Flenn himself, forged by the gods and passed into his hands alone. It’s been missing for centuries.”
Ryan looked down at the sword he held in his hands. He didn’t quite understand the significance, but from Nalya’s amazement and Bayne’s tone of voice, he managed to grasp that this was, indeed, a treasure.
He looked down at Sharpscent, who seemed to be waiting for something.
“Thank you,” Ryan said.
There was a sudden cacophony of barks, squeals and varying squawks from the raptors as they bellowed in celebration.
Ryan suddenly felt very, very uncomfortable.